Ryan Briggs Ryan Briggs is a staff writer and connoisseur of City Hall intrigue, business dealings, neighborhood gossip and local lore. Ryan has studied, worked and resided in Philadelphia since 2004, covering politics and development issues for Hidden City, Next City and Metropolis, amongst other fine publications.
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John McDaniel, the former city employee/political operative/fraudster, plead guilty yesterday for stealing $103,000 from a PAC he controlled, and then fudging disclosure forms to cover his tracks. Speculation is rampant that the former campaign manager for City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown will cooperate with federal authorities in exchange for a reduced sentence, as part of a larger FBI probe into the wheeling and dealing of Congressman Chaka Fattah's son, Chip Fattah. What incriminating information McDaniel has remains a mystery for now.
But the greater mystery is McDaniel himself. The man who held cushy patronage jobs under mayors Nutter and Street has proven an elusive figure. Throughout a political scandal centered around his actions, his personality and the reasons for his extraordinarily favorable treatment by city politicians remaining unclear. Aside from apparently cozy relationships with politicians like Nutter and Brown, both of whom reside in the same Overbrook/Wynnfield area as McDaniel, the self-described political consultant's only other major tie to local power structures has been to a local chapter of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA).
City Council insiders have painted McDaniel as a longtime political operative for LIUNA Local 332, which is based on Wallace Street in the city's Spring Garden neighborhood and run by Sam Staten Jr., the scion of an influential union family and member of the city's Zoning Board of Adjustments. Local 332 is a part of the Laborer's District Council, managed by Ryan Boyer. That organization is responsible for the vast majority of donations to the Progressive Agenda PAC, the PAC that McDaniel pleaded guilty to defrauding. (McDaniel, by the way, also gave $647 to a campaign fund for Ivy Staten, Sam Staten Jr.'s niece, a former City Controller candidate, in addition to thousands of dollars to Brown, Mayor Nutter, DA Seth Williams and former City Council candidate Damon K Roberts.)
But his ties to both organizations apparently run even deeper. Local 332 recruited McDaniel as a volunteer board member for a nonprofit called the Philadelphia Revitalization & Education Program, or PREP, around 2009. PREP was created by Staten's father in 1998 to increase minority participation in the building trades after it was announced that the city would construct two massive new sports arenas in South Philadelphia, according to PREP's website. The organization was chaired by Staten and funded in part with dollars from the Mayor's Office of Community Services (MOCS), the same department McDaniel worked in as an assistant managing director during his tenure with the Street administration before being fired.
PREP was operated as a branch of the existing nonprofit Housing Association of Delaware Valley (HADV), an affordable-housing organization with ties to labor unions. Prior to serving as a board member of PREP, McDaniel also sat on the board of the HADV since at least 2008. During that year, HADV was directed by Sharif Street, the son of McDaniel's former boss.
In 2010, McDaniel was hired to replace Sharif Street as the full-time "managing director" of PREP and HADV, at a salary of $71,827 a year, according to financial disclosure forms filed by the nonprofits. His pay was just shy of his previous assistant manging director salary of $75,000, under Mayor Street.
The agencies controlled around $1 million annually in the mid-2000s, running annual fiscal surpluses. By the time McDaniel was appointed as an executive, the agencies were running a $100,600-a-year deficit. It's unclear if either organization is still active: Their phone lines have been disconnected, and both failed to file financial disclosure forms for the 2011 fiscal year.
Boyer, who was a board member of both organizations with McDaniel, refused to answer questions about the viability or current purpose of PREP or HADV when reached by phone. He referred all inquiries about the organizations and McDaniel to Staten before abruptly hanging up.
Staten did not respond to requests for comment.
Sharif Street did not immediately respond to a phone call at his office. Former Mayor John Street, said, via e-mail, simply, "I do not remember John McDaniel."age
The elder Street's managing director, Phil Goldsmith, had slightly clearer recollections of the man and the office that would fund his career at HADV/PREP. Goldsmith became aware of political activity McDaniel was conducting in violation of the city charter while employed by MOCS, which fell under his purview as managing director. McDaniel apparently worked as a supervisor for an anti-graffiti program.
"The only time I ever had any contact with John was when I fired him," he said, "My memory's a little blurry after that, but I do remember that he got picked up pretty quickly by [Laborers Local 322], which is a powerful union. Sam Staten is the head of it, and he's a power broker."
Goldsmith also characterized the MOCS organization as a hotbed of politically-connected appointees.
"[MOCS] was an exempt department, which basically means the employees didn't have to take the civil service exams. So, a lot of it was good old fashioned patronage," he said.
MOCS was recently reorganized by Nutter as the Mayor's Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, to be headed by Eva Gladstein, a veteran of the Planning Commission, retaining all 63 previous employees.
As of today, PREP is still listed as a "Current Project" of the Office of Community Empowerment, on its website.
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