By Cynthia Burton,
and Monica Yant
INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
Philadelphia mayoral candidate Dwight Evans yesterday accepted the resignation
campaign manager and fired the deputy manager after learning that the deputy was linked
to a bogus Web site apparently intended to hurt a rival candidate.
Evans, a state representative from West Oak Lane, denounced the phony Web
page as an
example of "dirty tricks," said he knew nothing about it until after it appeared, and said
he had apologized to the target of the ruse, John White Jr., a rival for the Democratic
nomination for mayor.
"I do not want this race to be about race," Evans said during a news conference in City Hall courtyard.
The Web page, which purported to be the official site of White's campaign,
highlighted a remark made
by White in an interview with Al Dia, a Spanish-language weekly in Philadelphia. The quote reads:
"The black and the brown, if we unite, we're going to control this city."
White has said that the quote, drawn from a lengthy interview published
Feb. 3, was substantially
accurate but did not convey his meaning, which was that blacks and Latinos could wield more political
clout if they worked together.
The fake site made the statement appear to be the credo of White's campaign.
It appeared on numerous
pages within the site, in large letters. E-mail messages were sent to journalists, alerting them to the
site. Several rival candidates said the ruse appeared designed to hurt White by making him appear
threatening to white voters.
White called attention to the subterfuge Thursday, after the Daily News
published an article that quoted
White's comment to Al Dia and described the page as the candidate's official site. Evans and White's
other rivals all disavowed any role in the prank.
Evans said yesterday he had learned that his deputy campaign manager, David
J. Sirota, of Huntingdon
Valley, was "associated" with the person who registered the site with Internet service companies --
Robert J. Richman, 23, of Cambridge, Mass.
The two are friends who were classmates at Northwestern University and
who share an affinity for
Web design. Sirota, owner of a Web design company, bills himself on his own page as a political
consultant and Web guru. He has designed sites for U.S. Sen. Bob Graham (D., Fla.), U.S. Rep. Joe
Hoeffel and other politicians.
Evans said he had fired Sirota for "overzealous behavior." He said he believed
that Sirota had not
created the bogus page but had discussed it with Richman.
"I found out that they basically were talking to each other and one thing
led up to another," Evans said
in an interview. "It's unclear to me what all the details are."
"I'm more than angry," he said. "I'm very angry about this. . . . That
is not the kind of activity I will take
in my campaign."
Evans said his campaign manager, John T. "Jack" Fugett, offered his resignation unprompted.
"He chose to on his own and I accept," Evans said. "He chose because he
felt he was responsible for
the person working under his supervision."
Sirota and Fugett, a Chestnut Hill businessman and Evans friend who managed
the candidate's 1994 bid
for governor, both declined to comment.
Asked who would replace Fugett as campaign manager, Evans said he would
decide over the next
Richman has denied any role in the Web site. In a phone interview Thursday
night, he said he believed
that the site was set up by someone who stole his credit card after he left it in a bank in Cambridge
three weeks ago. He said he knew no one in Philadelphia politics and was not involved in any of the
Yesterday, a man who answered the door at Richman's Cambridge apartment
said "I'm not talking" and
slammed the door.
Evans called White to apologize yesterday. White, at a campaign appearance
in Chinatown last night,
said he had accepted the apology, but added: "I personally think he needs to apologize to the whole
In a prepared statement issued earlier, White said that responsibility
for the fake site lay with Evans.
"I believe that a candidate is singularly responsible for the ethics and atmosphere of his or her own
campaign," the statement said.
The site was registered to "Brock Landers," a fictitious character in the
movie Boogie Nights. The
address listed was Richman's first-floor apartment near Harvard University. The bill for computer
storage for the page was paid with a Visa card issued to Richman.
After that information was published in The Inquirer yesterday, Sirota
approached Fugett and told him
that he was friends with Richman. From 12:30 p.m. until shortly after 5, the two holed up in Fugett's
office in Center City and Fugett questioned Sirota about the bogus site. The two conferred with Evans
by phone and discussed what the candidate would say at his news conference.
Evans said that at one point Sirota apologized and that he replied: "You're
not in this campaign."
Richman and Sirota's friendship dates to 1994, their freshman year at Northwestern. The two met while
living in the same dorm, Richman's mother, Judy Richman of Los Angeles, said yesterday.
"I know that they talk," she said.
Richman described her son as someone inclined to art rather than politics.
"He's very conscientious as to the rights and wrongs of things," she said.
"He's highly ethical, to the
point where he would get upset if I would try to get a 10 percent discount."
As seniors at Northwestern, Robert Richman and Sirota lived in the same
apartment building, said
Richman's former roommate and fraternity brother Eric Bricker.
Bricker said that when the two were sophomores, they worked together on
a Web design company,
Locomotive Online Communications. Corporate records list Sirota as owner of the company.
"They're both very ambitious young gentlemen," Bricker said.
On an Internet biography posted at Northwestern's Web site, Sirota listed his computer alias as
"Locomotive." His nicknames included "webman," "crowbar," "politicaljunkee" and "dc-dave."
The two graduated from Northwestern last year. Sirota's degree was in journalism, Richman's in
Sirota, who is in his early 20s, grew up in Huntingdon Valley and volunteered for Marjorie
Margolies-Mezvinsky during her successful 1992 congressional campaign. In 1998, he was an intern at
the Chicago Tribune's online division. Sirota's resume says he has also been an intern for political
strategist James Carville.
Last August, he worked on Hoeffel's congressional campaign . Sirota created the campaign Web site
and provided technological know-how for an online news conference the candidate held Sept. 17.
Internet work was Sirota's "primary responsibility," said Jeffrey Stein,
Hoeffel's campaign manager.
"He's very bright. He obviously did good work for us. He's got the good college enthusiasm still
running through him."
Reacting to the controversy yesterday, former City Council President John F. Street, a mayoral
contender, said: "Sometimes in politics people can want to win too badly, but there's no place for these
kind of tactics."
Mayor Rendell said the prank was an "unconscionable act" and a sign to
candidates that "we've got to
cut this stuff out. This is not a campaign for dirty tricks."
Evans said he foresaw no damage to his candidacy and would remain in the
race. "It only makes me
stronger," he said of the controversy. "It only makes me continue to move on."