Eleanor Klibanoff

Keystone Crossroads Reporter

Eleanor Klibanoff is WPSU's reporter for Keystone Crossroads, a statewide reporting collaboration that covers the problems and solutions facing Pennsylvania's cities. Most recently, Eleanor was a Kroc Fellow at NPR in DC. She worked on the global health blog and Weekend Edition, reported for the National desk and spent three months at member station KCUR in Kansas City. Before that, she covered abortion politics in Nicaragua and El Salvador, two of the seven countries in the world that completely ban the procedure. She's written for Atlanta Magazine, The Nicaragua Dispatch and Radio Free Europe. 

Eleanor lived outside Philadelphia until the age of 11, when she moved to Atlanta. She graduated from the George Washington University with a degree in Political Communication. 

Jacquelyn Martin / AP File Photo

 

Surrounded by state health officials and fellow lawmakers, Senator Vincent Hughes said, "The only thing good that came out of the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., is a renewed, intense effort from states around the country to attempt to address what's going on with lead in their respective communities."

Pennsylvania is no exception. The state House of Representatives held a bipartisan press conference Tuesday, proposing a package of laws to reduce the lead risk in the commonwealth. On Wednesday morning, the Senate Democratic Caucus did the same.

Senate proposals

Jessica Kourkounis

 

On Friday, Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright announced that a settlement had been reached between the city and the police and fire unions over back pay. The settlement will likely help the city avoid bankruptcy or interruptions to their Act 47 (the state's program to assist distressed cities) recovery plan.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo

 

Before Flint, Michigan's water crisis brought lead back to the fore, many people thought lead poisoning was an issue of the past. But it still affects thousands of children each year in Pennsylvania alone, yet funding for lead testing and abatement has declined. 

  Lead poisoning may seem to be an issue of the past. But earlier this year, residents of Flint, Michigan were reminded just how common — and dangerous — lead still is. The city switched water supplies, causing the lead pipes to leach toxins into the water. Scores of children have been diagnosed with lead poisoning, which can cause developmental delays and medical complications. But Flint isn't the only city in the country that has lead infrastructure. 

Emma Lee / WHYY

  Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay can't be with all of his officers, all the time. While they're driving their beat, responding to calls and policing the city, they're on their own. Negative reports, either by the officers or about the officers, are often he-said, she-said cases.

But that could be changing. Pittsburgh is one of five cities in Pennsylvania that received federal Department of Justice funding to outfit their officers with body cameras. The small cameras, worn on the officer's uniform, record interactions between police officers and the community.

Babar760 / Bigstock.com

 

When David Rosner was a kid, he'd go into his grandfather's garage and mix up cans of paint. 

"I can still remember just sticking a stick in to mix it up and hitting halfway down a solid mass of hard stuff," said Rosner. "That was lead." 

Today, Rosner is a professor of public health at Columbia University and the co-author of Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America's Children. He's well aware of the danger contained in that can of paint.

Lead poisoning

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

The U.S. Conference of Mayors met last month in Washington, D.C. Mayors from cities with more than 30,000 residents gathered to trade ideas, network and propose opportunities for collaboration.

Pennsylvania had a good showing of mayors, including Allentown's Ed Pawlowski, who attended the conference in lieu of the city council's unanimous vote to call for him to resign. 

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

Angel Viera has lived in Reading, on and off, since 1991. It's his home. And yet, he doesn't feel entirely welcome in the city.

"I've been stopped by the cops like, in the last year, four times," said Viera, who is Latino. His girlfriend is white. "They thought I was her drug dealer. They stopped us for three hours one time because they didn't believe that was my girlfriend."

Viera has an arrest record and has spent some time in state prison. But he says even though he's cleaned up his act, the police are quick to stereotype him and other Latinos. 

David Goldman / AP Photo

 

Markets have been volatile at the start of 2016, and that could be bad news for municipal pension funds in Pennsylvania.

As it was, about half of the municipalities that maintain pension funds have distressed plans, with a total liability of $7.7 billion.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

Each year, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania holds a press conference at the capitol to announce their agenda for the year. With most of Harrisburg still under snow by Monday morning, this year's press conference was downgraded to a press release.

But the group says they are fully committed to these five issues that affect all 67 counties in the state.

Gene Puskar / AP File Photo

 

The week before Thanksgiving, U.S. Steel closed the blast furnace at Fairfield Works in Birmingham, Ala. Over 1,000 people lost their jobs.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

For all the mayors and city council members elected in November, the time has come to assume the mantle of power. On the first really cold day of winter, and the first business day of 2016, municipalities across Pennsylvania inaugurated new leaders — or welcomed the old ones back.

Once the new city council is in place, most cities hold a reorganization meeting in which they elect a president and vice-president of council. The president, who usually serves for two years in that role, determines who chairs committees and what legislation will be added to the agenda.

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

It's the first thing in the morning, which means Ramona DiMassimo has already claimed her spot at one of the desks in the computer room of her apartment building. She says having Internet access down the hall from her apartment has been "habit forming."

"I don't get anything done," she said, laughing. "I headed in half an hour ago for breakfast and, well, I haven't made it yet!" 

Temple University Beasley School of Law/Sheller Center for Social Justice

 

The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency often requests that cities and counties hold suspected illegal immigrants in custody for up to 48 hours so ICE can investigate immigration status or pick them up for deportation.

Cities that refuse are often referred to as "sanctuary cities." But legislators in Harrisburg are considering a law that would withhold state law enforcement funds from any municipalities that don't cooperate with these requests from ICE.

These "municipalities of refuge" could be cities, boroughs, townships or counties. 

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

 

There is a lot of evidence that, after decades of stagnation and decline, Pittsburgh is finally on an upswing. Steel is gone, replaced with the booming 'eds and meds' sector. The population is growing again and there is a welcoming environment for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

But that redevelopment isn't reaching everyone, according to a new study from The Urban Institute. Black men are facing disproportionate unemployment, discrimination and lack of opportunity in the workplace. As Pittsburgh improves, the city is in danger of leaving a whole group behind.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

Pennsylvania has been without a state budget for nearly six months now. Social service agencies are worried about shutting down. School districts are borrowing huge sums of money. And in-state college students are anxiously awaiting news about their state- funded financial aid.

Universities are having a hard time keeping up. A few weeks ago, Penn State sent an alarming email to 15,000 students. 

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

To an outsider, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre seem very similar. The two cities are about half an hour apart, and they both grew up around the anthracite coal industry. Both serve as the county seat, of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, respectively. Both have struggled to redefine themselves in the post-coal economy.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

Downtown Allentown looks very different than it did a few years ago. As part of the City Center development, there are restaurants, stores and even upscale apartments. The next phase, Five City Center, will be the biggest investment yet: $225 million to build an office tower, high-rise apartments and a public park.

But Allentown isn't secretly sitting on $225 million. To get funding, it has turned to a controversial source: the Immigrant Investor Program, or EB-5 visas.

Downtown State College Improvement District

 

  It’s a Friday night in State College. Pop on your party dress, pregame with your friends and hit the bars before some late night Canyon pizza.

 

But what if you’re not a college student? What if you’re a young professional, an older couple, or parents looking for something to do with the kids?

 

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

Jerry Sandusky returned to court today for the first time since he was sentenced in 2012. He's currently serving 30 to 60 years in state prison for the molestation of multiple boys, a crime he committed while an assistant football coach at Penn State. 

Gillian Kratzner / Blair Dems

 At last week's mayoral debate in downtown Altoona, the two candidates had to do something unusual: explain the position they were running for. Altoona is electing it's first full-time mayor since 1989 and many voters still aren't sure what the difference will mean to them. 

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

The Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE) fund is about to get a lot bigger. For the past four years, PHARE funds have been collected as part of the impact fee assessed on each gas well in the Marcellus Shale. Those funds, totaling $34 million over four years, have been distributed to counties in the Shale region to increase housing affordability and accessibility.

Vlad / Flickr

 

Most people associate fall foliage with Vermont, New Hampshire, maybe even Massachusetts. But if you're a leaf peeper — the technical term for foliage lovers — you'd be wise to put Pennsylvania on your list.

"Our friends to the north have a number of trees and beautiful foliage," says Michael Chapaloney, the executive director of VisitPA. "But we have nearly double the number of species of trees, so you're going to see a greater variety in Pennsylvania."

Hazleton, Pa., was just another struggling coal city until a wave of Latino immigrants came to town in 2006. It was a dark time: A wave of violent crime swept across the city. People were afraid to walk around downtown.

Some of those crimes were committed by immigrants in the U.S. illegally, leading to an unprecedented crackdown on the Latino community. Then-Mayor Lou Barletta tried to bar the door.

"We want people to know that Hazleton is probably the strictest city in the United States for illegal aliens," he said at the time.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

 

The Marcellus Shale runs under 60 percent of Pennsylvania. But the areas where drilling takes place feel the economic effects more than most. On Thursday, those counties received $8.1 million in state funding to support 44 local projects that address housing availability, community development and rental assistance.

Wikimedia

 

Breezewood, Pennsylvania has been called the "town of motels," the "travelers' oasis," and, most colorfully, "an Emerald City to the Pennsylvania Turnpike's yellow brick road." Most people greet this town-turned-rest-stop after driving through the spectacular beauty of Pennsylvania's mountains, and it's a jarring sight. There are gas stations, truck stops, hotels, motels and a single church. The town exists to serve motorists.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

Recently, in Lancaster County, an Urban Outfitters store opened near a Gap, creating jobs for dozens of people. The problem?

"There's no housing in that area," says Ray D'Agostino, the executive director of the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership. "So, they'll build transit to bring people in from the surrounding areas, including outside the county."

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

Building codes seem simple enough: build buildings that are safe to live in. To keep up with changing technology, most states update those codes every three years.

But Pennsylvania has gone six years without updates as the state wrestles with a law that creates an unusually high bar to approve changes. Each individual update must be voted on by the Review and Advisory Council and passed with a two-thirds majority. The council has one year to read and vote on close to 2,000 changes.

Act 1

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

In case you hadn't heard, the Pope is coming to Philadelphia and the whole city is a bit on edge.

Mayor Michael Nutter has said that "this will be the largest event in the city of Philadelphia in modern history."

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, is hundreds of miles from the boardwalk and the beach, but mere steps from the Susquehanna River. And while no one has made a reality show about this sleepy town yet, they do share one similarity with their namesake: flooding.

So when Michael and Lurie Portanova bought a strip of buildings downtown in 2012, they weren't surprised to learn that they'd have to buy flood insurance, for about $3,000 a year.

But no one told them about a recently-passed law called the Biggert-Waters Act.

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