Emanuel Freeman: The Man Who Duped City Hall

Freeman, a.k.a. The Buddha, was supposedly rebuilding Germantown. And even though project after project failed, political heavyweights—from Ed Rendell to Bob Brady to Michael Nutter—kept giving him our money. Lots and lots of our money.

“Miss Rogers, there’s flies, there’s flies.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

Sherri Rogers (not her real name) figured the girl in the back of the class was messing with her. She loved her students, but they had such a hard time paying attention. As she approached the girl’s desk, she expected to see nothing except the grin of a fifth-grader who has just punked her teacher.

But then there it was. A fly. A gnat?

Rogers peered closer.
Something flashed in her peripheral vision, down low, near the floor.
The floor seemed to twitch.

She looked again. The floor resolved into a rippling mass of what she would later learn were termites: thousands of them, writhing in the wood. She could no longer see the floor at all.

All of this took just a couple of seconds. “I disassociated from my body,” Rogers told me. She screamed a little, then her students screamed, too. She got on her walkie-talkie and radioed over to the administration. Rogers was told to take her class of fifth- and sixth-graders into the chapel of the church that was next door to the school.

It wasn’t the first time she’d been forced into the chapel. She and her students had spent weeks there over the previous winter, when something had gone wrong with the heat, and the kids had frozen in their parkas, exuding visible puffs of breath. The charter school was funny like that: One end of the main classroom building had no heat, and the other end had no air-conditioning. At a separate campus a mile away, a woman named Cindy Cole taught on the second floor of a dilapidated building. She remembers how one of her students had a medical condition that had left him on crutches. Every day, to get to his class, he had to scoot up the stairs on his butt, like a baby, facing backwards, because the building had a broken elevator that wasn’t fixed.

Something had obviously gone horribly wrong here. Emanuel Freeman launched Germantown Settlement Charter School in 1999 and had renewed his charter in 2003 with the support of his many powerful friends and allies — not just Democrats like Congressman Chaka Fattah and Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, who praised Freeman to the skies, but also Republicans in the suburbs, like ex-Governor Mark Schweiker, who adored the idea of helping a black guy make the city’s public school system look bad. Freeman’s goal was to vault poor children in the city’s Northwest to “world class standards of academic excellence.” But the school ran into trouble almost immediately. Freeman wasn’t an educator. Not only was the school falling apart; it couldn’t supply enough paper or pencils or chalk. Settlement Charter failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress in state test scores in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. Between 2003 and 2007, the number of children who scored “below basic” in reading actually increased, from 40.6 percent to 45.3 percent. The children were drowning.

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  • Alexander

    This article was superbly written, informative and revealing in the simple fact that Philly remains a very corrupt and close-knit city. And we thought that we had progressed from here!

    • Shirley Harrison

      It’s unfortunate, that the old regime will remain in power, hidden by a maze of corruption. and maleficent cronies. Emanuel took advantage of the trust, friendship, and respect, a neighborhood had for the Freeman family. He was raised by gospel singers and Pastors. In the same neighborhood he raped and pillaged.

  • Maxine

    I absolutely cannot believe the audacity of the public officials in this city. Here it is the City owes small business owners Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars for legitimate work that was done, and t

  • Stephanie

    I knew Emanuel “way back when” when community voter registration and self-determination were waves of the times. Having spent much of my adult life away from Philly, I didn’t know Emanuel had morphed from respected 1970s activist to greedy profiteer. I am so disappointed.

  • Lauren

    I read with great disgust the article “Emanuel Freeman: The Man Who Duped City Hall” earlier this week in Philadelphia Magazine. I’m infuriated at the waste, mismanagement, seeming corruption, and overall disregard for the residents—by not only Freeman, but also by the Northwest’s elected leaders – who are supposed to have their constituents’ best interest at heart.
    Freeman received $100 million over the last 20 years via grants, tax breaks and low-interest loans and what do we have to show for it? A walk through Germantown is appalling: downtrodden buildings, trash on the streets, failing businesses, underperforming schools, crime, empty lots. Is THIS what $100 million buys?
    Where would our community be today if that money was put to proper use? We could have better schools; thriving businesses; help for mothers and children; community organizations that actually HELP the community. In short, Germantown could be—and should be– a shining example for other neighborhoods in the city. What a wasted opportunity—especially for our youth.
    While Councilwoman Donna Reid Miller seems to have gotten the majority of the scrutiny, I demand to know where our other Northwest elected officials stand on this. My State Representative, John Myers, should be as infuriated as I…

  • Lauren

    yet so far we’ve not heard a single word from Myers on Freeman, Miller or their financial rape of Germantown. In fact, Jason Fagone’s article indicates that Myers is in bed with Miller, Freeman and others who’ve literally robbed the community. He writes, that Myers was part of “Settlement’s freshman class” and “had graduated to positions of real power in the city, thanks in part to Freeman’s connections.”
    And what’s more, despite everything, Freeman still believes he has a pipeline and working relationship with our elected officials. He wants Miller’s assistance to “embark on a significant venture” located behind the failing school he wasted taxpayer money on. What’s wrong with this picture and where does it end?
    It’s time that we demand better. Better for our children, better for working parents struggling to get by, better for our local businesses, better for our community as a whole. It’s time we demand more from our leaders. I am a professional working woman, a mother, a wife, a taxpaying resident and I now accept the challenge of being a community activist. I urge others to stand with me in a fight to demand that the funds invested in our district are put to…

  • Lauren

    good use and to begin to reinvest in Northwest Philadelphia — this time for real.

    Lauren Anderson Youngblood
    Community Activist

  • Steve

    The LAST thing we need is another Youngblood in office. She is just as corrupt as the others in this article, and sold her district away just to stay in office! Sorry, we will fight tooth and nail to make sure that NO Youngblood ever makes in in office again!

  • Pat

    If this article is of interest to you and you oppose the pillaging that has taken place in this great Philadelphia neighborhood, please check out a new Face Book page called Battle for Germantown and become a friend.

  • Enough’s Enough

    I observed Freeman and Settlement in action while working on site but for another employer. A dazed and confused finance wing, late paychecks, the hopeless charter school, and both Mr. and Mrs. Freeman’s aloof manner and fancy cars- all as bad as the article describes. I hope Freeman’s ride is over and other leaders can step up in Germantown.

  • Rozalind

    You won’t hear from John Myers because he was a part of it as well. He sits on the Board of Germantown Settlement and his wife was on their payroll for quite some time. So you should be appalled with him as well. Every last one of them needs to payback all the money they stole from the city and state. LISC had better take a look at their executive director as well, he’s the former COO of Germantown Settlement.