Keeping quiet about the public financing for the Inquirer and Daily News
November 22, 2011By Dave Davies
It wasn't a secret, really.
But when the owners of the Inquirer and Daily News announced the papers' move to the old Strawbridge & Clothiers building last week, the company press release omitted any mention of the $2.9 million in city financing for the move.
There were four pieces written in the two papers about the move. Only once, in the eighth paragraph of an Inquirer story did the public money get even passing mention.
It reported that "sources close to the deal say state and city economic development funds are expected to be used to assist in the move."
I didn't find the information hard to get when I asked about it yesterday.
The city's Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger returned my call and explained that the city was happy to loan Philadelphia Media Holdings $2 million to help fit out the papers' new working space and another $900,000 to cover a deposit the landlord required for the new lease (there will also be some help in a state grant).
While you can have a debate about whether states and cities should be financing private companies, it's a pretty common practice to help when a large employer is deciding to relocate.
When these deals are announced, the public-private partnership is usually explained as a good thing – elected officials being proactive to save jobs and boost the local economy.
When I asked Greenberger why nobody mentioned the public financing last week, he said that "nobody asked," and suggested I talk to the company about it.
I did, and spokesman Mark Block said Philadelphia Media Network wasn't prepared to talk about the public financing yet, because some details hadn't been worked out, or something.
Which left me pondering the real reason for downplaying the taxpayer financing. One is obvious – the company would rather see it reported that they're investing in the community than the other way around.
Here's another thought: Greenberger said the $900,000 security deposit the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust requires is "a rather unusual thing for a landlord to request of a major corporate tenant, but I think you have to understand that this is a company that's just coming out of bankruptcy."
Maybe the company thought explaining the terms of the deal would undermine confidence in the enterprise. I don't know. But it doesn't look good when the region's leading media organization somehow doesn't want to tell the whole story.
As an afterthought, I'll note that WHYY has been a bit red-faced about money it's gotten from a controversial public source – the Delaware River Port Authority, which was mired in scandal for much of last year.
We disclosed that funding when we ran radio stories about the DRPA issuing grants to non-profits, and it wasn't fun.
In other news, Philadelphia Ethics Board Executive Director Shane Creamer has had to navigate rough seas taking on some of the city's most powerful politicians. On a recent sailing trip to the Caribbean, he encountered the real thing. A tropical storm capsized Creamer's sailboat and nearly sent the four-person crew to the bottom. Creamer was swept overboard and cracked three ribs (Bob Warner's wrote a great account of this in today's Inquirer. I didn't link to it because I just couldn't find it on the Philly.com website).
Glad you made it back, Shane. Now get to work.
UPDATE: Philly.com finally posted the story about Creamer's sea adventure. It's here.
Finally, I had to call the Washington-based Center for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington today to chat with executive director Melanie Sloan. In her blog, she talks about dropping in last week on a book party Tucker Carlson hosted for Jack Abramoff, who says he's now a reformer. Read about here.