The Saturday before the Democratic National Convention gets going in Philadelphia, state Rep. Jordan Harris and Philly Councilman Kenyatta Johnson will be on a boat. It’s a yacht, rather, and it’ll be decked out on three floors that include an open bar, a dance party and a cigar lounge meant to welcome folks from out of town to Philly for the convention.
Some have said holding such a lavish affair on the eve of the DNC is a tone-deaf move for two Philadelphia politicians who have made addressing poverty in their districts a priority.
Harris, for his part, says that’s baloney.
“To say that folks in my neighborhood can’t afford to get on a boat and have a good time,” he said, “is quite ridiculous.” Harris represents the 186th district that includes parts of Point Breeze, Grays Ferry and Kingsessing. Johnson’s 2nd Council district encompasses large swaths of South Philly and Center City, and he hails from Point Breeze.
The exclusive event set for July 23 isn’t cheap, but some 260 attendees can purchase a general admission ticket for $100. They’ll get an open bar and access to all three decks of the yacht, but won’t have a guaranteed table. These are the rest of what can be purchased:
- Title partner – $40,000
- Hosts circle – $20,000
- VIP cigar lounge title partner – $10,000
- Signature partner – $5,000
- 2nd level reserved table – $3,000
- 1st level reserved sponsor – $2,500
- General admission – $100 each
The political nature of the event made it seem at first glance like a political fundraiser, but Kenyatta Donley, the organizer of the party and a college buddy of Johnson’s, said money made from the yacht party won’t go to campaign funds or to the politicians “whatsoever.” The only perks they’ll get for being named hosts is VIP passes for guests.
He said any money made that exceeds the costs of the evening will be donated to Autism Speaks, a national autism advocacy nonprofit that sponsors research and conducts outreach. Mark Nevins, an advisor to Johnson, confirmed it’s not a political event and “not a campaign fundraiser.”
“A college friend of Councilman Johnson asked him to be the special guest at a welcoming party for the Democratic National Convention that will raise money for an autism charity,” Nevins said. “Councilman Johnson was more than happy to support that effort.”
Donley, a Philly native who’s worked in advertising and consulting, said the party came about after he was approached by officials from the DNC’s Committee for African American Engagement, which was looking for people to host events around convention time. They came together and settled on a yacht party, added the fundraiser benefit for Autism Speaks and recruited Johnson and Harris on board to host.
He said when he was planning the event, he didn’t consider poverty rates in Johnson and Harris’ respective districts.
“I didn’t look back at how this ties to that district,” he said. “I looked at it as: This will be a high-end event for the delegates coming to town and an opportunity to showcase the city and raise money for a good cause.”