Bigwigs get most of mayor's box seats Records show that 95% of the luxury suite tickets for Eagles and Phillies games have gone to people with connections.

Posted: April 10, 2005

Mayor Street and his aides have said repeatedly in recent weeks that they have given seats in the city's luxury stadium suites to community groups, charities and police officers.

They never said how many.

The number is 72.

But 1,358 free Eagles and Phillies tickets - 95 percent of the total - went elsewhere, mostly to people with clout, according to newly released city records that show who received access to the mayor's boxes through 2004.

At Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies, which opened in April 2004, the tickets went to City Council (323 tickets); 32 Street aides (260 tickets); 31 ward leaders (252 tickets); labor leader Sam Staten Sr. (22 tickets); Street's daughter, Rashida (6 tickets); and his wife, Naomi (6 tickets), among others.

Eagles tickets at the mayor's box at Lincoln Financial Field, which opened in August 2003, were more precious: there are fewer games and fewer tickets.

About half the Eagles tickets available - 243 were handed out in all - were reserved for either Mayor Street himself to distribute, or for his 2003 campaign fund-raisers and political advisers.

Where they went from there is to some extent a mystery; the city says it does not keep tabs on who actually uses the tickets. And the mayor isn't talking.

"I'm not interested in taking attendance," Street said at a March 3 news conference. "These tickets are distributed in a responsible way."

Controversy concerning use of the city tickets arose in February after documents - released during an ongoing probe into alleged corruption in City Hall - suggested that tickets were traded for campaign donations. Street denied that his campaign "sold" the tickets.

The city has no written policy regarding use of the mayor's suites. And there is no plan to create one. "You don't want to be restrictive of who you are able to invite because there are different purposes and different times when you want to invite different people," said Shawn Fordham, another Street aide.

Free use of the luxury suites is a longtime perk of mayors in Philadelphia, one that can be traced to the city's opening of Veterans Stadium in 1971. Taxpayers helped finance the $1 billion construction of Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park, contributing almost $400 million in city and state funds.

Generally, suites cost $80,000 to $300,000 a year to rent at the Linc, and $115,000 to $200,000 at Citizens Bank Park.

"The assumption I always had as a citizen was that it was being used to court new businesses or to reward hero cops or to do the public's business," Zack Stalberg, executive director of the Committee of Seventy, a government-watchdog group, said of the city's stadium suites. "In some fashion or another, it appears that this mayor, and probably former mayors, have used it to take care of their friends."

George Burrell, Street's top adviser, said the suites help the government do its business. "Any administration needs a place where it can informally interact with people that carry messages for the city," whether those people be lobbyists or lawmakers or religious leaders, he said Friday. "It is much less sinister than people believe it is."

Records for the suites were released by the city Law Department last month, five weeks after the Inquirer first requested the information under the state's Right to Know Act.

The records consisted of page after page of scantly worded e-mails and handwritten notes indicating who received the mayor's box tickets to the ballpark and the Linc. There is no city policy requiring that records be maintained.

One page, dated May 19, 2004, merely says "Staff day." Another, which is undated, lists 14 names under a heading that reads "Lenny's list," an apparent reference to Street's campaign-finance chairman, Leonard Klehr.

Burrell said requests for tickets and decisions about who gets them, as well as record keeping, are matters generally handled by him and another Mayor's Office aide, Connie Little.

When it comes to Phillies games, Street himself seems to have little interest. Records show he received no suite tickets the first year that Citizens Bank Park was open. So far this season, he has attended the first two games.

The Eagles are another story. One document refers to the "usual six" box tickets at the Linc set aside for Street. Overall, over both seasons, he received tickets for nine of 14 games for which records were provided.

On many occasions, Street's fund-raising team - including Klehr, Bob Feldman, Ronald A. White and David Hyman - received three to 10 tickets to those same games.

It was also rare for a ward leader to get an Eagles ticket to the mayor's box - two ward leaders, to be precise, were lucky enough. They were Democrats Ralph Wynder of East Falls (38th Ward), and Ron Donatucci of South Philadelphia (26th Ward), who is also the city's register of wills.

That's not to say that Democratic ward leaders - important cogs in the Democratic machine that controls Philadelphia politics - were overlooked. Street's office gave at least six Phillies tickets apiece to 31 of the 69 ward leaders. Some who were influential or from neighborhoods especially important to the Street campaign team - such as the 42d Ward's Elaine Tomlin of Olney and Juniata, and the Fourth Ward's Carol Campbell of West Philadelphia, who heads a coalition of black ward leaders - received 12 tickets apiece.

Council members also benefited, with four - Democrats David Cohen, Jannie Blackwell and Rick Mariano, and Republican Frank Rizzo Jr. - receiving a combined 11 football tickets.

Overall, though, Council fared better at baseball, with records showing that members - friends and foes of the mayor's alike - had use of the entire mayor's box for at least one Phillies game. That's 18 tickets and four parking passes.

One councilman, Jim Kenney, said the records were mistaken in showing that he received suite tickets on May 21, 2004. "It certainly wasn't me," said Kenney, who is pushing a bill that would use the mayor's boxes to raise revenue, by bidding them out to private companies.

Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.

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