Have you been seeing more of Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams these days?
Drive down the street, his face is plastered on SEPTA buses. Open the Daily News one day, at least 16 photos of Williams are in a 16-page “annual report” inserted in the newspaper.
Seems normal, as Williams is running for a third term in the May 21 Democratic primary, with three challengers.
But the Sheriff’s Office, not Williams’ reelection campaign, is paying for all that. And City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart wants to see the receipts.
Rhynhart’s office issued a subpoena Monday for records of “all expenditures” for creating Sheriff’s Office annual reports. Williams has until Monday to turn over the records.
Barbara Grant and Luz Cárdenas, who run one of three consulting firms working for the office, said the report cost $19,500 for production and distribution. That came from fees the Sheriff’s Office collects from the sale of foreclosed homes.
Of 36,000 copies printed, 31,000 were inserted into the Daily News on March 7 and 5,000 are being handed out by the Sheriff’s Office.
Williams’ face also graces the rear ends of 10 SEPTA buses, in ads to recruit 50 new deputies. SEPTA said those ads cost $13,000 and will start coming off the buses in May.
Dan Gross, another communications consultant for the Sheriff’s Office, said the bus ads were supposed to come down in mid-January. The civil service exam for those positions is March 23. The money to pay for the ads came from a state fund for law enforcement recruiting, Gross said.
Grant, Cárdenas, and Gross, who learned of Rhynhart’s subpoena from Clout, didn’t want to discuss how all this spending could help Williams win reelection. They had no idea if anyone is answering questions for Williams’ campaign. And the sheriff declined to be interviewed.
There’s an obvious reason for all that. Williams, dogged by sexual-harassment claims, is avoiding the media and not campaigning in traditional ways.
The city’s Law Department last month agreed to pay $127,500 to a former employee. Another employee’s sexual-harassment suit is pending. And in 2011, the Democratic caucus in the Pennsylvania House settled a sexual-harassment suit against Williams — who used to represent the 197th District — for $30,000.
The American Beverage Association, which has spent more than $16 million fighting Philadelphia’s soda tax, is now weaponizing the Jan. 30 federal indictments of John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, leader of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, City Councilman Bobby Henon, and six other union officials.
The ABA, long expected to be a major player in Council races, distributed fliers Monday evening in the Second District, attacking Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s 2016 vote for the tax.
The flier also said this: “By not repealing the beverage tax, he is picking corruption over his constituents.” The flier claims the indictments of Dougherty and Henon show “the tax was for political revenge against Mayor Jim Kenney’s opponents, and nothing else.”
The indictment makes clear Dougherty was livid about a television commercial that aired once during the 2015 primary for mayor, linking him and Kenney to controversial comments about police brutality. Dougherty blamed a rival union, the Teamsters, and vowed to push for a soda tax as revenge — although Clout last month discovered that a different rival, the Carpenters Union in Philadelphia, really paid for the ad.
Kenney said on the day of the indictments that the tax had nothing to do with revenge for Local 98 and wasn’t Dougherty’s idea.
Mark Nevins, a spokesperson for Johnson’s campaign, noted that his Democratic primary challenger, Lauren Vidas, previously served as an ABA lobbyist. He added: “It’s not exactly a shocker that the same soda CEOs who paid her to protect their bottom line” now want to help elect her.
Vidas says she had nothing to do with the flier and would not vote to repeal the soda tax if she wins a seat on Council.
Just how heated is the debate over Philadelphia property assessments? In a Council hearing Tuesday, Councilman David Oh implied that Finance Director Rob Dubow is a criminal for collecting taxes on the current assessments.
“The thing about criminals is they can’t seem to understand that they don’t have a right to somebody else’s money,” Oh told Dubow. “And there’s no greater sinner than the righteous sinner. They always figure they’ve got something better to do with your money than you.”
Oh has a bill that would nullify the 2019 residential reassessment that raised taxes for thousands of homeowners. The administration suggested there were legal issues with the bill, and Dubow defended the city’s assessments as improving every year.
Oh’s rant caused Kenney to write him a letter claiming he had never seen a Council member treat a public employee with such disrespect.
“Your rhetoric may be acceptable to some on the fringes of political life, including the current inhabitant of the White House, but it has no place in the discourse of our local government.”
Matthew Pershe, Oh’s legislative aide, said he hoped the mayor didn’t mean to distract from issues with the city’s property assessments. Oh was simply suggesting that the administration’s refusal to fix the assessments is criminal, he said.