About 60 members and supporters of the community-action group ACORN gathered at a North Philadelphia church yesterday to sing the praises of the beleaguered organization.
"There are two ACORNs out there," said Ian Phillips, ACORN's Pennsylvania legislative director and one of the organizers of the event.
"We wanted to talk about the ACORN that people who live in the community know."
The 90-minute session, at the House of Prayer Episcopal Church on Limekiln Pike, was part pep rally, part revival meeting.
Speakers included State Rep. Mark Cohen, retired city labor leader Tom Cronin, city Consumer Affairs Director Lance Haver, and nearly a dozen organizers and city residents who work for or have benefited from ACORN's action.
In the midst of praising the organization, several speakers took aim at the "right-wing conservative" critics who they say have launched a campaign to smear ACORN.
"We will not be hearing from any pimps or prostitutes today," said ACORN's Junette Marcano, who served as moderator at the session.
Marcano was referring to the controversy around the organization after an independent filmmaker and a female companion posed as a pimp and a prostitute and visited several ACORN offices around the country seeking assistance to set up a brothel that they said would use underage girls smuggled from Central America.
Secretly recorded videos of several of the meetings were made public this month and have become fodder for what ACORN supporters say is an attack by conservative media.
Four ACORN employees in the Baltimore and Washington offices who counseled the couple on how to set up the business, launder money, and avoid detection have been fired.
Officials in ACORN's North Broad Street office were also targeted in the "sting," but turned the couple away and filed a police report.
ACORN last week sued James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, who posed as the pimp and prostitute. The suit, filed in Maryland Circuit Court, alleges the couple violated Maryland's legal requirement of two-party consent to create sound recordings when they visited ACORN's office in Baltimore. The multimillion-dollar suit seeks damages from O'Keefe, Giles, and a conservative columnist who posted the videos on his Web site.
Yesterday's meeting in the city's Ogontz section was billed as a way for supporters to describe "The ACORN I Know."
Jean Ruffin of North Philadelphia told how the organization had helped her keep the house where she raised her children and grandchildren after she was the victim of a loan scam.
Olivia Dorsey, an ACORN worker in North Philadelphia, described how the organization had helped a resident in her neighborhood negotiate the health-care bureaucracy and get necessary X-rays after first being told that service was not available.
And Ora Jenkins, who lost her sight more than 10 years ago, told the crowd that she continues to work for ACORN because of all the good she has seen it accomplish.
Haver, quoting from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, said ACORN "is there whenever there is a fight" for those in need.
Whether it was opposing a SEPTA plan to discontinue late-night and early-morning transit runs or opposing utility company plans to shut off service to the poor, "ACORN was there," he said.
Cronin talked of "solidarity."
"The right wing in this country is going after the poor," said the former president of one of the city workers' unions.
Cohen (D., Phila.) called the smear campaign "outrageous" and said "wherever there are needs that ordinary people have, ACORN is there to help."