Sozi P. Tulante, a Harvard Law grad and current assistant U.S. attorney, has been making the rounds of City Council offices, introducing himself as Mayor-elect Jim Kenney's pick for city solicitor.
Kenney would not confirm that Tulante was his choice for the position, but acknowledged he had asked "the candidate" to do an introductory tour so Council could vet him.
It is an unusual move that sources said came in response to opposition from Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who has said he wants Council to have independent legal representation.
"It's the only position that we appoint that actually represents Council and the mayor, too," Kenney said. "So we thought it was appropriate to give the Council president the opportunity to do his due diligence and his own vetting process on this particular candidate."
City solicitor is the only appointee that Council votes to approve. The government's top attorney handles legal issues for both the executive and legislative branches, which can lead to conflicts when the branches don't agree, Clarke said.
"I haven't heard an argument that anyone has made that a person can adequately represent two bodies, be it executive and legislative, or otherwise on an equal basis if there's inconsistencies on a particular bill or policy issue," Clarke said.
Clarke said he wants to look into having the city attorney elected rather than appointed by the mayor, as is done in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
City Solicitor Shelley Smith said she thinks one person can represent both the mayor's office and Council. She called Tulante "a great fit for the job."
"I think because we're in a political environment - because the legal department does its legal work in an environment of elected officials - sometimes the political disputes become characterized as legal conflicts when they really are not legal conflicts," she said.
As a former Council member, Kenney said, he understood the inherent conflict in having a solicitor representing both the mayor and Council.
"If they felt the Law Department was not in a position to represent them independently, we would give them whatever resources they need to feel comfortable," he said.
Phil Goldsmith, managing director under Mayor John F. Street, said that having Tulante meet now with Council is an encouraging sign of collaborations to come.
"I think it's unusual and it's a good practice showing Kenney going the extra mile in creating a partnership with Council," Goldsmith said.
Tulante and his family came to Philadelphia from Zaire when he was 8. They were fleeing a repressive regime that had held his father as a political prisoner.
"We lived in parts of North Philadelphia that had suffered the twin scourges of a raging crack-cocaine epidemic and senseless gangbanging," Tulante wrote in an essay posted on Philly.com. "I often went to bed overwhelmed by hunger, even though my parents had swallowed their pride and reluctantly accepted welfare."
But in time, the family thrived.
Tulante would go on to Harvard and the U.S. Attorney General's Office.
"I believe in Philadelphia," he wrote in an essay published in the book This I Believe: Philadelphia. "I mean the spirit of a city that, beginning with the Quakers, has offered to heal the shattered lives of those escaping persecution."