Philly NAACP leader goes from soda-tax supporter to paid consultant for Mayor Kenney
This bubbled up in Mayor Kenney's most recent campaign finance report: He has put Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia NAACP and a booster of Kenney's soda tax, on his campaign payroll as a consultant.
Something curious bubbled up when Mayor Kenney filed his latest campaign-finance report last week.
Hizzoner has a new consultant, someone named Rodney Carpenter. Never heard of him. But he's pulled in $25,000 from the mayor's political action committee since April 27.
Being investigative-reporter types, we Googled him. Nada. Then we Googled the address listed in the report for Mr. Carpenter and found it to be the North Broad Street home of Nation of Islam Muhammad Mosque No. 12.
The guy in charge there is Minister Rodney Muhammad, who is also president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP.
Marty O'Rourke, Kenney's campaign spokesman, confirmed that Carpenter and Muhammad are one and the same. We can't tell you what Carpenter/Muhammad had to say about that because he/they didn't respond to our requests for comment.
There's something fizzy about all this.
Kenney's signature piece of legislation so far has been his sweetened-beverage tax, a.k.a. the "soda tax," which since January has added 1.5 cents an ounce to the cost of most sugary and diet beverages sold in Philadelphia. The controversial measure was passed by City Council last year at Kenney's urging to fund pre-K education, community schools, parks, recreation centers, and libraries.
Front and center in supporting that effort? Muhammad, as president of the NAACP. He was listed as an early partner in Philadelphians for a Fair Future, a group set up to lobby for and then defend the soda tax.
We asked O'Rouke if Muhammad was consulting with the mayor's campaign on the soda tax.
"No — not necessarily," he replied in an email that could mean virtually anything or nothing.
We also wondered if Philadelphians for a Fair Future, which has spent $2.3 million in lobbying since 2016, paid Muhammad for his services. The answer: sort of.
Kevin Feeley's firm, Bellevue Communications, was hired by the group. And Feeley on Thursday told us his firm hired Muhammad for two months last year to work on community outreach on the soda tax.
"He was very helpful to me," said Feeley, who declined to say how much he paid Muhammad.
We also wondered what Ax the Philly Bev Tax Coalition thought of all this. That group is funded by the American Beverage Association, which has spent $14 million in the city since 2016 to lobby against the soda tax.
Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for that group, expressed surprise and noted that former Mayor Michael Nutter found no support from the NAACP when he sought a soda tax.
"The NAACP was one of the strongest opponents of the tax when Mayor Nutter first proposed it," Campisi said, "because of serious concerns that the levy would disproportionately impact low-income families and communities of color."
Well, not exactly.
Jeff Brown, a soda-tax opponent who runs seven ShopRite supermarkets in Philadelphia, said former NAACP president J. Whyatt Mondesire told him he was "definitely against this tax" when Nutter tried to get Council to pass it. Brown added that Mondesire, who died in 2015, might not have taken that position publicly, since it was clear Nutter could not muster the votes.
O'Rourke brushed off that argument, insisting there were "dramatic differences" between the legislation Nutter proposed and the bill Kenney signed into law.
Return of Billy C.
Apparently, South Philly defense attorney William "Billy C." Ciancaglini is running for office again.
We learned this while reading friend-of-Clout Dana DiFilippo's Monday interview with Ciancaglini, who was out for a walk in Las Vegas on Sunday night when he encountered people fleeing the scene of the mass murder, just three blocks away.
Somehow, the conversation veered from Ciancaglini's running for his life in Vegas to running for State Rep. Bill Keller's seat in the 184th District.
Which isn't that surprising if you know Billy C. He's a stream-of-consciousness type of guy. A constant stream.
"We need a voice," he told us Thursday. "And I'm a loud voice."
You might recognize Ciancaglini's name from the 2015 primary, when he ran unsuccessfully for Common Pleas Court judge while refusing to pay into Bob Brady's Democratic machine and cutting perhaps the best/worst ad of the election cycle – set to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." His endorsements included cannabis activist N.A. Poe and mob lawyer Joseph Santaguida.
Ciancaglini told us then that he is cousins with longtime mobster John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini, which led Johnny Chang to call us to say that he and Billy aren't really blood relatives. Something about adoption and the witness protection program. We never got to the bottom of that one.
Billy Ciancaglini now says he's definitely running for Keller's seat next year. Best we can tell, his early campaign platform will be heavy on a) not moving Frank Rizzo's statue anywhere, b) bringing the Mummers Parade back to South Philadelphia, and c) doing something about NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.
"This particular area is fed up with a lot of things, and they feel like no one is doing anything about it," said Ciancaglini, who hails from 12th and Bigler Streets. "Lots of people in other parts of the city won't agree with me, but I don't give a s–. I'm looking to represent South Philadelphia."
Ciancaglini is the third Democrat to enter the primary against Keller. So there's one state rep race we'll be watching in 2018.
"I'm still crazy over kale! Good for what kAILS you!" — Wednesday's cringe-worthy tweet from Mayor Kenney, who, in our opinion, seemed happier five years ago when he was still a councilman and could tweet obscenities to hockey fans while watching the Flyers at a bar. The lesson here? Never run for mayor of Philadelphia.
Staff writers Chris Brennan and William Bender contributed to this column. Tips: email@example.com.