Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode said yesterday he still plans to run for reelection next year despite a special commission's finding that he was "grossly negligent" in handling a bloody confrontation with a radical group last May in which 11 people died and 61 homes were destroyed by fire.
The 11-member commission, appointed by Goode, concluded that the mayor and some top aides displayed a "reckless disregard for life and property" and "unconscionable" behavior in dropping a bomb on a West Philadelphia row house occupied by members of the militant back-to-nature group known as MOVE.
The panel recommended a grand jury investigation, raising the possibility that the case could end up in court and cause still more problems for Goode.
"The plan to bomb the MOVE house was reckless, ill-conceived and hastily approved," the commission said in a draft of its final report, which is expected to be released later this week. "Dropping a bomb on an occupied row house should have been rejected out-of-hand by the mayor, the managing director, the police commissioner and the fire commissioner."
The sharply worded report was the latest blow to Goode's reputation from the May 13 incident, and City Councilman John F. Street said it could be "the last nail in the coffin" for the mayor.
But Goode told reporters yesterday that he has no intention of dropping plans to seek a second term. "I am ultimately responsible . . . for those decisions, but the people of this city are the ones who will judge me," he said.
Goode's allies conceded that his reelection chances have been hurt by the findings of the commission, which some people initially feared would not be critical of the mayor. "There's no doubt he's been damaged," City Council President Lucien Blackwell said. "The only question is how bad."
"A year ago he was headed for the moon. Everything he touched turned to gold," said Blackwell, who represents the neighborhood where the confrontation took place. "Now the glitter is gone."
"Obviously, the mayor isn't as strong as he was a year ago, but he isn't dead politically," said Neil Oxman, a political consultant to Goode. "His support is remarkably resilient. So far the mayor has survived a lot of punches that many people said would be fatal."
The report was drafted after hundreds of interviews and five weeks of televised hearings last fall. The commission had planned to issue its findings later this month, but on Sunday, The Philadelphia Inquirer published what it called a "final draft" of the report.
Commission chairman William Brown III yesterday confirmed the accuracy of the leaked draft and said the final version will be released this week.
The draft criticized Goode, the city's first black mayor, and other officials for almost every step they took in planning and executing the assault on MOVE's heavily fortified compound in the predawn hours of May 13.
It accused the mayor of following a "do-nothing-and-say-nothing" policy of "appeasement" toward MOVE members in the months leading up to the final confrontation, and of "abdicating his responsibilities" on the day of the siege.
The panel, which has five white and six black members, said racial prejudice played a role in what happened. City officials would "not likely" have allowed a bunker to be built atop the row house, fired 10,000 rounds of ammunition at it or dropped a bomb "had the MOVE residence been situated in a white neighborhood," the draft report said.
During the hearings, Goode contended that subordinates misled, disobeyed and misinformed him May 13. The report dismissed these claims, but repeatedly criticized the mayor's three top aides at the time -- Managing Director Leo A. Brooks, Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor and Fire Commissioner William C. Richmond. Brooks and Sambor have since resigned.
According to the panel, the chief responsibility for the tragedy fell to Goode. The report said he "clearly risked the lives" of the children in the MOVE house, five of whom died, by first approving a police assault on the building and, when that failed, by giving the go-ahead for dropping a bomb from a helicopter.
Goode "paused only 30 seconds before approving the dropping of explosives," the report said. "Had he taken more time before making such a critical decision, he may have considered the presence of the children, the possibility that gas was on the roof and the possibility that explosives were stored in the MOVE house."
The commission called for a grand jury to investigate the children's deaths, which it said "appear to be unjustified homicide." District Attorney Ronald D. Castille said yesterday that he was looking into the recommendation.