Rochelle Bilal ran for sheriff in Philadelphia this year pledging to reform an office long scarred by scandal.
But first, she will follow the quaint city custom of throwing a party for a corrupt politician headed to federal prison. She’s asking for “generous donations.”
Former Sheriff John Green, who starts a five-year stint behind bars on Monday, was convicted of taking $675,000 in bribes and kickbacks in office.
“We owe it to him,” Bilal said in a Facebook post Tuesday accompanying a flier advertising the fundraiser for Green at the Guardian Civic League, the association of black police officers she has headed for more than a decade.
Bilal did not respond to requests for comment, but her campaign manager confirmed the event.
On Facebook, Bilal defended the fundraiser, noting that Green is a former president of the league and pronouncing him forgiven.
“He was instrumental in insuring people who look like me got the opportunity to do this job,” Bilal wrote on the group’s Facebook page. “We understand he made a mistake but it will not take away from him, the good things he has done for a lot of people.”
To one online critic of her post, she responded: “Do your research. People make mistakes and forgiveness is for everyone.”
Despite all this, nobody told Green. And he doesn’t plan to attend.
“I was shocked, quite frankly,” Green said Thursday after hearing about the party from his brother. “I appreciate the sentiment. I understand people are just trying to be helpful. As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to do what I have to do and then come back and resume whatever part of my life I have left.”
Green has to be in Kentucky by Monday morning to surrender to the feds. He plans to leave town Friday night or Saturday morning.
His lawyer told a judge during sentencing last month that Green, 72, sold a house in Florida to pay $76,000 in restitution but was now broke and unable to pay a $17,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney William McSwain, like Green, was shocked but not amused.
“When I first saw the flier, I thought it was some sort of parody or joke,” McSwain said in an email. “But then I realized that it was serious. If an organization is raising money for anyone in this case, it should not be for John Green — it should be for his victims.”
Bilal’s efforts to help Green run counter to the messaging in the campaign she ran to win the four-candidate Democratic primary election in May, knocking off two-term Sheriff Jewell Williams, who has been shadowed by a series of sexual harassment lawsuits and settlements. Bilal has no challengers in the Nov. 5 general election.
“It’s been two decades — say it again — two decades of scandal after scandal after scandal,” Bilal declared in a May campaign event, just before her primary victory. Last month she called Green’s sentence unfortunate and promised that “change is coming.”
Going-to-prison parties are a tradition in Philadelphia politics. Former State Sen. Vince Fumo threw one for himself at a South Philly Italian restaurant 10 years ago, before heading off to serve five years for corruption. It was packed with elected officials, business leaders, and famous-for-Philadelphia celebrities.
Fumo recalled friends’ throwing a party for his predecessor, former State Sen. Buddy Cianfrani, after he pleaded guilty on corruption charges in 1977. Fumo said Cianfrani, who died in 2002, was more interested in prison protocol than frivolities when the crowd gathered at the Latham Hotel.
“Cianfrani is dead, now so I can tell this story,” Fumo said. “Some prominent people were there, one of whom brought three hookers. It was a hell of a party. I remember Buddy telling them, ‘Leave me the f— alone.’ He was on a phone asking a guy, ‘Do I bring underwear? Do I bring a toothbrush?’”
The latest lesson in self-destructive political communications comes courtesy of Mayor Jim Kenney, who pulled the pin on a grenade but then forgot to aim at the enemy: Philadelphia Magazine. Boom.
Kenney apparently was peeved about a story the magazine had published about the “DROP triple dip” — city employees cashing out in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan and then returning to work as consultants.
According to the magazine, the city declared on Sept. 4 that its editor-in-chief, Tom McGrath, would have to personally direct any reporter’s future request for information to Jim Engler, Kenney’s chief of staff, a burdensome process.
The magazine complied for a while. Then, last Friday, it threatened to sue Kenney. And suddenly — poof! — there was no special policy for Philadelphia Magazine and never had been.
City Solicitor Marcel Pratt told Clout that the policy, which had been in place for nine days, was “a proposed concept” that was not “formally adopted by the Mayor’s Office.” A Kenney spokesperson this week called the policy “a staff-level decision” made by Engler.
Kenney is clearly over it. “No, I don’t want to talk about Philly Mag,” he said Thursday in City Hall.
The magazine suggested that Kenney’s actions were akin to President Donald Trump’s attacking the media. Clout thinks the mayor is more like the president when it comes to gaslighting the public about policy.
McGrath now says he is “very pleased with the result” and glad the magazine stood up to the mayor.
State Rep. Chris Rabb faced the ire of Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, and former City Controller Alan Butkovitz in a meeting of ward leaders last week.
His crime: Rabb was one of five elected officials who on Aug. 26 endorsed Kendra Brooks, a Working Families Party candidate seeking one of two City Council at-large seats traditionally held by Republicans. He also endorsed Nicholas O’Rourke, another Working Families Party at-large Council candidate.
Unlike the others, Rabb is a ward leader. Some in the party think he’s breaking the rules. One of them is Butkovitz, who is also a ward leader and knocks Rabb’s claim that he can personally support the third-party candidates while also backing the Democrats’ five at-large candidates.
Clout hears that Rabb and Butkovitz had to be separated. Rabb said he was “lambasted” by Brady.
Brady confirms he “went ballistic" and informed Rabb he is “full of s—.”
Rabb suspects an ulterior motive: Butkovitz is mulling a run for auditor general next year.
“I think it was a political decision,” Rabb said. “I think it was out of enlightened self-interest. It’s red meat for ward leaders who don’t like what I’m doing.”