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Publisher's Gallery: Some tips for Paul Vallas as he settles in “The City of Brotherly Shove”

Mike Morsch
WUIS/Illinois Issues

I’m the new guy here. As such, it falls upon me to give advice to someone who is going to be the new guy where I used to be, which is southeastern Pennsylvania.

So this is a bit of a heads up for Paul Vallas, who has been in Philadelphia for a few months. Vallas, as you may recall, turned the Chicago schools system in the right direction, for which he was thanked by being nudged out of office by Mayor Richard M. Daley. Vallas then ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Illinois. By coming up short in that race, he has been forced to go long, all the way to the Philadelphia public school system to be its Big Cheese. Or in the case of Philly, its Big Cheesesteak.

Vallas is presiding over one of the most sweeping school reorganization programs in U.S. history. It’s an experiment with privatization that is without precedent, according to some published reports. Out of more than 200 schools, the district has turned over about 45 low-performing schools to seven outside groups and for-profit companies while implementing a management overhaul in approximately 25 more schools.

It’s a huge task, and Vallas is going to need an edge. I can help. We’ll call this, then, “An Illinoisan’s Guide to Philadelphia.” Here are some tips for Vallas as he makes the transition from “The Windy City” to “The City of Brotherly Shove.”

  • Philadelphia sports fans, while knowledgeable, possess short fuses. Among the things that should not be suggested is that Philadelphia really didn’t invent the soft pretzel and that the soft pretzels in Chicago are every bit as good. This will only result in a trip to the doctor to answer the question, “How did this pretzel get into your ear?”
  • Consequently, try not to get involved in the cheesesteak wars. Everybody has his or her favorites. The main thing to remember is that Philadelphians consider Cheese Whiz a real cheese, and to snicker at that suggestion could present a real threat to the ear that doesn’t contain a pretzel.
  • Do not go to New Jersey. The state will let you in, but won’t let you out without paying a toll. In reality, it’s a brilliant plan by state lawmakers to raise money because they know nobody wants to stay in New Jersey.
  • Pay particular attention to the “Beware of Falling Rock” signs. This is not something we need to worry about in the Midwest as there is really little need for, say, “Beware of Drooping Cornstalks” signs. But Midwesterners need to realize there are mountains in the northeast, they are too close to the roadways and rocks will fall on cars. Be advised that “Falling Rock” is different from “Rolling Rock” and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is asking motorists to stay alert while driving rather than using public funds to advertise the state’s favorite beer. It took me a month to figure out why bartenders were unable to serve up a cold, frosty Falling Rock.
  • Adapt to the local vernacular. The correct way to greet people on the street is “Ha-ya doin’?” The correct way to greet people on the telephone is “Ha-ya doin’?” The correct way to greet the dog is “Ha-ya doin’?” The people of Philadelphia do not think it’s funny when others make sport of the way they talk. And they will show their displeasure by stuffing an outsider into a trunk, traveling across the river into New Jersey and demanding an answer to the question, “Just how funny is that beer commercial now?”
  • Don’t worry about guys named Ryan, Daley or Madigan. Worry about guys with ethnic-sounding names who claim to be in “waste management.” In other words, East Coast lawmakers, who have made a habit of wasting management.
  • Learn the players. Mayor Street is not actually the name of a downtown thoroughfare. He’s really the boss in Philadelphia. Let’s hope he treats his schools chief a little better than Mayor Daley did.
  • Finally, do not be intimidated by the East Coast attitude. Make sure the Easterners understand that inner-city public schoolchildren need help in all parts of the country and that you’re just the guy for the job. If they don’t believe that, then explain to them the political intricacies of getting a driver’s license in Illinois, let alone running a public school system. 

Now that should impress even the Philadelphians. 


Mike Morsch can be reached at 217-206-6521 or by e-mail at morsch.michael@uis.edu


Illinois Issues, September 2002

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