Ben Weiss testified for the Communist Party on January 30,
1950. In 1953, Weiss was indicted under the Smith Act. His
plight is discussed in the Labovitz book. The Communist
proposals emphasized democracy. The City Council would be
elected for two years from six districts. There would be a
councilperson for each 25,000 registered voters.
Councilpersons would be chosen by proportional
representation. The mayor, city controller, city treasurer
and director of public safety would also be elected for two
year terms. The Communist proposal called for initiative
and referendum and recall of public officials. The school
board would be elected. The City and its employees and
contractors would be forbidden to discriminate. The School
Board would not be allowed to "zone" students by race.
School Board employees could run for the the School Board.
City workers would be allowed to unionize. Taxes on income
and earnings would be prohibited. Taxes would be levied on
January 30, 1950
CHAIRMAN McCRACKEN: We will now hear from the Communist
Party of Philadelphia.
(Mr. Ben Weiss came forward and presented the statement
from the Communist Party of Philadelphia.)
TO THE PHILADELPHIA CHARTER COMMISSION
From: COMMUNIST PARTY OF PHILADELPHIA JANUARY 30, 1950
The framing and the adoption of a new City Charter is of
such importance to the entire population of this city that
we request the continuation of open hearings until June of
1950. We believe it mandatory that the Charter Commission
hold open hearings in every major question under
consideration and publicly invite all organizations to
testify on behalf of their interests and membership. Such
groupings of the population should included organized
labor, Negro peoples’ organizations, minority groups,
women’s groups, youth organizations, community groups,
taxpayers and small businessmen’s associations.
Representatives of all sections of the people must be
invited to speak on their new charter..
The Communist Party of Philadelphia states that the major
question in the framing of the new city charter is more
democracy. More democracy in city government. More
democracy in the financial policies of the city government.
How can the residents of this city have more control over
the city officials? How can the people receive greater
returns from their tax dollars?
Municipal corruption which has grown to gigantic
proportions is no longer an occasional offense, but a
continuing practice. The effect of it has been to literally
change the form of our government from one that is supposed
to represent the people to an oligarchy that represents
The solution is not to be found in the approach of the
reform movement which deplores politics and lauds business.
The historic studies of Lincoln Steffens, which probed
deeply municipal corruption, demonstrate clearly that the
sources of graft, bribery and corruption are to be found in
big business itself, which steals for itself the wealth of
the community through franchises and special privilege.
The plundering of municipalities by greedy commercial
interests has been, and still is, particularly vicious in
our city, with the result that the city is saddled with an
enormous debt service charges. The residents of the city
are being deprived of needed municipal services and are
taxed heavily and inequitably to maintain these heavy debt
In 1948 Philadelphia had to devote 2.03 % (Mayor’s Report,
1948) of its total expenditures to paying the Funded Debt
and interest, the largest payments of any of the 14 major
cities in the country. On the other hand, our city ranked
among the lowest of these 14 cities with respect to
expenditures for health, charities, recreation, and
Basic revisions of the city’s charter are necessary to help
restore the control of the city to the people and to bring
an end to the exploitation of the people for the benefit of
the few bondholders that now control our city.
Towards this end we propose:
A. Political Democracy in City Government
1. The Mayor. The shall be elected every two years by the
people of the city. (We are unalterably opposed to the
council-manager plan as undemocratic. It centralizes great
power and responsibility in a single non-elective
administrative officer. This proposal serves to place still
greater power in the hands of the bankers and bondholders.)
2. The City Council. The legislative power of the city
shall be vested in a council of about 40 members who are
nominated by petition and who are elected by proportional
representation from the six areas approximating the present
Congressional areas. Nominees shall run on party
designations or independent tickets as now provided in the
State Constitution. Representation from the six areas shall
be on the basis of one councilman for every 25,000
registered voters. City Council shall be elected every two
3. The Executive Departments.
a. The present elected executive department heads shall be
elected and hold office for two years. (This will insure a
group of officials more responsive to the public will).
b. The Director of Public Safety shall be elected and hold
office for two years.
4. Initiative, Referendum and Recall.
a. The electors shall have power to propose any ordinance
and to adopt or reject the same at the polls, such power
being known as initiative. Any initiated ordinance may be
submitted to the council by petitions signed by qualified
voters equal to 2-/2 - 5 % of the registered voters at the
last regular municipal election.
b . Electors shall have power to approve or reject at the
polls any ordinance passed by council, such power being
known as referendum. Within 30 days after the enactment by
council of any ordinance, a petition signed by qualified
voters, equal to 2-1/2 - 5 % of the registered voters at
the last election, may be filed with the city clerk,
requesting that nay such ordinance be either repealed or
submitted to a vote of the electors. The ordinance shall be
nonoperative as soon as the petition is filed with the city
c. Initiative and referendum voting shall take place at the
next duly scheduled elections.
d. The electors shall have the power to remove from office
the mayor, members of council, city treasurer, and city
controller, such power being known as recall.
a. The employees of the city shall have the power to
organize into unions of their own choice, and to bargain
collectively for the improvement of their working
conditions. The mayor shall be bound to bargain in good
faith with the city’s employees and enter into signed
agreements with the representatives of its employees
incorporating the results of collective bargaining.
b. City employees shall not be penalized by being denied
the right to strike by virtue of their being public
6. Equal Rights
a. Full and equal rights and opportunities shall be
guaranteed all residents of the city regardless of race,
color, creed, religion, or nationality. It shall be a
criminal offense to practice any form of discrimination,
punishable by a prison term or fine.
b. The city shall use all its powers to enforce and
implement this charter principle.
c. Where organizations, such as hospitals, institutions of
learning, playgrounds, museums, libraries, public
charities, veterans’ posts, cemeteries, the Philadelphia
Housing Authority, utilities and railroads, all of which
hold tax-exempt properties, practice discrimination in any
form, the city shall withdraw all tax exemptions within 30
days after warning to eliminate these practices has been
d. In the case of institutions receiving financial aid from
the city and practicing discrimination in any form, the
city shall cease payment of such funds until these
institutions eliminate discrimination.
e. All contracts let by the city shall carry a clause
requiring strict adherence by the contractor to employment
and upgrading without bias. In the case of violation of
this clause, the city shall order the contract canceled and
all monies withheld.
f. The city shall withhold its licenses and permits to
carry on business or other forms of activity within the
city limits, fromal establishments, public and private,
which practice discrimination in any form.
g. The city shall use all its powers to help enforce the
right to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the
right of the people to peaceably to assemble and petition
the government for redress of its grievances, which rights
are embodied in the Bill of Rights.
h. No city official, appointed or elected, shall take any
action contrary to these principles.
We have a series of recommendations which we believe the
Philadelphia Charter Commission should make to the State
legislature at the end of its findings. These
recommendations deal with the Board of Education.
7. Recommendations. W propose the Charter Commission
recommend to the State Legislature the following:
a. The members of the Board of Education shall consist of
15 members who are nominated by petition and who are
elected by proportional representation form the
city-at-large by the use of non-partisan ballots.
At the first election pursuant to the adoption of the above
recommendations, 5 members shall be elected for a term of 6
years, 5 for 4 years, and 5 for 2 years. Thereafter,
one-third of the members shall be elected every two years
for a term of 6 years.
b. School employees shall be eligible for election to the
Board of Education.
c. The State shall direct the Board of Education to
prohibit discrimination in hiring and placement of
employees, the zoning of pupils on the basis of color.
d. The State shall direct the Board of Education to dismiss
any employee practicing discrimination.
1. The city shall not obtain revenue from the sales tax,
wage tax, gross receipts tax, head tax, or any form of
direct tax on the consumer.
2. The city shall obtain revenues from the real estate tax,
personal property tax, amusement tax, licenses and permits,
charges for services, and grants from the State and Federal
3. The city shall regain and retain full control of all
public utilities rights, such as its gas and water works.
4. All streets and parks belong to the city and shall not b
e leased to private interests.
5. The city shall be directed to terminate all major
franchises, such as underliers’ franchises, within two
years after the adoption of the new charter.
6. The city shall refinance all bonds now outstanding, at
lower terms of interest.
All bonds issued under this charter shall be sold at public
sale upon sealed proposals after at least 10 days’ notice
published at least once e in a publication carrying
municipal bond notices es and devoted primarily to
financial news, and also in a qualified newspaper published
in the county and having a general circulation in the city.
7. The power and obligation of the city to expend monies
for health and welfare services shall be unlimited and the
city shall levy taxes upon
all the taxable property within the city for the payment of
such services without limitation of rate and amount.
Analysis of per capita expenditures for health and welfare
services of the 14 largest cities in the U.S. (population
of 500,000 and over) indicate that a minimum per capital of
$3.00 for health and hospitals, and a per capita
expenditure of $7.00 for public welfare, should be provided
by the new city charter.
A maximum per capita expenditure of $5.00 for police
services should be written into the city charter.
Finally, the Communist Party of Philadelphia proposes that
the City Charter proposals be presented for referendum in
major groupings as a series of measures, and not as a
complete document to be voted in its entirety.
This is the extent of the statement and page 123 is a table
from finances of cities.
Health per capita expenditure Rank
New York $1.23............2
Los Angeles $1.43............7
St. Louis $1.36............8
Washington, DC $3.69............1
San Francisco $2.33............2
Hospitals per capita expenditure Rank
New York $18.98..........2
Los Angeles $.69............13
St. Louis $9.26............4
Washington, DC $19.86..........1
San Francisco $9.17............5
Public Welfare per capita expenditure Rank
New York $20.12..........2
Los Angeles $.03............13
St. Louis $1.04..........10
Washington, DC $7.07............6
San Francisco $17.00..........3
Police per capita expenditure Rank
New York $9.41............7
Los Angeles $10.40..........3
St. Louis $8.13..........12
Washington, DC $11.14..........2
San Francisco $9.92............4
CHAIRMAN McCRACKEN: Are there any questions? If not, thank
you very much Mr. Weiss. That concludes today’s agenda.
MR. CALLAGHAN: I move we adjourn.
CHAIRMAN McCRACKEN: The Commission will adjourn to Friday,
February 3, 1950, at 10:00.
(Whereupon, meeting adjourned at 4:45 p.m. to reconvene at
10:00 o’clock a.m., Friday, February 3, 1950.)
The Far Left and
the Philadelphia City Charter