Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

May 13–20, 1999

primary '99

Dwight's Plight

State Rep. Dwight Evans has great ideas. But can he run a city?

by Jen Darr

Dwight Evans' mayoral campaign began with a lot of energy. He hired 23-year-old David Sirota to create a cutting-edge Web site far more advanced than anything his competition had to offer. Evans also had an extensive e-mailing list, which enabled him to reach scores of voters while spending relatively little money.

Evans wasn't a neophyte: He ran for lieutenant governor in 1987 and governor in 1994, and did surprisingly well.

But to get votes in Philadelphia, Evans needed to extend his base beyond the 203rd Congressional District in the northwest section of the city, which he has represented successfully in the State House since he was 26 years old.

In early March, a minor scandal knocked the wind out of his campaign.

A bogus John White Jr. Web site was floating around in cyberspace, which, for the most part, contained glowing articles about White, but also played up racial remarks the candidate made to the Spanish-language newspaper Al Dia.

Sirota, it was discovered, was friends with the site's creator.

Evans reacted quickly, firing deputy campaign manager Sirota and accepting the resignation of longtime friend and campaign manager Jack Fugett. The whole flap spoke volumes about Evans as a leader.

He reacted swiftly and decisively. But his inability to delegate—to leave the business of operating a campaign to experts—got him into the mess in the first place.

Evans was already lagging behind in the polls and in fundraising, so the Web fiasco, insubstantial as scandals go, caused Evans' shaky campaign to fall to pieces. And the aftershocks are still being felt.

Before the scandal, Evans had a chance with undecided voters. Never mind his off-putting, serious tone, or his extreme privacy about his personal life. His detailed plans for education, crime and economic development were, and still are, among the most impressive of the crop. His record was even more impressive.

But the Web site debacle exposed his biggest weakness: an inability to serve as a manager, the most crucial skill needed to run the fifth largest city in the United States.

Evans is the type of person who wants to get things done himself. He likes to make the decisions.

For education, he supported a bill that would ensure equity in education funding, sponsored a bill to reduce class size in the state to 20 kids from kindergarten through third grade, and sponsored charter school legislation. He even started his own charter school in West Oak Lane, though his school had its share of problems, as with any new enterprise.

He rarely pandered to get votes. He knew the public school system was failing and he was willing to try whatever worked—even if it meant enduring booing and hissing from the teachers' union.

He also saw that former Police Commissioner Richard Neal was ineffective. In 1997 he brought former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton to Philadelphia to discuss new policing techniques.

A year later, he organized the "Gang of Five," a bipartisan coalition of five state legislators who held public safety meetings across the city to pressure Mayor Ed Rendell into taking the issue seriously. Beloved Police Commissioner John Timoney was hired shortly after.

He saw that a part of his district was going under. In 1983, he founded the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp. in West Oak Lane, which has been the catalyst for the revival of an empty commercial strip that had become overrun with drug dealers. He secured $8 million in state money to rehab an abandoned factory in the area and turn it into a job training center.

He also understood the positive effect a new convention center would have on Center City. So he helped pass the legislation in Harrisburg that brought the shiny new Pennsylvania Convention Center to town.

Shortly after Sirota and Fugett left, Evans hired professionals. He named campaign veteran Carol Ann Butler as his new manager. Butler ran successful campaigns in many high-profile elections, including that of Austin, TX's Democratic mayor, Kirk Watson.

Evans also announced that media consultant Joe Slade White would run his ad campaign.

His detailed policy plans remained the same.

In education, he would continue to fight for charter schools and vouchers. He believes parents should have more say in their children's education and the mayor should be accountable for the school district.

To revive the city's ailing neighborhoods, his plans include creating renaissance and special services districts, enticing major and regional chains as anchors for further growth and developing a home-ownership incentive program.

He wants to cut the property tax by 50 percent, and he knows how to do it successfully.

His commercials, though they peg him as a one-note candidate, address one of Philadelphia's biggest concerns—crime.

His 12-point plan for public safety includes adopting zero-tolerance gun policies in schools and in high-crime neighborhoods; cracking down on illegal gun dealers; pushing for legislation that would allow the city to sue gun manufacturers for gun violence; limiting the sale of handguns to one a month; increasing police captains' responsibility and accountability; establishing laws that would hold people responsible for leaving guns out where they can get into the hands of kids; and conducting regular safety audits in each district.

But he has consistently placed last in the polls.

Reporters have taken stabs at why his campaign is failing: He's a one-issue candidate; he hasn't raised enough money; he started his campaign too early; he hasn't revealed enough about his personal life; he fails to connect with voters.

But what is resonating with the voters is that Evans realized a scant two months before the primary that he needed to choose a professional campaign staff and delegate to be successful.

Something he should have realized two years ago when he announced his candidacy.

There's no debate about Evans' intentions; he's in this race because he cares about Philadelphia. He's not in it to gain respect; he already has that as a state representative and minority chair of the Appropriations Committee. He's not trying to create a legacy either. He wants to make this city a better place to live.

But, to run the city of Philadelphia, that's not enough.

 

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