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Philly’s commerce director has resigned after reports of anti-Semitic remarks and staff abuse

The resignation comes after senior department leaders and other staff have left the office over the last year, with some blaming their departures on Rashid’s allegedly abusive behavior.

Michael Rashid
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Philadelphia Commerce Director Michael Rashid resigned Sunday following reports that he made anti-Semitic remarks and verbally abused department staffers.

“My continued service would serve as a distraction from the work of the Department, which is far too important to the City and region,” Rashid said in a statement. “I also have had the opportunity to speak with leaders of the Jewish community in Philadelphia and apologize for my previous comments which were inappropriate and insensitive. I look forward to future engagement with the community going forward.”

The Inquirer reported Friday that senior department leaders and other staffers have left the office over the last year, with some blaming their departures on Rashid’s allegedly abusive behavior. Some said Rashid made anti-Semitic remarks, including describing Schindler’s List — Steven Spielberg’s award-winning movie about the Holocaust — as “Jewish propaganda.”

Rashid also published inflammatory social media posts, according to news website PhillyVoice. In one April post, he appeared to condone the shooting of police officers who are deemed racist. Another included an unverifiable quote attributed to Malcolm X that describes Jewish neighborhoods as “Jew Town.”

» READ MORE: Philly staffers say commerce director made anti-Semitic comments and verbally abused them

Rashid’s comments drew sharp criticism, including from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. The group’s president said Saturday that he was “appalled” by Rashed’s remarks and called on Mayor Jim Kenney to fire the commerce director. Pat Christmas, policy director for the nonpartisan, good-government group Committee of 70, also called for a leadership change.

Kenney initially condemned the comments and said they would be investigated. In a statement Sunday, the mayor said he accepted Rashid’s resignation in light of his “inappropriate comments.”

“The work of the Commerce Department is far too crucial — and it’s important that the Department stays focused on its mission of supporting Philadelphia’s business community at this critical time as we continue to recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic,” Kenney said. “The City is committed to ensuring a fair and inclusive working environment where the values of respect and dignity are upheld.”

The Mayor’s Office will oversee the Commerce Department for now, said Kenney spokesperson Kevin Lessard. The mayor does not need City Council approval to appoint a new commerce director.

Rashid, 74, was appointed by Mayor Jim Kenney in November 2020 and earned a $170,874 annual salary. He holds an MBA from Harvard and came to the Commerce Department after a long career as a healthcare executive. He arrived as the pandemic battered the city’s economy, shuttering stores and putting thousands of residents out of work. Among other things, the Commerce Department was tasked with distributing millions of dollars in pandemic relief.

Staff concerns about Rashid date to the beginning of his tenure, and questions about his leadership helped prompt a $505,000 audit of the department’s culture. That report described low staff morale and high turnover. In interviews with The Inquirer, several staffers described particular hostility or disregard for top female employees.

The roughly 50-person department had 19 open vacancies as of last week, though the Kenney administration said only six recent exits were due to people quitting. One recently departed staffer, former communications director Taj Magruder, wrote in a resignation letter that Rashid “berated” staff members, made “irrational” decisions, and appeared uninterested in the workings of the department.

“He will continue to lose employees and hollow out the Department, and his anti-Semitic comments could eventually become public,” Magruder wrote to Kenney chief of staff Jim Engler and mayoral spokesperson Lessard on Nov. 22.

At Rashid’s urging, the former CEO’s allies argued that staff allegations about his workplace demeanor are reflective of a “culture clash” between the public and private sectors.

Consultant Salima Suswell, whose firm Rashid had retained in the past, blamed “cancel culture” for the backlash to the social media posts. Labor leader Ryan Boyer, a longtime friend, called Rashid “thoughtful and measured,” and said the city could benefit from more of a “CEO mindset” in leadership.

But friends also acknowledged that Rashid’s corporate leadership style might rub some the wrong way in city government.

There were also questions about whether Rashid was flouting the city’s residency requirement, which requires employees to establish a residence in Philadelphia within six months of employment. Although Rashid rents a Center City apartment, staffers said he appeared to spend many working hours at his home in Montgomery County. Kenney’s office said it did not have credible evidence of a violation.

In an email to Commerce Department staffers, Engler wrote that he would meet with department leaders this week and that the city would review allegations against Rashid. He encouraged employees to share information about potential incidents of harassment or mistreatment.

“Please know that we take all allegations of mistreatment and discrimination seriously,” Engler wrote. “We’re committed to ensuring a fair and inclusive working environment.”