The agency hired some big names to push projects such as smart cards, the President's House, and the prison demolition in Camden.
The Delaware River Port Authority hired five marketing companies for $841,000 in the last five years to advocate for the demolition of the state prison in Camden, promote the President's House memorial in Old City, plan for a bridge-toll increase, tout a new electronic fare card for PATCO trains, and generally promote the agency.
Prominent public-relations executives hired by the DRPA included Ken Snyder, a political consultant, former spokesman for Gov. Rendell, and onetime aide to U.S. Rep. Robert Brady; Kevin Feeley, chief spokesman for Rendell when Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia; James McQueeny, a political commentator and former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg; Judi London, former president of the South Jersey Tourism Corp.; and Jill Deardorff, founder of the Wilmington agency that bears her name.
Since 2006, the DRPA signed contracts with five firms for $841,000. So far, it has paid the firms $668,992, according to DRPA records.
In addition, the DRPA pays two in-house communications staffers $167,000 a year.
In recent months, the DRPA has been under fire from Gov. Christie, legislators, and some of its board members for spending toll payers' money on contracts to benefit politically connected firms. At Christie's request, the DRPA board has moved to reduce no-bid contract limits, increase transparency, and require board approval of more contracts.
One of the contracts last year was with Feeley's Bellevue Communications Group, of Philadelphia, for $19,500 to "promote the relocation of Riverfront State Prison" in Camden.
The contract was signed Jan. 15, 2009, a day after the state announced its decision to demolish the prison and move the inmates. Controversy swirled for months as opponents sought to block the move, and Bellevue's job was to help sway public opinion for the relocation to open up Camden's waterfront.
The prison was torn down last winter.
(The DRPA bankrolled the demolition, setting aside $6 million in economic-development funding in July 2009, although so far the cost has been $1.5 million.)
Feeley's firm also helped organize support for the DRPA proposal in early 2009 to spend $3.5 million in economic-development money for the President's House memorial near Independence Hall.
Bellevue worked with the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, a grassroots group of supporters, to push for DRPA funding of the memorial, which was approved in February 2009.
Altogether, Bellevue last year received three contracts for $143,500, each under the $100,000 threshold that would have required board approval. One, for $99,000, effective April 1, 2009, was for promotion of the "Freedom" fare card for PATCO passengers.
The smart card system replaced magnetic-strip cards in late 2007, and by 2009 nearly all PATCO riders were using it. Two other firms had been hired in previous years to promote the card.
Feeley said his firm had used the money to produce a television commercial promoting recreational and leisure use of PATCO and to buy airtime.
"We put in in excess of 500 hours on those projects," he said. "In the end, the DRPA got every bit of its money's worth. I'm proud of the work we did, and I'm happy to defend it."
Other public-relations and marketing contracts were with:
Winning Strategies Public Relations, of Newark, N.J. (four contracts in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 totaling $240,000). The firm's chairman is McQueeny, and its chief marketing officer is London. The firm's duties were to promote PATCO and its Freedom card, pitch positive stories about PATCO to local media, create a PATCO presence in social media such as Facebook and Twitter, update PATCO's Wikipedia entry, and promote PATCO to university students.
Ken Snyder Communications, of Philadelphia (four contracts in 2006, 2007, and 2008 totaling $212,500). The contracts were for a strategy for raising bridge tolls in 2008 (one of its suggestions: "initially propose a higher toll increase to create wiggle room, if needed"), DRPA promotion, crisis communications, event staging, and media relations.
Deardorff Associates, of Wilmington (two contracts in 2006 and 2007 totaling $200,000), to establish and promote the Freedom card.
Eight Marketing, of Wayne (three contracts in 2006, 2008, and 2009 totaling $45,000). Founded and led by Fran Feldman Walish, a former marketing executive with the Philadelphia Zoo and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., Eight Marketing was hired to promote the Philadelphia Cruise Terminal and the RiverLink Ferry. Despite the effort, cruise terminal revenue declined from $1.6 million in 2006 to $571,000 in 2009. Ferry revenue, meanwhile, fell from $72,000 to $62,000.
Ed Kasuba, spokesman for the DRPA, said the firms had been selected "for their expertise in the field of marketing and were helpful in the development of strategies to introduce new products and services or reinforce existing products and services."
The outside firms were necessary, he said, because DRPA has not had its own marketing department since 2003.