Jethro Heiko responds to Councilman DiCicco

Below is my response to the following letter from Councilman DiCicco's attorney.

DiCicco Threat Letter

Yesterday, through his attorney, Councilman DiCicco sent me a letter claiming that I defamed him by posting on YPP that the Councilman has engaged in “corruption” to the detriment of our waterfront and city planning. The letter demands an immediate retraction and apology. Rather than respond to his attorney I will post my response here. I will not retract my post nor will I apologize.

I am, however, happy to explain in greater detail what I meant when I referred (and will continue to refer) to the Councilman as a politician who engages in corruption. But let’s get real about the term – it means lacking in integrity, virtue and moral principle; it means a deviation from what is right; it means failing to represent the public interest. It does not mean that the official took a bribe and I have never used it that way. I should be able to use the term when I think the shoe fits. Whether you agree with me or not, I hope you support my right to voice my opinion.

In my post, I said that our Delaware waterfront is in a sorry state due to “his and his mentor’s corruption.” I think this is a obvious and unremarkable assertion. Our waterfront is an embarrassing joke. The control over its development is largely a function of local zoning and land use laws; and the Councilman has been in charge of zoning in the First District for some time now. The gated towers of Waterfront Square, the wholly inappropriate solid walls of the garage at the Hyatt Hotel, the overloading of the southern end and the resulting traffic, I could go on and on and on. We all could.

Our Delaware River Waterfront is one of the City’s greatest assets and its development history and current status is horrendous. Some would even say, rhetorically, that it’s a sin and a crime. Why hasn’t the Councilman changed the zoning on the waterfront in the many years that he has been the district councilperson? Why? And, finally, when we have a fantastic planning effort led by thousands of citizens, guided by Penn Praxis in an open and transparent manner – that gave us the Civic Vision – the Councilman drafts, sponsors and passes a new Zoning Overlay that fails to adopt all the recommendations of the Civic Vision and worse yet, drafts zoning for casinos that exempts them and their satellite parking from that zoning overlay. Sure, he passed some of the recommendations but not the key one about the width of the waterfront setback. Why can’t the Councilman just do what the people want? Why is it so hard? All of that is evidence (on top of what we can see – or not see – when we walk on Delaware Avenue) that his conduct was and is lacking in integrity, virtue and moral principle, that it deviated from what is right and that it is not in the public interest. It gets worse when he claims that he will protect one constituency and neighborhood at the expense of others and attempts, with some success, to divide and conquer. In my view, that is corruption.

And when crafting the zoning legislation which allows Sugarhouse satellite parking, exempting surface parking lots from the new zoning overlay for the Waterfront he opens the door for more corruption at the newly named Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, formerly the Penn’s Landing Corporation. Rather than advancing the civic vision in a transparent way we have an agency, City Council, and Mayor whose vision for the riverfront mirrors that of Neil Bluhm, developer of the proposed Sugarhouse casino, rather than that of the thousands of citizens who spent tens of thousands of hours developing the civic vision.

I think it was wrong for the Councilman to accuse me of defamation. YPP is a place for people to have discussion and debate in a public forum. Yes, when I wrote my post I was mad (and I still am). If the Councilman wants to rebut my statements, if he wants to claim that his stewardship over the development of the waterfront was based on integrity, virtue and moral principle, then he should post a response online. He is a public person and he stands up and takes praise wherever he can get it. But Councilmanic prerogative has to work both ways – it means that the Councilmember is responsible and should be held accountable for the zoning laws in his or her district, especially when there has been as much tinkering in the First District; and especially when he has presided over so many failures and lost opportunities at our waterfront.

Thanks, Jethro. I think it

Thanks, Jethro.

I think it is ridiculous that DiCicco is having his son threaten someone with defamation. I am not a lawyer, but I play one on TV, and am studying for the bar and all that, and I am pretty sure there is no case whatsoever. The standards for defamation for an elected official are extremely high. Saying a politician is corrupt ain't getting you there.

Instead, this is just bullying and scare tactics and bullshit. If Councilman DiCicco wants to openly debate this stuff, he is free to do so. As long as he responds to questions, we will put it right up. But using your lawyer son to try to scare an activist is ridiculous.

I think Fumo's corruption

though very real is not neceessarily as big a factor in the riverfront's current status as Rendell's almost pathological dedication to the idea of gambling there, dating from when he was mayor. Its ridiculous to throw around unfounded law suit threats, however.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Sean's right about casinos -

Sean's right about casinos - back from Rendell's days as Mayor - being a major factor in the sad state of the waterfront. Consider:

- The Foxwoods South Philly site has been left undeveloped for so many years because a casino (I think it was Bally's) had an option on the land. So they paid Bart Blatstein (owner at the time) a considerable annual sum in exchange for him not developing on that parcel.

- Similarly the SugarHouse site was left undeveloped because it was purchased by a corporation created by a group of investors. They named the corporation LHTW, which stands for "Let's Hope this Works" - the clearest possible example of casino-related speculation and land banking.


The specific accusations of waterfront meddling for Fumo

was at least according to Inky coverage not so much about a permanently stunted land use policy from betting on gambling like Rendell's involvement, but rather that Fumo strong-armed IKEA and Lowes for donations to Citizen's Alliance, much like he did from PECO. The vast majority of that money went for a lot of good community projects, with a little bit of O.P.M. skimmed off the top for personal use, according to the Feds.

DiCicco, to be sure, is acting like a child with these stupid threats. I'm just not sure the rest of Council is likely to be any more responsive - or useful, even if they wanted to. I'm also not sure strategically if beating him over the head with Fumo forever bears as much political fruit as encouraging his "better angels" might, at least medium to short term.

Of the other hand, its hard to imagine "better angels" are even a possiblity when vindictive lawsuit threats are whats being offered on the menu by the councilman currently. Its sad and disappointing, really.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

I'm also just an armchair lawyer

when it comes to this part of the law, but:

not only is it ridiculous, like Dan says, to 'use your lawyer son to try and scare an activist,' it only serves to cast the Councilman in a further bad light.

Whatever ends up happening with these two casinos, and whatever the limitations constraining our city politicians, they at least can aspire to an open, transparent, and inclusive process that is characterized by respect and at least an attempt at mutual understanding. But this has been failed on too many counts to list here.

The letter not only makes a likely-indefensible claim of defamation (note that there is no explicit threat to file a suit if Jethro fails to comply), but it shows no interest in conciliation and no glint of empathy. I've become used to seeing small, childish responses in city politics, but still, I am continually sad at the failures of leadership throughout this casino mess.

Jennifer made the better point above

that the casino situation is one that challenges all of us to determine what principles we'll bring to honest struggle about an issue that many people feel strongly will have negative impact overall on the health, wealth and future of our city.

In a situation such as this, leadership can mean many things. But at the very least it should afford dignity and respect to all players, empathy, and a sense of equal fight and justice for all communities. Last month at the Council CED hearing, DiCicco relentlessly insisted on asking every witness whether s/he would choose the waterfront over Strawbridge's. George Moy, a Chinatown resident, responded to the effect of, "Well that's like asking me whether I would kill one of my two children. I would hope you'd say you'd fight like hell for both of them."

Instead, as evidenced above, the Councilman has chosen to demonize and threaten people who could and should be his allies in this struggle. No one envies DiCicco his position, but he has not risen to the occasion. Instead in invoking emailed threats and seeking to silence and divide his constituents, he has been worse than "corrupt" in Jethro's sense. He's been cowardly.

Seems to me that you were rather specific in your original post

as to what you meant by "corruption" - and that it was consistent with what you have stated in this follow-up post.
In contrast, at no point did you accuse Dicicco of illegitimate private gain, although apparently that's what he understood your post to assert.

Indeed, I am impressed that apparently Mr. DiCicco reads YPP - and so, since he is a member of this community, I would hope that he would take up the challenge to explain why feels that what you actually stated was incorrect, rather than threaten you in order to defend himself against assertions you didn't make. That's what folks do here when they disagree with a post.

That in contrast, Mr. DiCicco would seek to stifle public political discourse with legal threats is certainly troubling. It suggests that he considers himself to be above reproach, and that he is willing to use his privileged position to "corrupt" fundamental principles of free speech in a democracy. In the very least, it reflects poorly on his attitude towards accountability.

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