Managing Steet's Message A. Bruce Crawley Serves As Press Secretary To City Council President John F. Street. He's Also Working For The Black Community's Needs: Business, Jobs, True Inclusion.

Posted: September 02, 1997

The idea was sweet in its simplicity: Go downtown to the Reading Terminal Market and buy double-handled shopping bags for four cents apiece. Step outside on Market Street, and sell them for a dime.

All went well until noon, when Bruce Crawley, then 11, blew the morning's profits on a hot dog and a Coke at Kresge's.

``I learned a valuable lesson in expense control that day,'' Crawley said with a wry grin.

It was one of many lessons that A. (for Anthony) Bruce Crawley, a kid from the projects, would learn by doing. He ran cross-country, won an academic scholarship to a private high school, and twice competed in karate world championships.

Crawley became the country's first African American bank advertising director, and a founding member of Philadelphia's African American Chamber of Commerce. He's a director on boards from Independence Blue Cross and the Franklin Institute to the Claridge Hotel and Casino. And he heads a successful public relations firm whose best-known local client is City Council President John F. Street.

At 51, he is tall, trim and tailored. He's smooth, he's smart. He has quick wit, an easy smile, and he positively oozes credibility.

Still, William Miller 4th, a competitor in the PR business, said Crawley would have a ``tremendous task in front of him'' if Street decides to run for mayor.

The fact that Crawley is a ``successful African American entrepreneur . . . means he's had to deal with adversity every day,'' Miller said. ``And that has probably uniquely prepared him.

``No one will ever accuse Bruce of being a shrinking violet.''

In the 1950s, Crawley was one of a thousand young people growing up in the tenements at 11th and Fairmount known as the Richard Allen Homes. He was the oldest of six children and essentially fatherless.

His grandmother mopped the marble floors at 30th Street Station. Mom was a crossing guard who later became one of the city's first meter maids. His stepfather was a janitor at the Germantown YWCA.

But Crawley boasts of possessing something then that most kids growing up in Richard Allen today cannot claim - discipline and hope. He always knew that the slightest misdeed would draw his mother's strong hand or leather belt. He never knew, looking out from the family's cramped apartment, the magnitude of what he was missing. And in those days, he said, it made sense to hope for a better tomorrow.

``Today,'' he said, ``drugs have taken away that hope. It's absolutely, totally out of hand.''

His mother emphasized independence over college. But when the nuns at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament suggested that Bruce apply for a scholarship to St. Joseph's Prep, she insisted he try.

``She said, `If you pass the test and get a scholarship,' '' Crawley recalled, `` `I'll give you $15.' ''

Crawley excelled academically. But he was one of only two black students in his class, and the school held nothing for him socially. For that, Crawley turned to his community. Attorney Ron A. White was a contemporary at Richard Allen and a gang member there.

``We're home boys. I been knowing Bruce since he was a teenager,'' White said from behind the polished desk of his plush Center City office. ``We come out of a pretty rough neighborhood. But Bruce always had his head on straight.

``At the same time, he could relate,'' White said. ``If there were guys on the corner gang-warring, they knew Bruce, and they didn't mess with him. Bruce was cool.''

While guys like White went with gangs, Crawley's crowd formed ``social clubs'' that sponsored dances for charity. ``There was always somebody poorer than you in the projects,'' Crawley said.

The neighborhood also had old-timers aplenty - the local barber, the father of the kid upstairs - whose advice was sensible and accessible. Today, Crawley laughs about how serious he and his friends were about protecting their piece of the world. ``We imagined that the survival of everybody in the Richard Allen Homes rested on our shoulders,'' he said.

He and 10 other guys enrolled in karate classes. Only Crawley stuck with it; he earned a fourth-degree black belt and still practices four times a week.

But the call was for more than physical protection. Crawley and his friends, by then in their 20s and living all over the city, were eager to get involved in improving housing, business and educational opportunities for African Americans citywide. At community meetings, he became aware of the Street brothers, Milton and John, who were clamoring for the same things.

``I could see he and Milton were not intimidated by the so-called system,'' Crawley said. ``They were respected in the community for that.''

Even after graduating from high school and working his way through St. Joseph's University (B.A. in marketing management) and Temple (M.A. in journalism), Crawley kept his allegiance.

Today, he is one of about 3,000 former and current project residents who make up the Original Richard Allen Committee Inc., which sponsors a scholarship fund. The committee recently presented a $500 scholarship to Kareem Ferguson, 18, who was born in the projects and plans to major in pre-med.

Crawley's own son, Christopher, 16 and an honors student at Chestnut Hill Academy, lives with his mother in Roxborough. Crawley lives in Center City.

As a child, Christopher tagged along on weekends, watching his father serve as chairman of the board of the Urban League of Philadelphia and chairman of the Philadelphia United Negro College Fund Telethon. Chris worked some summers in his father's office and studied karate for a time. More recently, he switched to cross country and track - his father's old sports.

``I always knew I'd be a presence as a father,'' Crawley said. ``I didn't want my kids to have to go through what I went through - having a different last name from the other people in your family, not being able to bring your father to father-son functions.''

When Chris was 7, Crawley took him to a re-enactment of the 1960s Freedom Rides. They followed the footsteps of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the South.

And in 1995, father and son traveled to Washington with Street and his sons for the Million Man March.

It's all part of Crawley's balancing act to ensure that his son benefits from today's advantages and appreciates yesterday's turmoil.

``It's difficult,'' Crawley said, ``for a young man to understand how it used to be.''

* Crawley's first job out of college was at First Pennsylvania Bank. He was hired for a five-year management-training program and, despite some disappointments along the way, stayed 22 years. By the time he left with two coworkers in 1989 to form his own firm, he had become senior vice president and director of public and investor relations.

But it was frustrating, he said.

``When I became the first black advertising director of any bank in the country, I was 30, and it was late for me. I saw other people making it in their 20s. And other banks weren't offering much more.''

Even his mother knew something was amiss.

In 1973, when Crawley told her he had just been made a vice president, he recalls her saying, ``For as long as you been there, you should be president by now.''

Crawley knew all along that he wanted to have his own business.

His firm, Crawley, Haskins & Rodgers, counts Marriott and London Fog among its national accounts and has just one political client - Street.

Crawley scoffs at those who imagine the relationship with Street brings in oodles of city contracts.

``Oh yeah, right,'' he said. ``As a firm, we don't pursue city work. It's a lot of aggravation, a lot of public scrutiny, and not much profit.''

Public records bear that out; he has no contracts with the city. His firm did win a $25,000 Pew Foundation contract last year to publicize the Free Library of Philadelphia's $50 million ``Big Change'' fund-raising campaign.

Critics are quick to pounce on Crawley's limited political experience. ``Not that limited,'' he countered. He's not been immersed in Democratic ward politics, but he's consulted on a few campaigns.

Crawley doesn't do Street's political and fund-raising work. Lana Felton-Ghee gets $5,000 a month for that. He gets no retainer. He bills Street only for special projects and gets essentially no pay for fielding questions from the press.

``I wouldn't view it as working for free,'' Felton-Ghee said of Crawley's compensation. ``It's a political contribution, so he can write it off.''

* Street is the first Philadelphia City Council president to hire a press spokesman. Crawley said he's needed because Street has turned City Council into a much more sophisticated arm of local government, expanding the council budget by 46 percent, replacing typewriters with computers and bringing in a high-priced technical staff.

Street and Crawley are of one mind when it comes to what the black community needs: business, jobs, true inclusion.

``For a long time, not just in Philadelphia, the African American community was just so proud to have somebody in office,'' Crawley said. ``The man didn't have to do anything. We wanted traffic lights fixed, maybe a scholarship - that was all.

``But the people that sold the traffic lights were not black. The people who installed the traffic lights were not black. The people who removed the old traffic lights were not black. And we were satisfied with that.

``Now,'' Crawley said, ``if our street needs to be fixed, fine. We want to participate in the bid for the contract to fix the street.''

Crawley began working for Street during his 1991 campaign for re-election to the Fifth District, which encompasses north-central Philadelphia and Center City, west of Broad Street.

Four years later, with Street facing well-financed opposition from real estate agent Julie Welker, Crawley was at work again, trying to accentuate the positive. But if Street is to be the city's next mayor, Crawley knows he'll also have to eliminate the negative - the fistfight with Councilman Fran Rafferty, the unpaid $5,623.56 gas bill while Street was a gas commissioner, and that demanding demeanor.

``Street has been defined by the media,'' said Crawley's PR rival Bill Miller. ``They remember the gas bills, and they remember him climbing the rails in Council. Crawley is faced with a difficult task.''

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