The Temple Connection
A few weeks ago we rambled at some length about the connections that have sprung up between Cape May and Temple University since Ed Mahaney, a three-time graduate of the Philadelphia school, was elected mayor. We remarked, somewhat flippantly, that perhaps the mayor was looking for a statue to be erected in his honor on the Temple grounds. So you can imagine how intrigued we were when our attention was drawn to a letter that details just how close the relationship is between Mayor Mahaney and Temple. The letter is published in full here.
Yes, it is private correspondence between a member of the university’s staff and a former student, but it exists in the public domain — we found it online. Besides, what makes it a matter of public interest is the fact that the letter is dated August, 2009, a year after Mr Mahaney was elected, and discusses the possibility of him donating $1 million to Temple in return for their sports complex being named for his late parents. The letter was written a week after it was announced that the city was paying Temple $53,000 to come up with a business and management plan for the new Convention Hall.
And two months after that, the city announced another hookup with Temple — this time paying $48,000 for students from the Landscaping Architecture and Horticulture department to come up with designs for some of Cape May’s open spaces, even though, two years earlier, the city had paid a professional landscape architecture firm, Rhodeside and Harwell, to come up with a comprehensive plan along the the same lines.
And most recently, a Philadelphia-based landscaping firm owned by a Temple professor was awarded a $14,875 contract for work on Convention Hall, without the job going out to bid.
When we wrote about these connections a few weeks ago, we made the point that we weren’t comfortable with this very tight connection. Why weren’t New Jersey schools like Rutger’s, Stockton, Rowan, TCNJ, and, you know, Princeton asked to collaborate? And you could also argue that having students take charge of such important matters as the running of Convention Hall is not a stellar idea.
But let’s get back to the issue that makes us really squirmy. The opening sentence of that letter congratulates Mayor Mahaney on his “philanthrophy” at Temple and in the next sentence mentions the “unique town-grown partnership with our school of Hospitality & Tourism Management.” We don’t believe that the city money that’s been pouring into Temple’s coffers since the summer of 2009 should in any way be connected to the mayor’s “philanthropy” towards his alma mater.
The letter goes on to “resume the dialogue” about whether the mayor is interested in gifting the university the proceeds of his life insurance and his Cape May home, along with a cash donation of $100,000 over a five-year period.
Yes, we believe it is simply a coincidence that the city has since paid Temple $101,000 for the aforementioned programs. But, nevertheless, this surely amounts to a serious conflict of interest.
Don’t you think the taxpayers of Cape May are entitled to know that while the city has been writing checks to Temple that the mayor has been holding discussions about a partnership that would forever stamp the Mahaney name on the campus?
If Mr Mahaney acted like the mayor is supposed to act in the current form of government, this would not be such a big deal. But as we have spelled out before, Mr Mahaney is not merely the ceremonial head of government. In the opinion of many, he’s the man who makes most of the important decisions around City Hall, in direct contravention of municipal laws.
We called the mayor on Sunday, the day before we went to press. We asked him if he recalled the letter we were talking about. “I don’t recall it off the top of my head,” he said. That seemed strange, given that a letter proposing a $1 million deal resulting in a sports complex being named for your parents isn’t likely the kind of matter easily forgotten. We then read the letter out to the mayor, who said, “That sounds like a letter that a university would send any number of alumni, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.” Then he hung up.
On Monday, we called the man who wrote the letter, Scott Koskoski, who is now the Director of Athletics at Chatham University, in Pittsburgh. He said he remembered the conversation he had with the mayor over the naming rights, but added, “The mayor is a good friend of mine. I’m not clear on what the ramifications of my comments would be. I’d prefer not to comment at this point.”
He suggested we talk to David Unruh, Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Temple. He said he was “familiar with the discussion” but that it “has not come to fruition.” When we asked if it was likely to, he said, “I’m not at liberty to share private donor information.”
We also spoke to Deputy Mayor, Jack Wichterman, and asked him if he thought the correspondence was troubling. “Was there an ulterior motive? I sure as heck don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what conversations went on back then. Why didn’t we look at Stockton? I don’t know. Stockton might have done it for less money. But I was not involved.
“The mayor has devoted his whole life from what I’ve seen to Temple and Cape May. Does he do things that are not correct? Whether you like him or not, you have to respect how hard he works.
“If you think he’s done something illegal, go to the prosecutor.”
We asked Mr. Wichterman how he feels about the widely held view that the mayor runs City Hall, even though the form of government here expressly places the power in the hands of the City Manager, Bruce MacLeod, who was given the job full-time a few months after the mayor took office, in 2008.
“Is he a forceful guy?” Mr. Wichterman said of the mayor. “He’s very forceful. Does he want control? There is no doubt. Was it unethical for him not to let the council know about this? I personally don’t think so.”
On the mayor’s relationship with Bruce MacLeod, Mr. Wichterman said, “It’s not the way it should be running, but if [Bruce] is comfortable with it…”
But what if the taxpayers aren’t comfortable with the mayor contravening municipal law? “Then the taxpayers can vote him out of office in November; they’re the ones with the last say.”
Mr. Wichterman added, “I think you guys are on a witch hunt with Ed.”
We’d prefer to call it a truth hunt. We agree with Mr. Wichterman that the mayor works hard. That’s not the issue. The issue is that we believe his hunger for power sometimes corrupts his judgment, and we have described, in detail, examples of this in the last three years.
By the way, we had a few things to say about the upcoming concert by Peter Nero and the Philly Pops, but we ran out of room. Stay tuned.
Has there been a generation yet which doesn’t have doubts about the future of the human race after witnessing the antics of an adolescent? Well, we’re here to tell you that some of our own fears were allayed after spending last Wednesday evening at Lucky Bones with some of Lower Cape May Regional High School’s senior class, at the Cape May Chapter of the National Honor Society Ninth Annual Most Influential Teacher Awards Program.
We spoke with Jane Rife, LCMR’s National Honor Society advisor, who explained that every senior was asked (this was an optional assignment) if they wanted to write an essay about the teacher who influenced them the most. “We got outstanding essays from 20 seniors, about 20 different teachers, from elementary school, junior high, and high school, as well as a now-retired guidance counselor and a coach. Each student and the teacher they picked is here tonight, and the teacher didn’t know until they walked into the room which student nominated them.”
Jackie Siscone is an English teacher at LCMR, and facilitates the Exit Zero Student Of The Week column. She had been singled out by student Haley Matsinger, and we asked for her thoughts on the honor. “This is what makes teaching worthwhile,” Jackie told us. “For a kid to take time out of her busy schedule to write an essay that’s not going to be graded — that’s a big deal.” We asked Haley what made her select Jackie, and her first words were, “Well, have you met her?” Indeed, we have. “Writing was something I hated more than anything — a blank page used to give me a panic attack,” Haley tells us. “Ms Siscone took something I hated and made me love it. Plus, she holds kids to a higher standard. She doesn’t tell us to behave better. She models better behavior. ”
This was a touching event, with lots of laughter and some tears. It may be a while before we forget Matt McGaffney’s tales of times spent with Business teacher Mary Rose Bispels, or the moving words of Julia Fernandez about how she wished History teacher Thomas Higgins “had been my father, because you are the greatest man I have ever known.” Or the response of math teacher Raymond Obst to Katie Kincaide’s selection of him: “All I know is that my knee still hurts from Dancing with the Faculty.” We were floored by the selection of Joyce Wirpsza by senior Jacob Vandermark, as she was his fourth-grade teacher, but he never forgot her kindness to him when he transferred to her class from a different school. And then there was senior Becca Holden, who said she “didn’t have the words to express her gratitude” to music teacher John Drechen, whose dedication persuaded her to stay in the school band when her commitment to it was wavering. His response to the award summed up the evening: “We have the best job in the world.”
Girl Walks Into A Restaurant
Did you hear the story about the German lady who opened a Mexican restaurant? Apparently, it had a really happy ending, because Gecko’s, over on Carpenter’s Lane, continues to be a mecca for Mexican and Southwest cuisine devotees in Cape May. We chatted with Susi Bithell about what it is that makes Gecko’s such a hot spot, and inquiring minds wanted to know – how DID a German girl end up in a Mexican spot? “Well, when I met my husband Randy during my internship, Mexican and Southwestern cuisine was his passion. So it then became mine — it was that simple.”
We asked Susi what is the most popular menu item at Gekko’s, and she answered quite readily that it is the burritos. “The chicken ones especially, with the red and green sauces.” (This just happens to be the go-to lunch order of a certain editor-type we happen to know.) “The house salad is popular, too,” Susi says. We can name at least three people in town who practically subsist on this salad all season long — what’s the deal? “It’s the dressing,” Susi tells us. “It’s a brandied onion dressing that we make here. It got a mention in Philadelphia magazine.” Any suggestions for dinner? “The salmon is really good, and it always sells well.” And her personal favorite from the menu? “That would be the crab enchiladas,” she tells us. “They’re spicy, but not crazy spicy.”
Gecko’s will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner by the end of May. In preparation for the onslaught of activity that running a seasonal restaurant in Cape May entails, what do Susi and and her family do in the off-season? “We just enjoy spending time together as a family,” Susi says. “And we cook a lot, too. We test out new recipes, and we just cook for each other, instead of cooking for everybody else.”