Clout: He's courting trouble

Posted: July 29, 2011

THEY SHOULD TEACH this in law school: If you hope to be a judge in Philadelphia, you should be careful about whom you grab by the throat at political meetings.

Attorney Jim DiVergilis, who acts as a bouncer at some Republican City Committee events, is a long shot to win a seat on Common Pleas Court in the Nov. 8 election.

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the city's Democratic leader, said Dan Grace, head of Teamsters Local 830, expressed interest in DiVergilis' being appointed to a seat vacated last month by Common Pleas Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes.

DiVergilis does legal work for the union.

And Michael Meehan, general counsel of the Republican City Committee, said DiVergilis asked him about a judicial nomination.

DiVergilis yesterday said he didn't know what we were talking about and then hung up.

Brady and Meehan don't see judicial nominations happening anytime soon. They tend to come in groups, with a mix of Democrats and Republicans taking seats in various courts.

Another problem: DiVergilis was guarding the door of a GOP meeting in South Philly in December when a candidate was being selected for a special election to a state House seat.  

Mike Downing, then deputy political director for the state Republican Party, tried to enter after DiVergilis turned him away.

"The minute he opened the door to go in, Jim DiVergilis grabbed him by the throat and literally pushed him down the steps," said a witness, Annie Havey, a Republican ward leader.

Downing now works as director of correspondence for Gov. Corbett. Corbett press secretary Kevin Harley said Downing confirmed that DiVergilis had grabbed him by the throat.

A nomination for a judgeship would have to come from Corbett and through - wait for it - Downing's new office.

"You gotta be careful who you fool with," Brady said when we told him about the DiVergilis-Downing dustup. "Everything that goes around comes around in this business."

FBI job security

Nearly eight years after the discovery of an FBI listening device in then-Mayor John Street's City Hall office, the botched case still fascinates and infuriates.

Several people brought up the city's most famous bug Wednesday during a discussion on public integrity hosted by Philadelphians for Ethical Leadership.

Special Agent John Roberts, head of the FBI's public-corruption squad, said an investigation into how the bug was discovered resulted in no prosecutions.

"I put an awful lot of time into that case," Roberts told the crowd. "And believe me, I would have liked to have seen whoever potentially compromised that case be brought to justice."

The bug was discovered on Oct. 7, 2003, at the height of Street's re-election battle against then-Republican nominee Sam Katz.

The FBI was investigating an allegation that city contracts were being traded for campaign contributions. The heated campaign, Roberts said, was a prime time to see if that could be proved.

But don't feel too bad for Roberts. Consider this joke he made during the event about corruption in Philadelphia: "Let's not be naive. Our jobs are going to continue to have job security."

Need proof?

Roberts told people who complained about how public money was handled at the bankrupt Germantown Settlement and scandal-plagued Sheriff's Office that the FBI is "well aware of" of those issues.

Ben Mannes, the host of the event, stepped in to explain why Roberts was not providing more detailed explanations. Roberts noted that the FBI does not say if it is conducting an investigation.

"There is a certain amount of subtlety that has to be adhered to, OK?" Mannes told the crowd.

Ed Schwartz ailing

Former City Councilman Ed Schwartz has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and friends are forming a team to walk in his honor during a September event to raise money for the cause.

Schwartz was elected to a Council-at-large seat in 1983 and, after losing re-election, was head of the Office of Housing and Community Development from 1987 to 1992. He also chaired the Philadelphia Tax Reform Commission in 2003.

His wife, Jane Shull, began informing friends about his illness last month, saying he had to close down his Institute for the Study of Civic Values last summer when he became unable to work. She told friends by email that Schwartz still recognizes people but is not very communicative.

Kelly Green, who once worked at the Institute, called Schwartz a brilliant man and lamented that he is being laid low by a disease that attacks the mind.

"It doesn't get much more tragic than that," Green said.

Anyone interested in participating on the Schwartz team in the Sept. 10 5k Walk to End Alzheimer's at Citizens Bank Park should call Andrea Johnson at 267-408-1087 for information.


Have tips or suggestions? Call Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or email brennac@phillynews.com.

Check out the Clout blog at:

www.phillyclout.com and follow on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN.


Have a news tip? Gossip? Suggestion? Call Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or Catherine Lucey at 215-854-4712. Or e-mail phillyclout@phillynews.com.

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