Near the end of Thursday’s council meeting, Ninth District City Councilwoman Marian Tasco launched a verbal attack on the commonwealth’s investigation of Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp., including media coverage based on a confidential report.
She also defended state Rep. Dwight Evans, who founded OARC, as a legislator who has made a difference for his district, sentiments which were supported by Councilwomen Cindy Bass and Maria Quinones-Sanchez.
Sparking Tasco’s tongue-lashing was a story in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer which cited a confidental report that stated the Northwest Philadelphia nonprofit “misspent or mismanaged portions of state grants worth $12 million since 2006, violated bid rules, and made questionable real estate purchases with taxpayer funds, according to a state investigation.”
Is race involved?
The story’s headline, “Probe hits nonprofit’s grant use,” stoked Tasco’s ire.
“If you look beyond the deliberately misleading headline and the numerous inferences and innuendos, there is not much ‘there’ to their story,” said Tasco, whose district overlaps with the representative’s in West Oak Lane. “They reduced 30 years of Dwight Evans’ hard work to revitalize this formerly blighted community to a headline of indictments.
“If he was a white legislator, and this was a white neighborhood, the Inquirer‘s headline would read ‘Committed state legislator turns neighborhood around after 30 years of hard work.'”
Tasco cited Evans’ legislative accomplishments in her district and beyond when he chaired the House Appropriations Committee and shared a vignette in which two visitors asked her “why is there so little wealth in black Philadelphia?”
“The answers lie between apathy and petty jealousy, corporate greed and their political benefactors, liberals who are more comfortable with blacks on their backs than in the boardroom and a press that exploits and sensationalizes the misfortunes of the black community on one hand and demonizes those who dare to craft solutions,” she argued.
“There is a notion that the African American community is not entitled to participate in decisions of allocating revenues and government resources. We need to somehow be closely monitored and that government in our hands is corrupt,” she continued. “The press perpetuates this myth by sensationalizing leaked allegations.”
Leak remains an issue
With the confidential report at the heart of her criticism, Tasco hypothesized that if former Gov. Ed Rendell was the target, the questions would focus on why a Republican administration was leaking information to the press but not the subject of the probe.
“If there is a real smoking gun, where are the charges?” asked Tasco, who also introduced a resolution asking the state to restore the adultBasic program (PDF) at the meeting. “Or, is the true aim to kill off these effective organizations by rumors, allegations and legal fees?”
Her anger continued after the meeting when reporters approached for follow-up questions.
Noting that she has not asked the state for the report, she said, “It’s unfair. If [OARC] did something wrong, tell them what it was. Why won’t [they] release the report? If there’s anything there, why haven’t they brought it to the Attorney General’s office?”
When NewsWorks sought comment regarding OARC’s call for an investigation into the probe this week, neither the Attorney General’s office nor the Office of General Counsel offered one.
Evans discusses OARC with NewsWorks
When reached via cell phone Thursday afternoon, Evans said he appreciated Tasco, Bass and Quinones-Sanchez’s comments at the council meeting. However, he couldn’t delve into the state probe since he said he is not privvy to the report other than what he read in the newspaper.
“I’ve never seen the report so I have no idea what they’re talking about,” he said. “I support OARC 100 percent. I know what they’re about. I know what they’ve done in the neighborhood.”
Saying that OARC and the newspaper have been at odds for several years, Evans added that, “You don’t hear me bashing the press, or bashing individuals, but I used to think there was fact-checking, and I’d like to think the name of the game is fairness. What is going on here? What are the games that are being played?”
Evans, who said he was told he was not named in the confidential report, said, “I can’t respond to something I have not seen, but I like to think I’ve made a positive difference here over a three-decade period.”