A lot of nasty things can happen at the bottom of a pile of football linemen. Eye gouging. Spitting. Sucker punches, and so on.

All of which should only have helped prepare former football player Richard Negrin, a Philadelphia lawyer, for the beatings he is bound to take in his new job as interim executive director of the Board of Revision of Taxes.

Mayor Nutter is expected to hand over day-to-day control of the embattled agency to Negrin at a City Hall news conference today. Though administration officials used diplomatic language in describing Negrin's mission, it is clear his job is to clean up the chronically mismanaged agency, which presides over an inaccurate and inequitable property-assessment system.

"A lot of people have asked me, 'What the hell are you thinking, taking this job?' " Negrin said Friday in an interview.

"It's obviously an incredibly important issue for the city, and arguably one of the most important priorities for the mayor," he said. "I've been looking to get back into public services, and I thought I could make the biggest impact in the shortest period of time at the BRT."

Negrin, 43, will bring an impressive resumé and a reputation for integrity and political independence to the BRT. A native of Newark, N.J., Negrin for the last four years has been a vice president and general counsel for Aramark, the Philadelphia food-services giant, which employs 260,000 workers worldwide.

He was appointed by former Mayor John F. Street as an original member of the city Board of Ethics in 2006, and he has served as board vice chairman since. Negrin will resign his Aramark job and his Ethics Board post to run the BRT.

In earlier years, Negrin was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, a litigator at the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, and a tryout with the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets.

Though his Ethics Board post has given Negrin what he calls a "bit of a political education in how the city works," he does not consider himself a "political person." He has not contributed to local political candidates, and he is not known to have allied himself with any of the city's political figures.

"If you were looking for a strong interim figure who would take the role seriously and then move on, I can't think of anybody better than Negrin," said Committee of Seventy president Zack Stalberg, who praised Negrin's work on the Ethics Board.

"He's not really anybody's political pal. I haven't seen any evidence that he's lined himself up with anyone," Stalberg said.

That kind of apolitical leadership has been all but nonexistent at the BRT, where patronage and personal relationships have arguably mattered far more than professional qualifications.

Consider, for instance, Negrin's predecessor at the BRT, Enrico Foglia. Though he had no college degree or management or assessment experience, Foglia was elevated to a $98,000-a-year job as executive director of the BRT in 1991.

David B. Glancey, the agency's chairman at the time, said in an earlier interview that U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the city Democratic committee, had backed Foglia for the position, assuring he would get the post.

Negrin, like Foglia, has no background in property assessment. He does not even own property in Philadelphia; he lives with his wife and children in a rented house in Chestnut Hill. But Negrin got solid executive experience at Aramark, which is what the Nutter administration says the BRT needs.

"He's obviously someone who has a real presence and knows how to get things done. We think he will be a good manager, and there are people at the BRT who can work with him on the technical side of assessments," city Finance Director Rob Dubow said, brushing off Negrin's inexperience with property valuations.

Negrin is unlikely to receive a warm welcome from BRT workers, some of whom have said they feel besieged and unfairly maligned by Inquirer reports that documented the agency's missteps.

In October, the BRT's appointed leaders signed a memorandum of understanding temporarily ceding operational control of their property-assessment unit to the Nutter administration. Though that agreement covered only six months, it can be extended on a case-by-case basis. In any event, the BRT is likely to be dismantled next year and split into a new property-assessing department under the indirect authority of the mayor and an independent assessment appeals board.

Negrin said he did not see himself as a hatchet man, despite the BRT's shortened life span.

"If people are afraid of a bloodletting at the BRT, they should know that's not going to happen. My management style is about performance, about fairness, and about integrity," he said. "There is no agenda in terms of acting on people's employment for the sake of making some kind of a statement or sending a message, especially in these economic times."

Negrin also said he would evaluate BRT employees based only on their performance and would neither penalize nor reward workers based on their political connections.

"I'm not going to care about how someone got to the BRT and who they know or who they don't know. I'm going to care about their capabilities and drive to do the job," he said.

Negrin said it would be "irresponsible" for him to say what, if any, policy changes he would like to make at the BRT. But he did say the Actual Value Initiative, the BRT's long-running and oft-delayed attempt to overhaul its assessment system, was an important and necessary project.

As difficult as his job is likely to be, it is sure to pale in comparison to the personal tragedies Negrin has endured.

In 1979, at age 13, Negrin saw his father, Eulalio Jose Negrin, murdered on the orders of Eduardo Arocena, the leader of an anti-Fidel Castro terrorist group called Omega 7, which was active from the 1960s to the 1980s.

A Cuban immigrant, Eulalio Negrin was a leading advocate of dialogue with Cuba, particularly on the matters of freeing political prisoners and reuniting families that had been divided by the embargo.

Those views made him a traitor in the eyes of Arocena, who tolerated no dialogue whatsoever with the Castro regime.

The hit Arocena ordered on Negrin's father - a hail of MAC-10 bullets as he and his son prepared to drive to a football game - could easily have killed Richard Negrin as well. But he came through the attack physically unscathed. Negrin said he held his father as the man died.

More recently, Negrin and his wife lost their 5-year-old daughter, Abigail, to spinal muscular atrophy. Her case was so severe, Negrin said, that, though cognitively healthy, she had only minimal control over motor functions.

Those losses seem only to have fueled Negrin's professional trajectory. His father's death, in particular, led Negrin to seek a legal education and join the District Attorney's Office. And his daughter's courage, he said, taught him the value of perseverance.

Negrin will formally begin his job Wednesday. His salary has not yet been set.

Contact staff writer Patrick Kerkstra at 215-854-2827 or pkerkstra@phillynews.com.
Inquirer staff writer Mark Fazlollah contributed to this article.