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Nutter issues policy for distribution of mayor's-box tickets

The mayor's box at the Wachovia Center was perhaps the best place to catch the Flyers and 76ers during their recent playoff runs, but for the most part the seats remained empty, as have the seats at the other boxes Mayor Nutter controls.

The mayor's box at the Wachovia Center was perhaps the best place to catch the Flyers and 76ers during their recent playoff runs, but for the most part the seats remained empty, as have the seats at the other boxes Mayor Nutter controls.

Of the 61 games and circus performances at Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, the Wachovia Center, and the Wachovia Spectrum from April 4 to May 7, no tickets were used for 53 of those dates, according to an Inquirer review of who received tickets to the mayor's suites.

Unlike former Mayor John F. Street, who was frequently criticized for rewarding political allies and campaign donors with free tickets to watch the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies and 76ers from the luxury boxes under his control, Nutter has hardly used them at all.

But that is likely to change soon, if it hasn't already, under the first-ever drafting of a policy on use of the freebie mayor boxes.

"We were not giving out tickets to the boxes until a uniform policy was established," Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver said. "There was some use, but very limited use until the policy was in place."

The new policy is spelled out over two pages titled "Distribution of Tickets to Mayor's Box at Stadiums, Ballparks and Entertainment Venues."

When they were mayor, both Street and Ed Rendell regularly gave tickets to City Council members and other city, political and business officials - a tradition nearly every mayor has indulged in since the opening of Veterans Stadium in 1971.

At times, Rendell also rented the mayor's suite for campaign fund-raisers, later reimbursing the city for its use.

Street, though, came under fire when, during the City Hall corruption investigation, it came to light that his campaign raised cash by "selling" Eagles tickets in the mayor's box for as much as $20,000 each. Street repeatedly denied he used the suite for fund-raisers.

In response, City Councilman James F. Kenney at that time introduced a bill seeking to squeeze some city revenue from the boxes by requiring they be leased to the highest bidder.

Yesterday, he said he was content to drop that effort.

"If the administration wanted to do it, I would support it, but I'm not ready to beat up their policy," Kenney said. "There's no sense in starting a war in a new administration."

Nutter's new policy - which took effect April 22 - bans political fund-raising from the boxes altogether, and prohibits city vendors from receiving tickets.

Overall, the policy seeks to embrace a democratic approach to ticket distribution at the four major stadiums, as well as the Mann Music Center and the Robin Hood Dell East.

For Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and 76ers games, the mayor will receive six tickets; the entire City Council can receive up to two; and city employees can ask for up to two, which they may request only if their supervisors - including the Cabinet member who oversees their department - approve. Remaining tickets will be given to nonprofit groups.

Last week, for instance, Nutter donated eight box tickets for a Phillies game to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital for a fund-raiser.

None of this is to say, however, that Nutter's staff isn't also enjoying this perk.

On April 20, communications director Tricia Enright was among those on hand at Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phillies defeat the Mets, and she was also in the Wachovia Center box when the Flyers lost the next day to the Washington Capitals during the playoffs.

Three members of Nutter's security detail, along with City Councilman Brian J. O'Neill's daughter, Elizabeth, were there April 28 when the Flyers defeated the Montreal Canadiens in another playoff game.

And on May 1, mayoral scheduling director Christine Piven, legislative affairs aide Stephanie Marsh, senior policy analyst Jennie Sparandara, and other staffers saw the Detroit Pistons beat the Sixers in a playoff game.

Nutter himself attended a playoff game April 25 when the Sixers defeated Detroit - along with his wife and daughter; senior mayoral adviser Pauline Abernathy; grants and foundation officer Keri Salerno; Oliver; and others.

On other days, though, the mayor's boxes remained empty - including during 19 circus performances at the Wachovia Center, 12 Phillies games, 5 Sixers games, including one playoff, and 5 Flyers games, including 3 during the playoffs.

Under the policy, Nutter also reserved the right to use every seat available at any event. "If he wanted to invite elected officials from surrounding counties, he would need them all," Oliver said.

The policy also designates one person in charge of approving all ticket requests. That person is chief of staff Clay Armbrister, Oliver said, adding: "The buck stops with the boss."