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.

“It was the only time I can remember the mayor’s office getting involved in getting a contractor paid,” David Smith says. Vendors are normally paid within 60 to 90 days, a buffer that allows the city to manage its cash flow in an era of nine-figure deficits. Settlement, though, would hand-deliver an invoice on a Tuesday, and a call would come on Wednesday, demanding payment on Friday — a three-day turnaround. Once the managing director’s office approved the payments, they were sent over to the City Controller, Alan Butkovitz, whose job it is to examine all payments to city contractors before the money leaves the city’s accounts. Butkovitz would then approve a physical check for five figures. Soon afterward, a runner working for Freeman would come to the Municipal Services Building on JFK Boulevard and whisk the check back to Germantown, into fiscal oblivion. The payments continued well into the Nutter administration. (Harvey Rice, the first deputy city controller, claims the Controller had no choice but to approve the payments: “[Settlement] served families at high risk.” Then he became agitated, accused me of “bias,” and threatened to “go right to your editor.”)

“We need to get together and talk,” Miller e-mailed Freeman in mid-2008. “We can not let this agency go under. God Bless you and GS [Germantown Settlement].”

From here until the bankruptcy declaration, Miller would exchange at least 50 e-mails with Freeman, strategizing on ways to buy more time with the Nutter administration to keep Settlement alive. I recently asked Miller why, after a decade of persistent failure, she continued to believe Settlement was worth saving. “This agency is more than 100 years old!” she said, spreading her hands wide. “Come on! … I’ve been referring people to Settlement all my adult life. When I was a kid, my grandmother lived down the street from one of the buildings, and I’d see the kids going to day camp.”

Depending on the topic, Miller was either irritated (the lack of private development in Germantown), befuddled (Settlement’s failures), or sad to the point of lowering her voice to a whisper (Emanuel Freeman). She insisted she never knew if Settlement was doing “a good job or a bad job,” adding, “I always thought they provided pretty good service.” What about Freedom Square? “It’s an eyesore now, but back when it was built, it was like, wow.” The Penn Street homes? “Yeah,” she exhaled, “that’s a mess.” The foundation pit on Wakefield? “Empty lots. I can’t tell you there. What I gather, what I heard, is that one of the contractors didn’t do the right thing.” The YWCA fiasco? “I thought that they could potentially do it. Plus, they brought people in. These financers, I guess.”

Finally, I asked Miller about the charter school. She looked away. “You know, I asked them once, why did y’all start a charter school?” Her voice trailed off. “They said it came from a parents meeting. … ”

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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.