Until the last minute, Philadelphia NAACP president Rodney Muhammad was set to denounce a developer who intends to build a casino in South Philadelphia.
Muhammad was to star at a City Hall news conference Thursday to release a report on alleged racist practices by Baltimore-based Cordish Cos.
He decided not to attend, he said Friday, after receiving a call from Mayor Nutter, who said they needed to talk, and a second call from national NAACP officials.
Without Muhammad's presence, the news conference, organized by Jason Ortiz, a managing director with consulting firm Metropolitan Public Strategies of New York, unraveled.
What Muhammad said he hadn't realized was that Unite Here, a labor union seeking an inside track on organizing workers at Cordish's planned $475 million casino, was linked to the report.
"We're uncovering now, with Black Clergy's investigation, it seems they just have an ax to grind with this company. I don't want to be their whipping boy for another feud that's going on," Muhammad said.
Muhammad was not the only local African American leader approached by Ortiz, whose firm prepared the report, called "Unwelcome: History of Allegations of Racial Discrimination by the Cordish Cos." Ortiz declined to comment for this article.
The Rev. Terrence Griffith, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, said Ortiz contacted him and they met in March or April. Ortiz raised allegations of Cordish's racist practices.
"My impressions were that Jason represented Unite Here," Griffith said.
In January, another representative of Metropolitan said in an e-mail to an Inquirer reporter that the firm was working with Unite Here and had "a bunch of good stories coming down the pike re: Philly-area casinos."
This week, Griffith said, he met with Chris Magoulas of Unite Here, which represents casino workers in Atlantic City and at Harrah's Philadelphia in Chester. For years, Unite Here has been trying to organize workers at SugarHouse Casino in Fishtown.
Magoulas was concerned, Griffith said, that the Seafarers Entertainment and Allied Trades Union, which represents some of the 3,000 workers at Cordish's Maryland Live! casino near Baltimore, would gain a foothold in Philadelphia.
The news conference fell apart after Ortiz sent out a media advisory.
Muhammad said Nutter never asked him to cancel the news conference, and the mayor reiterated that Friday.
When Nutter couldn't immediately reach Muhammad on Wednesday, the mayor said, he phoned the national NAACP, which is about to hold its national convention here in July. Muhammad called back, reaching the mayor in Denver as he sat on a runway in a plane.
"I said," Nutter explained, "all things being equal, it would be my preference we talk first before there's some big public thing."
When Nutter returned to Philadelphia on Thursday, he assumed the news conference had occurred.
Muhammad said the national chapter was concerned that the news conference might create an appearance that the NAACP was battling the city.
"The truth is, the NAACP in St. Louis and Kansas City, they claim a good working relationship with Cordish," Muhammad said. "I'm concerned about Philadelphia, but those are the facts."