Last weekend, Vice President Joe Biden welcomed President Obama “back to my second city in my native state of Pennsylvania.” How did Philadelphia became Biden’s “second city?” Pundits often ridicule Sarah Palin for saying she could see Russia from Alaska. Perhaps Biden can see Philadelphia from nearby Delaware, where he’s lived most of his life.
With the fate of several Pennsylvania Democrats hanging in the balance, President Obama stoked support for Pennsylvania’s Democrats. Joe Sestak is trailing Republican Pat Toomey for the seat lost by Senator Arlen Specter. Republican Tom Corbett leads Dan Onorato by 12 percentage points in the Pennsylvania Governor’s race. In the House, incumbent Democrats Chris Carney, Patrick Murphy, and Paul Kanjorski are at risk of losing their jobs to Republican challengers Tom Marino, Mike Fitzpatrick, and Lou Barletta.
President Obama spoke in Germantown, a Philadelphia district which, like the overall city, has a majority African-American population. 2005 Census figures indicated Philadelphia has 24.9 percent of population living below poverty level.
President Obama’s Philadelphia visit was strictly a “get out the vote” rally. But with an approval rating that dropped to an average 45 percent from its January ’09 high of 66 percent, people may question whether Obama’s appearance will help or hurt Democrats in the November 2 elections.
The president’s casually structured speech was liberally sprinkled with the slogans he used during his successful 2008 campaign. Are you fired up? Ready to go? Fired up, yes! Ready to go? Maybe not. For that you need food, shelter, and gas in your car, scarce commodities in jobless Philadelphia neighborhoods.
If the Philadephia Inquirer had it right in “A Portrait of Hunger,” poverty is flourishing in Germantown and other Philadelphia neighborhoods. Philadelphia youth unemployment was estimated at 21.2 percent in 2009. The rare good news in Philadelphia these days is the success of its sports teams– the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Democrat Bob Brady has represented Philadelphia’s 1st Congressional District since 1998. Brady’s constituency is cookie cut to include affluent Society Hill on one end of the spectrum and hardscrabble Kensington on the other. In the middle are communities like Fishtown, Northern Liberties, Frankford, and also parts of North, South, and West Philly.
While sociologists are busy combing urban populations for research data, what Philadelphians really need is jobs. The most recent joblessness figures, posted on Yahoo Finance today, show a nationwide higher than expected increase in new unemployment claims to 462,000.
Poverty and unemployment research create writing opportunities for university academics under pressure to publish, but the advocacy culture of the Obama administration hasn’t much helped. The recession accelerated in 2008 and has steamrollered cities like Philadelphia. Unemployment in Philadelphia County skyrocketed from 7.1percent in June 2008 to 11.9 percent as of June 2010.
The crowd count at the Obama rally was estimated by event organizers at 18,000 people. Enthusiasm of the hard-core base was evident, as people cheered the President’s anti-Bush rhetoric. It remains to be seen whether people will show up to vote, sufficiently convinced that pep rallies are the “change we can believe in.”
Ultimately, President Obama’s Philadelphia visit may be remembered more for the apprehension of Juan Rodriguez who tried to collect a million dollar reward by running naked through the Obama rally. Another man, as yet unidentified, threw a book at the president in what was said to be an attempt to gain a wider readership. The matter is still under investigation but a spokesman was quick to characterize that man as an “over exuberant Obama supporter.”