Coming Clean At City Hall Mayor Rendell And Lysol Join Forces To Follow Through On A Campaign Promise.

Posted: March 15, 1992

There was Mayor Rendell down on all fours, scrubbing bathroom tile in the first-floor ladies room, his black silken jogging pants sopping up soapy water.

City Council President John F. Street was high up on a ladder nearby, cleaning windows that hadn't been touched in eight years. City Controller Jonathan A. Saidel had pulled grout duty and was pleading for someone to ''please take pictures of this and show them to my family."

And Elizabeth White, with 15 years of experience cleaning the city's courtrooms, watched with bemusement as her celebrity helpers tracked dirt on a floor she'd thought she'd finished.

The great City Hall cleanup had begun.

It took 1,500 people seven hours to put the shine back in the tattered, century-old landmark. They used 300 gallons of donated paint in colors such as slate gray, Dover white and men's-room green, pushed 100 stiff-bristled brooms down dusty corridors and stairwells and fed on 1,000 free hot dogs, 800 sandwiches and the satisfaction of hard work.

They replaced windows that had been broken or missing for a dozen years, used cherry picker trucks to repair electrical fixtures that had been dark for as long as anyone could remember, and came upon one pile of trash that could have been sitting there for 80 years. No kidding.

They also answered the burning question: How many lieutenant governors does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: One. Mark Singel did the job.

It was a giant barn-raising, starring neighborhood people, street people, fighters from Joe Frazier's gym and brokers from Century 21, Jaycees, park rangers, political science students and elementary school teachers - as well as the occasional celebrity in work clothes. Several hundred union painters, glaziers, carpenters and custodians turned out as well. City unions pitched in.

The hoopla began at 10 a.m. as the crowd gathered on the west side of City Hall. Councilman Angel Ortiz was standing in the cold with a vacuum cleaner slung over his shoulder. The Joseph A. Ferko string band was playing "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," and the Simple Green mascot - a huge, green alligator promoting a cleanser - danced a jig while William Penn walked around with a broom of twigs.

Then Mayor Rendell stepped up to the podium, and dozens of beefy men from the glaziers and painters unions rooted him on as he said things like, "We can take back the City of Philadelphia and deal with our own problems."

The mayor was honoring a campaign pledge to have City Hall smelling, if not like roses, then like Lysol within 90 days of taking office.

But long before the dignitaries unfolded their speeches, the spirit of volunteerism was already working up a sweat.

Five stories high, nine men and a woman were sprucing up a long-neglected back stairway on the south side, led by Peter K. Aborn, a former deputy property commissioner and assistant city managing director, who this year has learned what it is like to stand in an unemployment line.

With him was Al Torres, 50, a Bell Atlantic executive from Jenkintown who has worked downtown for 25 years and said, "The least I can do is give something back to the city."

There was bootblack Steve Lee, 32, who hawks the Daily News at 16th and Vine Streets and "wanted to help clean up the city." And first-grade teacher Vicki Rothbardt, a 35-year-old Quaker who cherishes her childhood trips down to City Hall with her grandmother. "It was huge," she remembered. "Like a palace. Like a castle."

And the Rev. Steve Perzan, who had driven five young men down from St. Gabriel's Hall in Audubon, Montgomery County. He selected the five because all are from Philadelphia, and all have been placed in his care by the courts.

"We have some kids who helped make some of the dirt in the city," Father Perzan said, "so I figured we'd come down and help clean it up."


It appeared some places hadn't received attention since the Progressive Era.

Bob Butera found that out. Butera, 57, a Center City lawyer and former Republican leader of the Pennsylvania House, was working alongside Ruben David, 37, a Department of Public Property employee, dusting the stairwell at the northwest entrance. Butera got ambitious and moved a heavy trash can to the side so he could clean the floor.

Behind the trash can was a two-foot-high metal door that led to an air


Butera cracked open the door and gasped, "Look at this!"

A mound of paper and debris yielded a trove of well-preserved documents: an 1807 deed; a Legal Intelligencer from 1913; a blue roster card for patrolman Joseph Clifton, who has been appointed in 1890; a 1913 receipt from the Union League Barber Shop; a letter from the Civil Service Commission announcing that a 1913 plumber's helper exam was being postponed, and lawyers' business cards with phone numbers such as Keystone Race 2208.

"Actually, this is history," Butera said. "This is valuable stuff." Before long, Richard Tyler, the city's historic preservation officer, was on his hands and knees sorting through the time capsule preserved by neglect.

By the clock's toll at 3 o'clock, the apron around City Hall was empty again. The string band was gone, the registration tent had folded and the hot dog truck had moved on. Some kids were skateboarding down the steps to the subway and a few denizens of the street were rummaging through wastebaskets filled with remnants of ham and cheese sandwiches.

A Streets Department truck had pulled up to the southwest entrance to cart off boxes of rubbish. Inside, "Captain Sewer," the masked symbol of the Water Department, was getting ready to call it a day.

"I must say that this is the city of brotherly love," said the caped captain. "What they did today was an act of love, showing that they care about a prize possession of Philadelphia: City Hall.

"It was like an army that came in here. The job they did was astronomical. Not only does this place look clean, it smells clean."

Rose Moody, 67, a Center City resident who volunteered to help run the event, was saying she could not remember when she felt more positive about anything.

"I had people asking if they could come back in one or two months and have the same corridor because now that is their corridor. I had a lady in a wheelchair asking what she could do. Street people outside cleaning up and brushing cigarette butts away. They were so happy and proud of themselves."

About that time, one of the last citizens, a middle-age man in a racing cap, stepped off the City Hall elevator.

"Have a good day?" Moody asked.

"Had a great day," the man replied. "We ought to do this every 100 years."

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