A TV ad that attacks Michael Nutter's "stop, question and frisk" proposal was condemned yesterday as "blatantly racial" by the watchdog group Committee of Seventy.
A political committee called the One Step Closer PAC financed the ad. Shawn Fordham - the manager of Mayor Street's 2003 re-election campaign - serves as a paid political consultant to the group.
The ad slams mayoral candidate Nutter for proposing that Philadelphia police be authorized to "stop, question and frisk" people they suspect may be carrying illegal guns.
Fordham has denied that the ad is racial.
Mayor Street himself made fundraising calls to help the group, the mayor's office said yesterday, confirming a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer. But Fordham said that, so far, none of the people contacted by the mayor had donated any money.
Also yesterday, Frank Keel - spokesman for Local 98 of the electricians union - revealed that he had made a negative radio ad about Nutter on behalf of the union's political-action committee, Philadelphia Phuture. Keel said the group was trying to buy $15,000 worth of airtime on KYW radio.
Local 98 plans to support Tom Knox on Election Day.
As the negative ads continued trickling out, the candidates plugged along the trail yesterday. U.S. Rep. Bob Brady picked up another endorsement - from the Tavern Owners Association. U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, state Rep. Dwight Evans and Knox attended a rally for after-school programs. And front-runner Nutter held a get-out-the-vote rally.
After his rally, Nutter dodged questions about One Step Closer and Street.
"I'm looking forward to seeing my ads on TV, I don't have time to worry about what other ads are on TV," he said. "I'm focused on this campaign, and what people in this room and all over Philadelphia care about, which is crime, public safety, jobs, educating our kids."
Zack Stalberg, Seventy's chief executive, criticized One Step Closer's ad for footage that equated Nutter's proposal with confrontations in the 1960s between police and civil-rights activists.
After several television stations refused to air the original ad, the copy was changed to delete a claim that Nutter wanted to "suspend constitutional rights" in high-crime neighborhoods. By yesterday 6ABC, NBC 10, CBS 3 and FOX29 had accepted the ad.
"Using racially based 'no-holds-barred' tactics for political advantage have no place in any campaign," Stalberg said.
The chairman of the One Step Closer PAC, Harold Wright, responded by saying he was just trying to discuss public policy.
Wright and Fordham held a news conference yesterday but refused to say how much money they had raised or who had contributed to put the ads on TV.
Fordham said that he had asked the mayor to make an unspecified number of calls to potential donors and that the mayor had agreed.
Joe Grace, the mayor's spokesman, said he didn't know whether the mayor had seen the ad before making the calls.
The mayor was confronted by reporters yesterday about the negative ads but declined to answer questions.
Independent committees like One Step Closer are not covered by the contribution limits that apply to mayoral candidates. They are permitted to receive unlimited amounts from individuals or other political committees.
Debate over "stop, question and frisk" police tactics continued among the candidates yesterday. Nutter issued his crime plan in January, but the attacks on the proposal have heightened with his rise in the polls.
Fattah, who has repeatedly criticized Nutter's plan, was questioned about his position on the issue on NBC 10 last night. Reporter Vince DeMentri asked:
"You don't have a problem, say, with police going down the street; they see a man with a bulge at his waist; they see someone acting suspiciously, then pulling him over, questioning him and frisking him. You don't have a problem with that?"
Fattah responded: "Searches when you have reasonable suspicion are allowed under the law. What you need is a trained police officer to be able to document that they have a reasonable suspicion to search you or I."
Nutter's crime plan would train police officers to stop and frisk appropriately. Nutter cited a 1968 Supreme Court ruling that police have the ability to stop and frisk someone if they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has happened or will happen and the person is armed and dangerous.
The Committee of Seventy yesterday also criticized Knox for breaking an April 30 pledge that he would contribute no additional money to his campaign beyond the $8 million he had donated at that point.
The Daily News reported yesterday that Knox had donated another $1.25 million this week. And as the Committee of Seventy was preparing its news release yesterday, the Knox campaign reported he had donated another $500,000, pushing his total campaign tab to $9.75 million.
"Although Mr. Knox is legally permitted to spend as much of his own money as he wants, it is deplorable that he would publicly declare a halt to his so-far-uncapped spending, and to break that promise just days later," Stalberg said.
"Give me a break," replied Knox's campaign manager, Josh Morrow. "Tom is spending money that he earned to defend himself against these illegal contributions and smear ads." *