Anti-Nutter group has ties to the mayor

Mayor Street tried to raise money for the group that's behind an ad attacking Michael Nutter, the front-runner in Tuesday's mayoral primary.

Nutter and Street are longtime political foes.

Shawn Fordham, a paid consultant to the "527" group and a top adviser to Street, said yesterday that the mayor had made at least three telephone calls "a few days ago," soliciting money for the group, known as One Step Closer.

Street's spokesman, Joe Grace, confirmed that Street had made the fund-raising calls - though Fordham said no one Street had contacted agreed to donate.

"The mayor understood this committee was intending to raise issues and inform voters of issues of concern in this election," Grace said last night. "The mayor was made aware of the committee by Shawn Fordham, who asked him to make some calls, and he made some calls."

Efforts to interview Street for this story were unsuccessful. A reporter who went to his home last night to seek comment had the door slammed in her face.

One Step Closer is the third 527 group to surface in the mayor's race, a development that critics call an end-run around the city's new limits on campaign giving and spending.

This week, One Step Closer made public on YouTube a TV ad that began with 1960s footage of civil-rights marchers and baton-wielding police, and then attacked Nutter's proposal to have police "stop and frisk" people suspected of carrying illegal guns. The narrator asked: "Haven't we had enough of politicians like Nutter, who step on our rights in the name of security?"

The ad ran last night on CBS3 with a slightly revised narration, deleting a statement that Nutter would "suspend constitutional rights" in some areas.

So-called 527 groups - their name is from the section of the federal tax code governing them - can keep donors secret until after the election, and aren't bound by the city's limits on individual and political committee contributions.

"I wish he [Street] hadn't gotten involved in this way," said Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy, a campaign watchdog group that has condemned the use of 527 groups.

Melanie Johnson, a spokeswoman for Nutter, said he would not comment on the ad and Street's role in the group.

Under federal rules, 527s can't coordinate their efforts with a candidate. Fordham said One Step Closer had raised about $100,000 to broadcast the anti-Nutter ad.

Fordham declined to say whom the mayor had called to ask for money for One Step Closer.

Fordham and the people involved in One Step Closer have insisted that their group is independent, and supports no one in the mayor's race. Street has not endorsed anyone to succeed him.

According to Fordham, Street made the calls at his request after Fordham told him that the group would mount a "public awareness" campaign, possibly including TV spots.

He said he had told Street that the campaign would focus on "a number of issues, but the number-one issue was 'stop and frisk.' "

"He didn't want to get into too many of the details," Fordham said of Street. "He just said, 'You've been around a long time; you know what's appropriate.' "

Nutter's stop-and-frisk stance has become a hot-button issue in the campaign, drawing criticism from all four of his rivals. Chaka Fattah and Dwight Evans have said it would trample civil rights.

Nutter has said police would be trained to conduct stop-and-frisk operations in accordance with the law, which says police may search people based on a "reasonable suspicion" - such as behavior - that they are carrying a concealed weapon.

Street and Nutter, allies in the early 1990s, have been political foes for years and over numerous issues. Street opposes using stop-and-frisk tactics; Nutter's mayoral campaign has slammed Street's record in a TV ad.

Fordham insisted yesterday that One Step Closer was not a creature of the mayor's. "There's nobody behind the curtain here," he said.

Some of One Step Closer's previous funding, $75,000, came in 2005 from a separate group with ties to Fattah. That group is run by Greg Naylor, Fattah's chief mayoral campaign strategist. Fattah has said he knows nothing about One Step Closer.

Nutter's campaign lawyer, Susan Burke, said the campaign contacted TV stations yesterday to question use of the One Step Closer ad, which she called "defamatory."

Fordham said the ad was revised after talks involving a Nutter lawyer and CBS3. He said One Step Closer is still seeking to show its ad on other stations.

Burke said last night: "The real issue is, who the heck is this One Step Closer? It's not what it purports to be. We're going to dig in and look and see what it is." 

 


 

Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Diane Mastrull and Thomas Fitzgerald contributed to this article.