A bombshell report by the Nutter administration on the backroom political dealings of State Rep. Dwight Evans and former School Reform Commission Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. over a school contract fell flat Friday with City Council members, who called the men's behavior the stuff of everyday politics in Philadelphia.
Several Council members defended Evans for advocating for a New Jersey nonprofit to receive a charter school contract even after the SRC had voted to award it to another company.
A report issued Thursday by Mayor Nutter's chief integrity officer described how Evans and Archie privately pressured an Atlanta charter-school official to back out of the contract during a meeting that one observer likened to something out of The Godfather.
Evans, a close friend and client of Archie's law firm, Duane Morris L.L.P., was intent on getting the approximately $50 million, five-year contract for Foundations Inc., with which he has long had ties and from whose employees he has received political contributions.
"People had a meeting, and they disagreed. It's a disagreement. Folks fight for their point of view. What's wrong with that?" said Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, who praised Evans as a politician passionate about education.
Councilman James F. Kenney criticized Mayor Nutter for releasing the report, which he said should have been sent privately to law enforcement agencies for possible action.
"I think having this out in the public right now without any law enforcement agency doing their due diligence is a disservice," Kenney said. "Dwight Evans has been a tremendous advocate for Philadelphia and this administration for a long time. He's done tremendous things in the city. . . . I think Dwight deserves the benefit of the doubt until law enforcement looks at this."
"Public officials do advocate on the part of businesses," he added.
Councilman Frank Rizzo had questions about the report's quality and said he wanted to know the identities of the people interviewed. If the pressure to cause the charter school operator, Mosaica, to back out cost the School District money, that's a problem, he said. If not, it could just be politics, he said.
"Sometimes the most powerful survive," Rizzo said. "That's what politics is all about. Powerful people have the ability to deliver projects. . . . Dwight was - is still - a powerful politician. Dwight used that power to be helpful to a legitimate organization. There's nothing wrong with that."
Archie's decision to summon Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman to his law office on a Saturday so Evans could again lobby her on Foundations' behalf was "not inappropriate," Rizzo said.
Still, he praised Nutter for having the courage to release the report seemingly unfiltered even though it was critical of one of his political allies, Evans.
"It kind of surprised me that it was as strong as it is," Rizzo said. "Sometimes you can take a knockout punch on someone or go lightly on them. This was a knockout punch."
Particularly interesting is that Nutter has been supportive of Tasco, who is in the running to be the next Council president, and Tasco is close to Evans, Rizzo noted.
Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell lamented the potential damage to "two great leaders in our city who have made great contributions."
"We're sorry to read about all this trouble. I'm hopeful that everything is resolved so we can move on," she said.
Zack Stalberg, president and chief executive officer of the Committee of Seventy, was disturbed at Council members' comments.
"Real people, as opposed to people too comfortable with the way the political system works, are outraged by what seems to have gone on in this situation," he said. "And I think they will not be happy with the nonchalant remarks of these City Council members."
He added that the report, paid for with public money, "absolutely" should have been released.
Council member William Greenlee said: "If there is a procedure, there should be a procedure. There shouldn't be a secondary behind-the-scenes procedure."
Politicians outside the city also are disturbed about the events described in the report, said State Rep. Paul Clymer, a Bucks County Republican and majority chair of the House education committee.
"I do understand there is some limited horse trading that takes place in the political field, but these kinds of activities cross the line," he said. "The culture in Philadelphia has to change. Whether or not it will, I don't know. It would be to their own betterment if these kinds of disruptive incidents come to an end."
Tasco said she doubted that the report would damage the relationship between Nutter and Evans. She said she did not foresee a change in Philadelphia's political landscape as a result of it.
"The landscape is what it is," she said. "Next week it will be something else."