Rich Negrin, a Latino legacy
It was July 7, 2010. Rich Negrin was at his second day on the job as Mayor Michael Nutter’s right-hand man. A sledge barge plowed into a 33-foot "Ride the Ducks" tour boat on the Delaware River, sending the amphibious vehicle and its 37 passengers underwater. Within minutes Negrin was at the scene. First responders were still pulling bodies onto land.
For the last five years, Negrin has never been guaranteed a night of uninterrupted sleep. When something goes wrong, the managing director of the fifth largest city in the country is always on call. Emergencies. Deaths. Civilian catastrophes. Negrin has been there for the loss of seven police officers and at least four firefighters since he took off. (“That’s way too many funerals,” he says.”) A normal day for Negrin is one that starts and ends with epidemic gun violence.
“I’m up at all hours of the night and that takes a toll over time,” he told AL DIA. “Depending on how you do the job, most managing directors have lasted two and half years max. That’s the average."
Negrin replaced Camille Barnett, who took a dramatic leave in June 2010. He stands out not just for his imposing football player’s build, but also as the highest-ranking Latino in local government.
Alas, that chapter of his life is coming to a close. Last week, Negrin announced that he will end tenure as the city’s longest serving director in recent history — five years.
Come January he will become a partner at Obermeyer. His new office will be right across from City Hall.
“Government is not going to do everything and it’s not going to solve every problem, but people are entitled to the truth. They’re entitled to know what you can and cannot do for them. They’re entitled to a level of service” Richard Negrin
Obermeyer is full of public servants — a former city controller, another managing director, a city solicitor, an attorney general. Many of their lawyers serve on boards and do pro bono work. Negrin says the “citizen lawyer” model is good fit for him.
But it’s a bittersweet transition. Despite the grim nature of the job, Negrin has left a positive legacy behind: the Philly Rising program, which focuses on neighborhoods plagued by poverty and crime; and Philly 311, the phone, online and mobile platform for city services. Through all his initiatives, Negrin says he tried to create “a government that listens” to all its residents without giving them false hopes.
“Government is not going to do everything and it’s not going to solve every problem, but people are entitled to the truth. They’re entitled to know what you can and cannot do for them. They’re entitled to a level of service,” he said.
Negrin also looks back fondly on the Nutter administration’s integrity record.
“The biggest legacy is the one that nobody sees,” Negrin said. “We haven’t had any major scandals [in the Nutter administration] and we’ve changed the tone from an integrity perspective of the leadership.”
His days ahead will be just as busy, and dealing with a lot of the same problems.
He is neither elated nor distraught to say goodbye to his daily gun violence briefs. (“That may be a good thing, I may be more optimistic.”) But he isn’t abandoning that cause, either. His post-public plans will include joining the board of directors at CeaseFire PA, “to help advocate and push for common-sense gun laws” in Philadelphia.
Negrin will also be developing two classes for the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government. One class will use to Philly Rising model to look at how to build “resilient neighborhoods.” The other will examine organizational innovation in city government. Negrin said he’s excited about those things as well.
He’s wholly confident that the next managing director, Mike Debarardinis, will serve well under Mayor-elect Jim Kenney.