Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Learning from the Mayfair Civic Association

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Learning from the Mayfair Civic Association
A recent visit to Mayfair opened an interesting door to civic action. Just recently I made a trip to the scheduled meeting of the Mayfair Civic Association in the Northeast, not a regular stop for someone who mostly attends meetings in my home territories of Germantown, Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill.
Sometimes it’s good to get a fresh perspective, especially when it results in coming away from a community meeting with a positive view of everything that just happened, as was the case that night in Mayfair. (I can’t remember the last time that happened in troubled Germantown or Run in the Dark Mt. Airy).
I was directed there primarily because Councilman David Oh was scheduled to make a presentation just before the primary election on his proposed change in the “Resign to Run” laws for city elected officials.  Considering the potential of such a change, I thought it would be worth listening to it firsthand.
What I saw there should be a model for how Civic Associations across this city operate.  First, the turnout was significant; although I did not do a count, I would guess 65-70 people were present sitting or standing. Second, it was an up-front lesson in working social change.
Spending most of my life in this city, there was always a cliché that named Mayfair “The Great White Northeast.”
Well, it’s been while since I took notice, but there was a greater mix of race and ethnicity there than I would have ever imagined in past years; it was not one or two token individuals, and those who were there were all vocal and focused.
A significant agenda was well managed, and I sat through all of it as Councilman Oh was scheduled last.
Sub-committee folks were prepared to report, critical issues got time and feedback, a major zoning change proposal was well critiqued by numerous near and not-so-near neighbors with legitimate concerns and questions, and order was kept when needed by some very careful leadership by Chairman Joe DeFelice and his associates. 
A surprising coincidence came on May 29, when a prominent Inquirer story by Dan Geringer told how Mayfair Civic bootstrapped itself back from the dead. It was all done through the efforts of citizen activists and particularly Mr. DeFelice who went hands on a few years back in 2009.  
When the city funded agencies turned Mayfair Civic down for what they saw as neglected facilities and essential services, Mayfair Civic did not just cry the blues and beg politicians. They knocked on doors, raised nickels and dimes and held fundraisers. Once the grassroots efforts got noticed, Mayfair Civic got some serious sponsorship from local businesses and a major donation from a large area supermarket that recreated closed playgrounds and funded upgrades everywhere.
For far too long, I have watched the fragmented and narrow agenda focused so-called civic groups in my home territory talk the talk, fight among one another, and accomplish little except wasted effort.
As with Mayfair, city departments ignore them in the Northwest too, except when some inside deal with specific political interests are in the mix, and then just about every one of them tries to position themselves for public money, often with some back door dealing. Worse, the big business types actually dominate political control and in effect take money from the community one way or another. The concept of any of them donating $80,000 for a playground or any other project is pure fantasy.
The folks in Mayfair apparently get it. If the city is too inept or corrupt to do their job, walk around them and do it yourself. That is how it should be done, and congratulations to Mr. DeFelice and his whole organization. Civic activists everywhere can learn a lot from their experience.
Jim Foster