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A small, loyal cadre already has benefited from Street's success


John Street speaks at a Labor Day parade. The campaign for Philadelphia mayor is the most difficult fight of his career. (Ron Cortes / Inquirer Staff Photographer)
Second of three parts

By Cynthia Burton,
Robert Zausner
and Monica Yant
INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
In a political world of easy handshakes and fleeting friendships, John Street has cultivated intensely loyal relationships with a small group of men, some of whom have become wealthy thanks to their association with the former City Council president.

They are significant players in Street's tightly guarded world. If he is elected mayor Nov. 2, they could have a profound influence on city government, filling key off-stage roles in a Street administration.

Street has known these men for years, some of them since his days running a hot-dog cart in North Philadelphia. Today they are still at his side - with their advice, their services and their campaign donations - as Street fights the most difficult battle of his career, one that promises great rewards to the victor. And, potentially, to his friends.

The most recognizable members of this inner circle are Carl E. Singley and Ronald A. White, lawyers whom Street has helped get lucrative city legal work since his climb to the Council presidency in 1992.

Between them, Singley and White have been paid at least $5 million from legal work for the city and related agencies from 1992 to 1998, city records show.

Others include Lucien E. Blackwell, a former city councilman and congressman who was a mentor to Street and is now chairman of a collection agency that, since its inception in 1994, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from public agencies.

And there is A. Bruce Crawley, who grew up in the Richard Allen Homes project in North Philadelphia, became a prominent public relations executive, and has been Street's spokesman and image maker for the last decade. Crawley has gotten public relations and advertising contracts with the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works and the Free Library.

Others got on the Street express in the last few years as it headed toward a mayoral campaign: George Burrell, a lawyer, lobbyist and former councilman; and Leonard Klehr, a name partner in a big commercial law firm. Both represent clients with business before the city.

Street said that his associates have done good work for the city, and that his support for them has helped open the tight circle of white-collar patronage, particularly the arcane world of municipal bond work, to minority firms.

"They're friends of mine," he said, referring to Singley and White, both African Americans. "I've recommended them for business. I've never heard anybody say they do a bad job."

He added: "I think it's great that Carl Singley and Ron White are . . . doing this business. They should be in this business. It should have been happening long before it did. It's unfair that this business wasn't spread around."

Singley's role in Street's world

leads to millions in city business

They met in the early 1970s when Singley was a Temple University law student and Street was selling hot dogs from a cart near the campus. Street enrolled in Temple Law in 1972. Singley, a student activist who agitated for greater minority enrollment, eventually became dean of the law school.

He also became a fixture in Street's world, representing him when Street was Council president and mayoral candidate, even standing in for Street when he was late for a recent fund-raising event for Vice President Gore.

Singley's law firm has donated $25,000 to Street's mayoral effort, and for a time it gave the campaign free use of office space, a donation valued at $32,000.

One result of his close relationship with Street is Singley's striking success in landing city legal business. Since Street became Council president, Singley & Associates has collected at least $2.6 million in fees from bond deals and other no-bid legal work for the city, related agencies and the School District.

Before 1992, the firm was involved in three Philadelphia bond deals. Since then, it has taken part in 38.

The seven-member firm has served mostly as cocounsel, a secondary role in bond transactions. Cocounsels collect about 25 percent of the legal fees. In Singley's case, they usually ranged from $30,000 to $100,000 per bond issue.

Bond counsels are typically chosen by the mayor in consultation with other elected officials, including Street when he was Council president. The work does not have to be competitively bid.

"I helped him get on bond deals," Street said of Singley. "I'm not saying I didn't help him. Of course I helped him."

It is hardly unusual for politicians to reward their supporters with government business. The practice is particularly pervasive in Pennsylvania, which, unlike most states, sets no limits on what donors can contribute to political campaigns.

Nevertheless, the volume of Singley's government work stands out.

By one measure, his firm has received more Philadelphia bond business than any other law firm since 1992.

In the municipal bond world, firms are ranked by the dollar value of the deals they work on. Singley's firm was bond counsel or cocounsel for issues totaling nearly $5.8 billion. That ranked it No. 1 among Philadelphia law firms, according to Thomson Financial Securities Data, a Newark, N.J., firm that tracks bond information.

In addition to that work, Singley's firm has served as counsel to bond underwriters in deals worth $912 million since 1992, according to Thomson.

Only one firm had more total bond work during that period: Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, which has strong ties to Mayor Rendell and has nearly 350 attorneys, including a 23-member municipal-finance section.

In some cases, Singley was retained for bond deals without Street having to lift a finger.

Irvin Davis, former chief financial officer for the School District, explained why he brought Singley in on bond transactions.

"I knew there was a strong relationship to Street," he said. "Street never asked me for anything, but I asked him for a lot. There was a record of John Street's support for schools, and I didn't want to lose that."

Singley declined to be interviewed.

Street and Rendell have said that they used the cocounsel slots on bond issues to give minority law firms a foothold in the municipal-finance business. During the Street-Rendell years in City Hall, those minority slots went primarily to Singley and White.

Several minority lawyers said the result was that what was supposed to reverse decades-long racial discrimination ended up favoring Street's friends.

Under W. Wilson Goode, the city's first black mayor, the city drafted a list of law firms, including minority-owned ones, and generally picked firms in turn to do bond work. The minority bond work was distributed more widely than over the last seven years, city bond data show.

"That," said Goode in a recent interview, "was the fair way to do it."

Street's friendship with White

has led to dividends for both

Street said there were not many black people studying at Temple's law library in the early 1970s. Two of them were Street and White. That is how they met and became friends.

Like Street, White grew up poor. He ran with a gang in North Philadelphia's Richard Allen Homes, but he turned his life around and eventually graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He is now a Democratic fund-raiser and political player whose image is on the walls of the Palm restaurant, the city's premier hangout for pols.

His friendship with Street has paid dividends for both men.

In Street's seven years at the helm of Council, White made about $2.4 million in city legal fees, much of it from bond deals.

White's firm, which now has five members, was involved in 22 bond issues, most as cocounsel to underwriters. He had done some bond work before then: eight transactions dating to 1985.

White said one of the reasons he got city work during the '90s was that his was among the few minority law firms in The Bond Buyer Municipal Marketplace, known in the business as "The Red Book," which lists all firms qualified to do bond deals.

A publisher's spokeswoman said White did not apply to get into the book until December 1996 and could not have been listed until the spring 1997 edition at the earliest.

Asked for comment, White said: "If that's what the publisher says, it's correct."

As chairman of a political action committee called Citizens Action, White has helped raise $74,000 for Street's campaign fund.

Another Street friend, George Burrell, was a deputy mayor under Mayor William Green and served a term in Council with Street. Initially in rival political factions, the two became allies in the early '90s.

Burrell is now a vice president of Sturdivant & Co., a West Orange, N.J., firm specializing in securities research, trading and investment management.

Since 1992, Sturdivant has worked on a dozen city bond deals. Burrell's law firm, Evans & Burrell, has received at least $130,000 in city bond work since 1996. Burrell also sits on the nine-member board of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority - as a Street appointee.

"George is a friend of mine, and if I could be helpful to him in a way that is consistent with the interests and the needs of the city, I would do that. If I can do that for other people, then I will," Street said. "But I'm never going to sacrifice the interest of the City of Philadelphia to be helpful to anybody."

On Street's campaign disclosure reports, Burrell is listed as an official of Itron Inc., a Spokane, Wash., company with a 20-year, $82 million city contract to install and maintain automatic water-meter-reading devices.

In 1998 and 1999, Itron representatives contributed $6,500 to Street's campaign fund.

During the competitive bidding for the water-meter deal, which required Council approval, Itron hired Burrell as a lobbyist. Itron's chief competitor, the French firm Schlumberger Ltd., had two other Street confidants - Singley and Crawley - in its corner.

In the summer of 1997, Street voted with a lopsided majority of Council members to award the work to Itron, which made the lower bid.

Burrell remains a consultant on the project, which is nearly complete. He did not respond to requests for an interview.

Street said it was common for companies seeking city contracts to "run out and get our friends." He added: "If they're not low bidders, they don't get the work."

Two self-made men have ties

to North Philadelphia

Crawley and Street are both self-made men with strong ties to North Philadelphia. Crawley started as Street's spokesman - for free - as Street geared up for a difficult 1991 reelection race. He has become Street's main media adviser.

Crawley's PAC has contributed $2,600 to Street's campaigns over the years. During the May primary season, Crawley's public relations and advertising firm was paid $68,000 in fees by the mayoral campaign for placing ads on the radio and in community newspapers.

In the mid-'90s, Crawley had a $270,000 contract with the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works to help educate customers about new automatic meter-reading devices - the same ones supplied by Itron.

Crawley was also the winning bidder on a $28,000 contract to publicize the Free Library's 1997 fund-raising drive.

Leonard Klehr, already an established corporate lawyer, has become cochairman of Street's campaign finance committee - and a relatively new member of the candidate's inner circle.

Klehr, his law firm, and its employees have given Street $130,950 in campaign contributions, nearly all of it since Street began preparing his mayoral bid in 1997.

Klehr gave something else important to Street when he left Council: a job. Street is "of counsel" at Klehr, Harrison, Harvey, Branzburg & Ellers.

Street suggested that, if he becomes mayor, his friend will benefit because clients who want an entree to city government will seek Klehr out.

"What will happen to Lenny Klehr is, he's not going to have to do anything," Street said. "I'm telling you, he's not going to have to do anything."

Another member of Street's inner circle is Philadelphia accountant Richard Gibson, his sometime jogging partner. In 1992, shortly after becoming Council president, Street appointed Gibson an ex-officio member of the Fairmount Park Commission.

Two years later, Gibson set off a tempest by saying that the Dad Vail Regatta, an annual rowing competition on the Schuylkill, should be canceled if it did not include more African American rowers. Gibson resigned soon afterward.

In 1992, Street gave Gibson a $200,000 Council contract to examine the finances of the city's Criminal Justice Center, then under construction.

At Street's request, Gibson was also paid $90,000 by the city to advise Council on a sale of city tax liens, a pension bond deal, and housing financing.

How did Gibson get that work?

"John asked us to hire him," said city finance director Ben Hayllar.

Gibson has also collected $20,000 to date as a consultant to Street's mayoral campaign.

In financial disclosure forms filed through the '90s, Street reported that he owed Gibson more than $5,000. In an interview, he declined to provide any details about the loan. Street said he did not believe that the loan posed a conflict of interest. He said it was a private matter between him and Gibson.

Another Street confidant, Leonard Ross, shared a law office with Street for several years, loaned him money, and incorporated a trucking company with Street and Singley.

The company was JCL Trucking - for John, Carl and Leonard. It was set up in 1993 to transport prisoners' families to and from Graterford Prison, but it never got off the ground.

Street and Ross, a former assistant district attorney, began sharing an office in 1992. From 1993 to 1997, Street earned a total of $267,000 from his law practice.

Over the last two years, Ross has done legal work on two Parking Authority bond issues and an airport bond deal.

Street listed Ross as a creditor on his financial disclosure forms. Again, Street refused to provide details about the debt.

Wife of consultant helps city fill job

by recommending Street's wife

Lobbyist Ernest Barefield used to jog two or three times a week with Street. They got to know each other well when Barefield was Goode's liaison to Council. He also has helped Street run for office, contributing, along with his wife, Simone Gans Barefield, $6,000 since 1991.

Barefield now does government-relations consulting, which he described as "helping clients position themselves in front of government." In 1994, lobbying for Philip Morris, he helped persuade the Street-led Council to weaken a bill aimed at making cigarettes harder for younger people to find in convenience stores.

In recent years, his wife's executive search firm - Gans, Gans & Associates - has been awarded contracts authorizing the Rendell administration and the Philadelphia Housing Authority to pay it up to $1 million for personnel searches. To date, the company has collected $223,434.

Last year, Gans was paid $20,000 to conduct a national search for a director for a new city antiviolence program. A Rendell-appointed committee made the final choice for the $85,000-a-year job: Naomi M. Post, wife of John Street.

City officials defended the choice, pointing out that Post is a lawyer with an extensive background in domestic relations who worked in Family Court and was a children's advocate for years.

Blackwell and former press aide

are part of Street's inner circle

When Street was a rookie councilman in the early 1980s, his desk in Council was next to that of veteran Lucien Blackwell, who saw Street's potential and became a close ally.

After retiring from politics in 1994, Blackwell became chairman of St. Hill & Associates, a collection agency founded and run by his former press secretary, Tommie St. Hill. St. Hill, too, has emerged as a member of Street's inner circle.

His firm has worked for the city Revenue and Water Departments, the housing authority, and the gas works. St. Hill said all the business was won through competitive bidding.

St. Hill and his wife, Jennifer, a lawyer, have given Street's campaign fund $23,000. Last Sunday, they hosted a fund-raiser for Street at their Montgomery County home.

A few days before the spring primary, St. Hill showed his support for Street in a more public fashion.

He hired a plane to tow a pro-Street banner across the skies of Philadelphia.




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