Feature: The Devil & Carl Greene

Is he a serial sexual harasser and tyrannical boss, as some of his former employees allege? Or is he the most effective public-housing leader in the history of Philadelphia, as he and his defenders contend? Or could Carl Greene, somehow, be both?


Finally, they drove back to Philadelphia and Tony dropped her off where her car was parked. Greene got out too. At her car, he wouldn’t let her close her door. He bent down, his face near hers, waiting — he seemed angry. Finally he kissed her on the cheek, and Madeline pushed him away and got out of there.

Greene demoted Madeline to a dangerous PHA outpost — 4th and Huntingdon. She says he threatened to fire her. But she didn’t quit.

MADELINE RODRIGUEZ never filed any charges against Carl Greene, who, through his attorney, denies what she alleges — denies any unwanted advances, denies demoting or threatening to fire her. But if her story is true, there is no turning back from behaving that badly. It colors, and controls, everything.

The shame of that is, the harder you look, the greater the loss of Greene seems for the city. One day in December, I take a drive around Spring Garden with Pat Freeland, head of the neighborhood’s civic association and a big believer in Greene. She plays a game with me on the 1900 block of Wallace, where we idle past elegant 1890s-era rowhouses: Can I figure out which houses are owned by PHA?

It’s immediately apparent: The PHA houses are the nicest ones, with redone Victorian fronts, repointed brickwork, original-looking window treatments.

Freeland and I visit Minnie, an African-American woman of a certain age, on Mt. Vernon. Minnie was one of the beneficiaries of the renovations here that Greene took on when he first came to Philadelphia. She used to live up the street, in another PHA property. Her redone living room is fresh and white and homey, filled with pictures of family. “This block was rough,” Minnie tells us. “Drug dealers. Shootings. Bullets flying past. It’s safe now. It’s a blessing to feel safe.”

Imagine: public housing helping usher the drug dealers somewhere else.

It’s the same story deep in West Philly, at the Lucien Blackwell Homes, between Brown and Fairmount. Greene took a classically awful public housing project — three ’50s-era high-rises with a central courtyard, largely abandoned — and built 627 units, an oasis in an otherwise blighted area. One Saturday in December, I stop a mailman there and ask about drugs in the projects. He thinks for a moment, then cites one corner of PHA housing, on 46th, as having some action, “but for the most part, it’s not bad around here. It’s definitely safer because of Blackwell Homes.”