A NEWS conference at which African-American leaders had planned to release a report alleging racial discrimination by a company that won state approval to open a casino in South Philadelphia went bust yesterday after the mayor pulled the plug on it, sources told the Daily News.
The news conference had been called by Philadelphia NAACP president Rodney Muhammad to slam Baltimore-based Cordish Companies, but it didn't materialize on City Hall's fourth floor as Muhammad had said it would.
Instead, Linda Dickens, a Kansas City, Mo., lawyer, and Shelton McElroy, a Louisville, Ky., man who had filed separate discrimination lawsuits against Cordish, waited inside the City Hall Caucus Room, where they had been asked by the local NAACP to speak at the news conference scheduled for 9:30 a.m.
By 10 a.m., neither Muhammad nor Kevin Johnson, former pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church who heads Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Centers Inc., who were to present the report, had arrived.
Moments later, a spokesman with a firm hired by the NAACP to handle the news conference, told a reporter that it would not be taking place and offered no explanation.
"I have been told that one or both, the mayor and the national NAACP, ordered the local NAACP to abandon the press conference at the last minute," said Dickens, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of a client.
"If that's true, it rocks me to the core that either the national NAACP or the mayor would exert such pressure," she said.
"They have created a space in our community that ostracizes black people," McElroy said of Cordish. "I came here at the request of the NAACP to prevent you all from experiencing what we have for a decade."
A source close to the situation told the People Paper that Muhammad had pulled the plug on his own news conference after he and a high-ranking official from the NAACP's national office received phone calls from Mayor Nutter on Wednesday and yesterday morning.
During the phone call with the national official on Wednesday, the source said, the mayor allegedly made veiled threats, saying that the news conference would not be good for the national organization, which is scheduled to hold a five-day national convention in Philadelphia beginning July 11.
That official then called Muhammad and said, " 'The mayor said back off,' " according to the source, who asked for anonymity.
In another phone conversation yesterday morning, Nutter asked Muhammad to hold off on the news conference until the two could talk face-to-face, and Muhammad agreed, the source said.
Mark McDonald, Nutter's spokesman, said the mayor knew nothing of the news conference and did not speak to anyone from the local or national NAACP offices.
Meanwhile, Muhammad, the fiery Nation of Islam minister, clammed up . He did not return repeated calls from the Daily News yesterday.
And at the NAACP office in Washington, spokeswoman Jamiah Adams referred questions back to the local branch.
The report that Muhammad had been scheduled to release yesterday, a copy of which was obtained by the Daily News, alleges that since 2011, nine lawsuits and one formal complaint have been filed against Cordish in Kansas City and Louisville alleging racial discrimination. Four of those lawsuits and the complaint are still active, the report said.
The allegations span from 2008 to 2014 and involve complaints from 24 separate plaintiffs and testimony from five former employees, according to the report.
Among the report's allegations:
* Dress-code policies at Cordish venues were selectively applied only to black patrons or falsely used as an excuse to prevent them from entering.
* The company hired white undercover patrons - whom they called "rabbits" - to pick fights with blacks to establish a reason to kick the blacks out.
* A Cordish manager testified that he was fired for refusing to implement discriminatory practices directly mandated by senior executives.
Lawyer and lobbyist Dick Hayden, a close friend of Nutter's who was legal counsel to his transition team after he was first elected in 2007 and is regarded as his political godfather, has been hired by Cordish to get the casino deal through the zoning and permitting process.
Hayden yesterday declined to comment about the discrimination allegations about his client.
Meanwhile, Cordish chairman David Cordish and Chief Operating Officer Zed Smith called the Daily News and emphatically denied that the company discriminates against blacks, but declined to be quoted for this article.
Smith, who is black, answered questions about the allegations on a Philadelphia radio show an hour after speaking to the Daily News.
Cordish manages dozens of entertainment venues across the nation, including Xfinity Live! in South Philadelphia.
The company's holdings also include the much larger Fourth Street Live!, with more than 20 nightclubs, bars and restaurants in Louisville; and the Power & Light District, with more than 50 bars, restaurants and nightclubs in Kansas City.
In November, Cordish and partner Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc., were awarded a license by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to build and operate Live! Hotel & Casino, which will be the city's second casino.