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Dwight Evans gets an $850,000 political boost from Community College of Philadelphia

What looks like a campaign commercial opens with Evans bounding up the stairs at CCOP, turning to beam a smile as his name and title flash across the screen.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Philadelphia) appears in West Philadelphia in May.
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Philadelphia) appears in West Philadelphia in May.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

The television ad tells the success story of U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans. Not that he paid for it.

What looks like a campaign commercial opens with Evans bounding up the stairs at the Community College of Philadelphia, turning to beam a smile as his name and title flash across the screen.

“I started at Community College, now I’m in the United States Congress,” he says.

But the college, not Evans’ campaign, made the ad and paid for it. After Clout asked, the school acknowledged it shelled out about $850,000 to air it on broadcast, cable, and digital platforms from the summer of 2019 until Thursday, when the fiscal year ended. It aired often during the Sixers’ playoff run.

That’s a nice alumni assist for Evans, a 1973 graduate of the college and its 2019 commencement speaker. Even if he won’t say so.

And it all comes at a convenient time, as Evans prepares to face at least two Democratic primary challengers, and maybe more, as he seeks a third term next year.

Clout asked Evans three times this week if he sees any political benefit in having his alma mater pay to tell his success story on television in a market where many viewers are also voters in his district.

Thrice, Evans refused to answer, pivoting each time to his connection to the college and his work in support of it during 36 years in the state legislature and now Congress.

“There are people who have come to me and said they went to community college as a result of me telling my story,” he said.

An Evans staffer told Clout he received clearance from the House Committee on Ethics to appear in the commercial but declined to provide any documentation. The committee does not make public guidance it provides for members of Congress.

Donald “Guy” Generals, the college’s president, said its board sets the overall budget and his staff decides how to spend the portion set aside for marketing, with annual funding ranging from $900,000 to $1.3 million.

The mayor appoints the college’s board. Mayor Jim Kenney and Evans are political allies. Kenney credited an endorsement from Evans with helping him win his 2015 primary. Then Kenney endorsed Evans over then-U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah a year later.

There’s no indication Kenney played any role in this, and there’s nothing inherently improper about the ad buy. It’s just a free political boost. Generals said the potential benefit for Evans didn’t occur to him.

“I didn’t think in political terms, to be honest,” Generals said, adding that Evans can serve as a “role model who started at community college and has an unbelievable story” of working his way from there to Congress.

The goal, Generals said, was to “promote outcomes of the college” and let people know it can help them launch successful careers.

Speaking of launching careers, two political novices — Alexandra Hunt and Austin Rodill — have already filed paperwork to challenge Evans next year. Michael Cogbill, a union organizer and nephew of City Councilmember Cindy Bass, said he is seriously considering a run.

But the most significant threat for Evans could come from Councilmember Helen Gym, seen as a potential progressive challenger after racking up more votes than any other Council candidate in three decades.

» READ MORE: More Clout: Pennsylvania Republicans want voters to be able to recall elected officials — but only in Philly

Gym, also rumored to be considering a 2023 run for mayor, was detained and cited with other protesters in the state Capitol last week, in a made-for-viral-video moment as they demanded more state education funding.

Gym told Clout she’s focused on the job she has and is not considering a run for another office.

The Cook Political Report in April ranked Evans’ district as the most Democratic in the entire country. Democrats make up 82% of the voters in the district, which includes Northwest Philly, Center City, West Philly, and South Philly. Evans won reelection in November with 91% of the vote.

Still, Evans has never been a powerful fund-raiser and rarely spends money on TV ads. He had about $146,000 in his campaign account at the end of March.

Evans spent just $180,000 on TV to first win the seat in a four-candidate primary in 2016.

Democrats unlikely to take back the PPA

Democrats in Philly tell Clout they don’t expect Gov. Tom Wolf to help them take back control of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

As Clout told you last week, Wolf had a shot at that, 20 years after former State Rep. John Perzel of Northeast Philly engineered a Republican takeover of the revenue-rich, patronage-laden agency.

State House Speaker Bryan Cutler, a Lancaster County Republican, sent Wolf three Republican names last week to fill two board seats. The Republican-controlled state Senate last year sent Wolf two Republicans and one Democrat to fill two vacant seats. Wolf picked one from each party last year.

Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger told Clout this week that “political affiliations are not part of the criteria.” Kensinger said Wolf “is reviewing the list and will make a decision in the next few weeks.”

Wolf, who can ask Cutler for a replacement list within 30 days, gets to make two selections next year. If he had fought for one Democratic appointee this year and added two more in 2022, his party would have a 4-2 majority. Instead, the agency appears headed to a 3-3 deadlock next year.

Clout provides often irreverent news and analysis about people, power, and politics.