There were campaign posters and bullhorns, contentious activists confronting other contentious activists as police civil-affairs officers kept a close watch.
It was all about the May 15 primary, and yet it had little to do with any of that. On paper, the rally, outside the sheriff's office on Broad Street near Walnut, was called by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, an advocacy group for the poor.
John Dodds, PUP leader, said Sheriff John Green has kept the home-foreclosure filing fee artificially high at $1,700 when it could be reduced to $800.
And part of each filing fee, Dodds said, ends up with Reach Communications, a contractor who handles advertising for the sheriff's office and is owned by one of Green's political allies.
The fee, which largely covers the cost of advertising three times before a property goes to sheriff's sale, must be paid up front if the hapless homeowner has any hope of staving off foreclosure, Dodds said.
Also working the crowd was Michael Untermeyer, one of Green's two challengers for the Democratic nomination. Unter-meyer, a former prosecutor and now a developer, said he'd lower the fees. He also criticized Green for his use of no-bid contracts.
J. Whyatt Mondesire, head of the local NAACP and publisher of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, said the entire event was "a stunt and it's pathetic."
He said if Untermeyer cared about the poor, he'd pay for their mortgages. But Dodds said Untermeyer had nothing to do with the event and that Mondesire's paper, like the Daily News and the Inquirer, are beneficiaries of inflated advertising costs.
Irwin Trauss, an attorney at Philadelphia Legal Assistance, which represents PUP, said that a March 2006 order by Common Pleas Court had reduced the number of words required in each ad by 30 percent. But the cost had not gone down," he said.
But Catherine Hicks, Green's spokeswoman, said Green, responding to a recommendation from the Mortgage Foreclosure Steering Committee in August, will reduce fees to $1,500 as a result of the smaller ads. She also accused Dodds of politicking, noting that he was at the committee meeting when Green pledged to lower the fees. *