Facing the loss of its lucrative status as a depository handling millions of city dollars, Wachovia Bank had every reason to bring its big guns into City Council yesterday.

But officials of the biggest bank in the city didn't do that. Instead, they sent their lawyer, James Eisenhower, who sustained a thorough whipping at the hands of Council members, who are candidates for re-election in May.

Leading the charge was Wilson Goode Jr., who's made a cause of focusing on mortgage and business lending in low- and moderate-income areas in the city.

At the start of Council's finance committee hearing, Goode's bill to remove Wachovia as a city depository appeared uncertain.

But after Goode got through with Eisenhower, committee members readily agreed to continue the hearing until Feb. 20. And they sent a strong message to Wachovia that the next time, the bankers better show up.

Goode said the absence of the bankers was a "slap in the face" for Council, a view that had wide support on the committee.

Councilman Frank DiCicco said that given Eisenhower's repeated inability to respond to Council questions and the absence of senior bankers, he was more inclined toward removing Wachovia as a depository.

The committee voted out another Goode bill that would require a city depository to provide City Council and a raft of other city officers with 90 days notice prior to closing a branch bank. Federal law requires a similar 90-day notice but the notices go only to federal bank officials.

Late last year, Wachovia closed two branches in North Philadelphia, at Front Street and Allegheny Avenue and Germantown and Lehigh avenues.

Eisenhower pointed out that two other branches are close by.

Pedro Rodriguez, executive director of Action Alliance of Senior Citizens, accused the bank of violating the notice requirements of a 1998 agreement made by its predecessor, First Union.

Dolores Shaw of the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project described the recent history of bank mergers as a "shell game with Philadelphia communities."

The Street administration stayed as far from the fray as it could, though city Treasurer John Naccio testified that removing Wachovia as a depository would have "a large scale operational impact" on the city. *