Public relations man Frank Keel has never been a guy to hold back.
Once the press secretary for Mayor John Street, Keel now handles communications for several unions and is a contract spokesman for the Philadelphia court system.
He’s had his share of volatile clients and handled plenty of hot issues, putting himself at the center of controversy a few times.
You wonder if such a man should be on Facebook.
There’s been a quiet buzz among the city’s political and communications pros over Keel’s Facebook posts. Many are funny and endearing, but others have spewed some raw venom at the adversaries of his union clients, most notably Mayor Michael Nutter.
[UPDATE: This story was published Friday, June27th, and by Sunday it appears Keel’s Facebook page has been taken down.]
Keel has called Nutter a son of a bitch, a bum, a fraud, and in one post that was eventually taken down, “an ugly a**hole.”
And in a June 19 post Keel spoke of accosting a “sleazy, contemptible” lobbyist who’d made a smart remark to him after a rally protesting the sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works.
“I gripped him up real close up by his nifty suit jacket and starting moving him backwards toward the North Broad Street traffic,” wrote Keel, who is about six foot-three. “I delivered a message, verbally and physically. I don’t think he’ll wise-ass me again any time soon. Today was the day. The lid is off the boiling pot. F**k with me at your own peril, you maggots.”
The post was removed in a few days.
Protected, if not prudent speech
I’ve known Keel a long time, and I like the guy. We’ve had some contentious encounters on stories over the years, but every time we did he was responsive and friendly the next time I contacted him, often calling me “pal.”
He declined to talk to me about his Facebook posts, saying the subject is “out of bounds.”
Keel has every right to express his opinions on Facebook, and I have no doubt they’re sincerely held. But it’s a little weird for the spokesman of a public agency to be throwing profane insults at the mayor and boasting about pushing somebody toward moving traffic.
I’m all for spirited debate, but a little civility is nice, too.
When I called Philadelphia Common Pleas Court President Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper, she told me she wasn’t aware of her spokesman’s online activity – she only uses Facebook to connect with a running group she’s in.
She said she would look at some of the posts I was writing about and talk to the administrative governing board of the courts.
“It’s only fair for us to take the time to review the material and have a view of it,” she said.
I asked Mayor Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald what Nutter thought of the stuff.
He said the mayor knows Philadelphia politics is a contact sport, and that you have to develop a pretty thick skin.
Speaking for himself McDonald said Keel’s language “really doesn’t belong in the public arena in discussion of matters of policy.” For good measure, Keel has called McDonald “a weasely mouthpiece” and a “lying rat.”
John Dougherty, Business Manager of electricians union Local 98, Keel’s most high-profile client at the moment, told me he wasn’t troubled by Keel’s posts.
“That is Frank Keel, and the good part about him is that he works hard from nine to five for you, then works harder till he gets back the next day,” Dougherty said. “I’m glad I have people associated with me that have their own opinions…without that I would be stale. It makes for a better John Dougherty and a better Local 98.”
More fun from Frank
Keel’s Facebook feed is nothing if not entertaining. There are references to him enjoying a beer or a scotch, often by the pool (see his Facebook photo above), loving tributes to his wife, daughters and friends, and some stuff that’s pretty funny.
An example: “Hey, Exterminator Dude, I don’t need a tutorial at 8 am on Saturday on the feeding habits and migratory patterns of ants. Just kill the goddamn things and get the f**k out! Oh, and have a nice day.”
Another: “It’s easier to mobilize 1,000 union members to assemble for an 8 am protest rally than it is to get four women dressed and out the door before 11 am on a frigging Saturday. WTF.”
And, this: “To The Members of the Westboro Baptist Church: It has come to my attention that you are protesting the funerals of the 19 firefighters who died in the AZ wildfire. I’ll go one better. Come protest me, you mutant, inbred hillbilly f**ks! I live in N. Wales, PA. I dare you. Come meet me and Philly’s best & bravest. Watch us shove your free speech up your asses, you freaks. Burn in hell, you sick f**ks.”
I spoke to many in the city’s communications business, and all were aware of Keel’s edgy Facebook posts and thought they showed poor judgment, to say the least.
They exhibited attitudes towards Keel ranging from disdain to pity, but none would speak for attribution.
Maybe they didn’t want to read in Facebook what Keel thinks of them.
One more thing: I did my best to figure out who “sleazy contemptible” lobbyist Keel shoved at the rally was. I spoke to a bunch of lobbyists and several people who were there, and came up empty.
If it was you, drop me an email – if you dare.
Below are two of Keel’s posts that were subsequently removed from his page. Warning: they contain strong language: