The city's leading election watchdog group yesterday condemned as "blatantly racial" a TV ad that uses footage of police confronting 1960s civil-rights marchers to attack mayoral candidate Michael Nutter for his "stop and frisk" crime-prevention proposal.
The statement from the nonpartisan Committee of Seventy came as Mayor Street declined to discuss his role in raising money for the group behind the ad.
The Inquirer reported yesterday that Street had made fund-raising calls in recent days on behalf of the group, known as One Step Closer. The group's ad has aired on CBS3 and NBC10, and is scheduled to run today on Fox29, 6ABC and cable stations.
Surrounded by reporters yesterday at the Market East Station in Center City after an unrelated news conference, Street brushed aside questions about whether he had seen the ad, and about the extent of his fund-raising efforts for the group.
Saying he would discuss the ad "at another time," the mayor said, "I actually reserve the right to talk about things when it is convenient for me."
He also expressed anger at The Inquirer for sending a reporter to his home Wednesday night to seek further comment after his spokesman issued a statement acknowledging Street made the fund-raising calls. The reporter rang Street's doorbell about 9:50 p.m. "I regard that as being an invasion of my privacy," Street said.
The group Street was helping is a "527," named for the federal tax code section that governs it. As long as they don't coordinate with a candidate's campaign, such committees can operate outside the city's 2003 caps on campaign money. They can raise and spend unlimited sums and keep donor names secret till after the election.
The mayor's former campaign manager, Shawn Fordham, said yesterday that he had asked Street to solicit money as a favor to him; Fordham is a paid consultant to One Step Closer. He said that he had given Street "four or five names" to call, and that none had contributed so far.
The TV ad opens with a picture of the Liberty Bell, then cuts to 1960s footage of civil-rights marchers with signs and police with batons. Nutter's picture appears as a narrator describes the candidate's stop-and-frisk proposal, and asks finally: "Haven't we had enough of politicians like Nutter who step on our rights in the name of security?"
In the Committee of Seventy's statement, its president, Zack Stalberg, said of the ad: "Using racially based 'no-holds-barred' tactics for political advantage has no place in any campaign."
In response, Fordham said Stalberg "is interjecting race in this by making it racial himself. . . . This [ad] is about an issue that is documented to show it unfairly targets minorities. I don't believe police intentionally do this. It is the unintentional result of bad policy."
Fordham and One Step Closer's president - Fordham's cousin Harold Wright II - insist the group is not trying to defeat Nutter but opposes his stop-and-frisk proposal.
The group also cares about other issues, Fordham and Wright said, such as candidates' proposals to hire more police, given the city's tight budget. That could result in another ad before Tuesday's mayoral primary, Fordham said - "if we get the money."
The group has spent about $100,000, Fordham said.
Wright, a clinical psychologist, said Nutter's stop-and-frisk plan drew his attention last month after he heard Nutter discuss it in a debate. He said he had called on Fordham, a distant relative, to help him organize a response.
One Step Closer is not a new group. Begun in 2005, its work had been primarily focused on voter-registration drives, such as the Hip Hop Summit Action Network.
The first donation reported by One Step Closer, $75,000, came from a 527 group that had managed voter-registration efforts for Street's 2003 reelection campaign. The person heading that effort was Greg Naylor, a campaign adviser to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.
Fattah, now running for mayor and sharply critical of Nutter's stop-and-frisk proposal, said yesterday that he was unfamiliar with Wright or One Step Closer.
Fattah and State Rep. Dwight Evans, another mayoral candidate, noted yesterday that Street and Nutter had sparred for years - and that Nutter had, in effect, thrown the first punch in the current campaign by airing a TV ad criticizing Street.
"The notion that a candidate for mayor would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the outgoing mayor look bad would irritate anyone, I think, in Street's position," Fattah said.
Nutter "could only expect that Street would come back after him," Evans said.
Evans, too, has warned that a stop-and-frisk policy could lead to racial profiling. Nutter's proposal would empower police to stop, question and frisk people on a "reasonable suspicion" of illegal weapons.
Nutter had little to say yesterday about the ad, except that 527 groups should reveal their donors. As for the other candidates, businessman Tom Knox had no comment, and when a reporter asked U.S. Rep. Bob Brady about it, he backed away and held up his palms.
"I don't have any part of that," said Brady, a longtime Street ally whose campaign had to fire a consultant over a 527 flap. Of 527s, he said: "I don't need them, I don't like them, and I don't want them in the city."
Then Brady leaned in and said of Street's phone calls: "If I was mayor, I wouldn't do it."