City Council Women to DA: Fire Porngate Prosecutors

Five City Council members, in conjunction with Philly NOW, take a stand against prosecutors involved in Pennsylvania's pornographic email scandal.

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

This morning, as promised, the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women held a press conference in City Council’s Caucus room in City Hall to release a statement (not a resolution, they were sure to clarify) demanding that the office of Philadelphia DA Seth Williams fire three of its prosectors who were part of the porngate email chain: Frank Fina, Marc Costanzo and Pat Blessington.

The statement, which was signed by all five female Council members, noted that “The emails which these men forwarded reportedly include women in compromising sexual situations with captions indicating advancing in the work place requires such acts, depiction of African American babies as violent from infancy, and stereotyping and ridiculing of gay men.” The statement takes specific aim at Fina, “whose involvement in prosecuting sex crimes makes this behavior all the more disgraceful.”

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, center, accompanied by investigators Marc Costanzo, left, and Frank Fina, speaks during a news conference Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, center, accompanied by investigators Marc Costanzo, left, and Frank Fina, speaks during a news conference Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, in Philadelphia.

Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who was the leader of this effort within Council, spoke first to the assembled TV cameras, newspaper reporters and other spectators milling about the cavernous Caucus room. “We are outraged,” she said. “We are calling on our DA and asking that he terminate these employees immediately. How can they stand in judgment of others given what was in their inboxes?” She noted that “whatever you may feel about Kathleen Kane,” the emails are out now and have to be addressed, as they’re evidence of the “Old Boys Network that’s been happening for so long.” She emphasized that the taxpayers are the ones who pay these men so “they have to be held accountable.”

Bass was followed by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who praised Bass’ leadership and noted that Council has always worked well with the DA’s Office. “We look forward to continuing that relationship, but hopefully without the cloud of these individuals.”

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez congratulated NOW for continuing to push the issue, but also got personal, saying she was upset at the emails’ content not just as a woman, but as a woman of color. “We can’t have people who make judgment calls on our children, on our women, to think that this is okay.” Sánchez also derided Williams’ promise that he’d make his employees take sensitivity training. “To think that a sensitivity course is sufficient to address what has become a hostile situation for women, women in positions of power, and women who advocate publicly on behalf of women and children … enough is enough.”

A softer note was sounded by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who seemed less comfortable with the talk about the DA’s Office specifically. She said, “Let’s focus on the value of NOW … I am not in the business of telling others how to run their departments.”

The president of Philadelphia NOW, Nina Ahmad, told the crowd that the reason this movement took some time to gain traction was not only because Williams’ office took a lot of time to respond, but because so many of NOW’s members were loathe to look at the emails to see what they were dealing with. Now that they’ve seen them in all their offensive glory, she says, they’ve been galvanized. The next step will be the creation of a petition for termination.

Williams released a statement in response to this morning’s gathering, according to Metro, suggesting he has no intention of taking any further action on this subject: “While I appreciate and understand the concerns of the city councilwomen and NOW over the content of the emails, I have reviewed this matter and the individuals involved have been disciplined. I have reached out to NOW on multiple occasions to sit down and discuss this matter in greater detail and to date they have refused. I agree that the material in question was offensive, but I would remind everyone involved that this behavior never took place in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. My office has remained fully committed to doing the important work of making Philadelphia streets safer every day.”

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