A powerful state senator who has been a frequent investigative and editorial target of the city’s two daily newspapers said Friday he wanted to work to avoid possible layoffs at the publications.
Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia, sent letters to Gov. Ed Rendell, Mayor John Street and Joseph Natoli, publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, asking to discuss the papers’ plan to eliminate about 100 jobs through buyouts and possibly layoffs.
“Although I’m often upset by some of the things they write, including occasionally what they write about me, I consider an aggressive free press to be a fundamental part of a free society,” Fumo said in a statement.
Natoli announced Tuesday that buyouts would be offered because of declining circulation and revenue; layoffs would follow if not enough staffers volunteered to leave. The company is seeking to cut about 75 jobs at the Inquirer, or 15 percent of the news staff, and about 25 at its sister paper, or 19 percent.
Natoli was out of the office Friday afternoon and not available for comment, his office said.
Street has assigned his commerce director to work with Fumo on the issue, the mayor’s office said. Rendell spokeswoman Kate Philips said the governor had not yet received the letter but would be willing to consider Fumo’s ideas.
The senator called on Natoli to halt the buyout process pending a meeting, noting that government has taken similar actions to help other businesses.
The Knight Ridder Inc. newspapers have reported extensively on an investigation into Fumo’s role in directing public and private funds to community and nonprofit groups. Just this month, the Inquirer reported that a subsidiary of a nonprofit organization backed by Fumo had paid for political polling, even though federal law prohibits political activity by tax-exempt nonprofits. The paper said the money was later reimbursed by a Fumo political fund.