Around Town

Johnson announces appointees

Newly appointed City Council President Kenyatta Johnson announced the hiring of John D. Christmas to be his chief of staff overseeing the operation of the Council president’s office and Helen Loughead to be Council’s chief financial officer. Loughead previously served as deputy budget director in former Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration.

“I am thrilled that Mr. Christmas has agreed to take on this new role in Philadelphia City Council and that Ms. Loughead is bringing her vast knowledge and expertise into our organization,” Johnson said. “I know that John and Helen will play important roles in the success and operation of City Council and the employees they will directly oversee. I look forward to working with the members of my leadership team for years to come and the great things all members of the City Council staff will do to continue to improve the lives of all Philadelphians.”

In his new position, Christmas will oversee the day-to-day operations of the Council president’s office, which includes employees in the Executive Office, Communications, Technical Staff, Chief Clerk’s Office and Office of Veterans Affairs.

“I am honored and privileged by the opportunity to continue my service to city residents and members of Council under the leadership of President Johnson,” Christmas said.

Christmas has worked in city government for more than 33 years, including roles in Council, former Mayor John Street’s administration and the City Solicitor’s Office.

As chief financial officer for Council, Loughead will be responsible for analyzing and reporting on the overall fiscal health of the city; advising and providing analysis to Council on budgetary  and fiscal matters and legislation; and providing support during the city operating and capital budget approval process.  She started her position on Jan. 2.

“I am honored to join City Council as chief financial officer and I look forward to working closely with Council President Johnson, members of Council and their dedicated staff on the fiscal health of Philadelphia,” Loughead said. “The fiscal health of our city is foundational to the ability to make critical investments in essential programs and services while also ensuring we are prepared for any unforeseen economic disruptions. I am thrilled to be able to provide support to Council as they move Philadelphia forward.”

She served as deputy budget director from October 2022 until Kenney left office. In her role, Loughead coordinated the content and design of the city’s Five Year Financial and Strategic Plan to ensure it is understood by and actionable for key stakeholders including policymakers and city management leadership as well as the public.

Johnson also announced that Jessica Sánchez will remain as Senior Legislative Counsel and Chief Ethics Officer, Wendy Prescott-Tate will continue as Chief Operating Officer, Jenaye Munford will stay as Director of Neighborhood Preservation Initiative and Khara García remains the Creative Services Director for Council Communications.

Vincent Thompson, communications director for Johnson since December 2019, has assumed a new role as communications director and spokesperson for Council and Johnson. 

Brett Nedelkoff, a legislative assistant for Johnson since 2019, is now Director of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for the Council President’s Office. Thompson and Nedelkoff started their new positions Jan. 2.

BlackStar announces Film Festival details

BlackStar Project’s annual film festival is slated for Aug. 1-4 and will be held in hybrid format.

BlackStar Projects, celebrating black, brown and indigenous film and media artists, is celebrating its 13th edition of the BlackStar Film Festival. Submissions are now open through April 1 via FilmFreeway.

“As BlackStar evolves and branches into new realms as an organization, our dedication to uplifting the work of genre-defying black, brown and indigenous artists remains at the core of our mission,” said Maori Karmael Holmes, chief executive & artistic officer and founder of BlackStar Projects. “The 13th edition of the film festival will continue this legacy as the premier destination for discovering visionary films from the global majority.”

The 2024 BlackStar Film Festival will again take a hybrid format, with in-person screenings in downtown Philadelphia, alongside digital access.

Last year’s 12th-anniversary BlackStar Film Festival featured 97 films, including 19 world premieres, representing 31 countries. The lineup spanned narrative features and shorts, documentary features and shorts and experimental films and showcased 19 world, 11 North America, five U.S. and 10 East Coast premieres. Forty-seven films were Philadelphia premieres. In addition to presenting an array of live programs, panels and select in-person events and screenings, 2023 marked BlackStar’s biggest festival to date and its first time taking place on Broad Street. 

For overall information on BlackStar, including its festival and programs, visit

Additionally, registration is open through Feb. 9 for the 2024 William and Louise Greaves Filmmaker Seminar, taking place March 8-10. This three-day, in-person gathering for black, brown and indigenous artists working in cinematic realms will be presented in partnership with the Stanford Institute for Diversity in the Arts, on the campus of Stanford University. This year’s speaker for the keynote address will be multi-hyphenate actor, playwright and director Anisia Uzeyman. Seminar attendees can expect workshops, panels and deep discussions about filmmaking practices. Additionally, artists’ wellness will be prioritized, with yoga classes and mindfulness sessions offered throughout the seminar’s programming.

BlackStar Projects announced the appointment of Senior Director of Development and Operations Catherine Lee, a nonprofit administrator and fundraiser who brings extensive experience with community-based arts and culture spaces. Prior to joining Blackstar Projects, Lee most recently served as the development director at Fleisher Art Memorial in Bella Vista. Lee also brings nearly a decade of experience in resource development, board engagement, program design and development operations from her time at Asian Arts Initiative, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and work as a consultant managing an extensive portfolio of nonprofit clients.

BlackStar initiatives include Seen, a journal of film and visual culture, which recently published Issue 006 with Emmy-award-winning actor Colman Domingo featured on the cover. And Many Lumens, BlackStar’s signature podcast, which finds BlackStar founder Maori Karmael Holmes in dialogue with the most groundbreaking artists, changemakers and cultural workers of today. 

Receive up to $500 on homeowner tax credit

Was your latest real estate tax bill more than you anticipated? Philadelphia homeowners can receive up to $500 to help with increasing real estate tax bills through the City of Philadelphia Real Estate Tax Credit Program. Homeowners within the City of Philadelphia who have experienced an increase in their real estate tax bill can apply.

Applicants must live within the City of Philadelphia; be the legal owner of the property; have a property tax bill increased by 50 percent or more between the 2022 and 2023 tax assessments; and household income must be at or below 80 percent Area Median Income.

The selection process will consist of an initial screening of applications based on eligibility, followed by a random selection of eligible applicants through a lottery system. See detailed eligibility requirements and apply by Jan. 31 at If you have any questions, email, or call 855-334-9513.

Read the Revolution speaker series with Stacy Schiff

Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff will join the Museum of the American Revolution on Jan. 31 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. for a discussion with Museum President and CEO Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, inspired by her most recent book, The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, and Adams’s attendance at the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia’s Carpenters’ Hall in 1774. 

This hybrid program will be held in the Museum’s Liberty Hall and will be livestreamed online for ticketed guests. Following an interview with Schiff, Stephenson will facilitate a Q&A with onsite and online audiences.

Doors open at 6 p.m. for onsite guests to enjoy refreshments at a cash bar, purchase signed copies of the featured book and see a special artifact on display. Onsite tickets for the event include Zoom access and are $20 for general admission and $15 for Museum members. Online-only tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for Museum members. Tickets can be purchased at

Evans leads effort to keep 5,000 IRS employees in West Philadelphia

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-3rd dist.) is leading a bipartisan effort to keep about 5,000 IRS employees at the IRS Headquarters Service Center in West Philadelphia, next to a major regional transportation hub.

Evans and six Southeastern Pennsylvania colleagues recently wrote to the U.S. General Services Administration about the issue. The GSA handles most federal office leases, including the IRS lease at Cira Square, 2970 Market St., across from William H. Gray III 30th Street Station. The co-signers are U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle, Madeleine Dean, Brian Fitzpatrick, Chrissy Houlahan, Mary Gay Scanlon and Susan Wild.

“The repurposing of this historic Post Office facility has been vital to the economic development of West Philadelphia and the city at large,” Evans said. “The highly accessible location is also a benefit for workers and office visitors, and for cleaner air in the region by reducing the need for car commutes. I appreciate this strong show of support from my Southeastern Pennsylvania colleagues.”

The letter from the seven members of Congress said, “We believe that both the Federal government and constituents in our districts have much at stake in seeing a continued presence from the IRS at Cira Square.”

Celebrate Ben Franklin’s birthday

The public is invited to a free event to celebrate Benjamin Franklin’s 318th birthday. Residents, visitors, colonial characters, Philadelphia dignitaries and Franklin himself will gather in Old City to hear a panel discussion examining the important role of craftsmanship in America and honor this year’s Founder’s Award recipient, architectural great Frank Gehry. Celebrants will also be able to enjoy sweets and treats from Franklin Fountain and an exhibit of 18th- and 19th-century tools. The event will be followed by a procession to Franklin’s gravesite, featuring music, a fire engine, banners and flags.

The event is set for Friday, Jan. 19, at the American Philosophical Society: Benjamin Franklin Hall, 427 Chestnut St. The panel will be from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by the procession.

A salty pretzel chocolate bar, birthday cake ice cream and hot chocolate will be provided by Franklin Fountain.

RSVP at:

For more information about the celebration, visit ••

Parkinson’s support group

Temple University Hospital – Jeanes Campus is offering a Parkinson’s disease support group for those who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and their families on Feb. 14.

The group will meet on the second Wednesday of every other month from 6-7 p.m. at the Cheltenham Friends Meetinghouse, 7604 Central Ave.

The group is led by nurse practitioner June Ro, and will include guest speakers.

To register, contact Ro at 215-707-2619 or ••

VFW looking for members

Bustleton-Somerton/CTR1 Michael J. Strange VFW Post 6617 meets on the third Wednesday of every month at American Legion Post 810, 9151 Old Newtown Road.

Meetings start at 7:30 p.m.

If you are a military veteran who served in a designated combat zone, you are eligible to join the VFW.

Contact Commander Israel Wolmark at 215-725-0630 if you would like to join the post. ••

Trip to Northern Europe

The Bristol Cultural and Historical Foundation is presenting a Northern Europe: Iceland, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium and London cruise, July 25 to Aug. 4, 2024, aboard the new “Norwegian Prima.”

Rates per person are $6,261 and $6,495, which include roundtrip airfare from Philadelphia.

Deposit of $350 per person double occupancy is required when booking.

Final payment by Feb. 27.

Call 215-788-9408. ••

Upcoming opera performances

Amici Opera Company will present Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz on Saturday, Feb. 3, at 4 p.m., at United Methodist Church of the Redeemer, 1128 Cottman Ave.

There will be two performances of Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore: Sunday, Jan. 21, at 3 p.m., at Saturday, Jan. 27, at 4 p.m., both at United Methodist Church of the Redeemer.

There will be two performances of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra: Sunday, Jan. 22, at 4 p.m. at United Methodist Church of the Redeemer, and Saturday, Jan. 28, at 2:30 p.m. at Dock Woods, 275 Dock Drive, Lansdale.

Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra will be performed as part of a dinner theater on Tuesday, Jan. 23, at 6 p.m. at La Piovra, 7901 High School Road, Elkins Park The cost for the show and a three-course dinner is $54.95 per person. For reservations, call 215-606-3800.

For more information, call 215-224-0257 or visit the Amici Opera Company page on Facebook. ••

Feb. Zoom book club meeting

The Book Club of Congregations of Shaare Shamayim will be holding a Zoom session on Monday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m.

The February book is the historical mystery The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen.

For further information or to register, call Lynn Ratmansky at 215-677-1600. ••

Local author’s novel releasing soon

Mayfair author Becky Flade announced that Tirgearr Publishing will release her latest novel, Fade into the Night, on Jan. 23. It is the fifth book in Flade’s award-winning series of romantic thrillers set in Philadelphia. It is available for pre-order at all major digital retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iBooks/iTunes, at a specially reduced price. Flade, a Frankford High School graduate, has been writing since kindergarten, when her Brown Elementary School teacher, Miss Daniels, helped with her first book detailing her and her best friend’s first solo trip to the market for milk. ••