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This profile was last updated on 4/18/06  and contains information from public web pages.

Black Salesman

Ballantine Beer
 
Background

Employment History

  • Wilmont Tailors
  • Circulation Supervisor
Web References
Philadelphia Daily News | 04/18/2006 | As he turns 70, Philly pol remains in the picture
www.philly.com, 18 April 2006 [cached]
When Braxton's opponent, Alan Butkovitz, announced his candidacy two weeks later, Birts was on that stage, too.
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Birts, who turns 70 today, has been a Democratic committeeman, a public-relations man, campaign adviser, publisher and newspaper-circulation specialist, shoe and menswear salesman, and, probably most important, coach, mentor and fund-raiser for youth programs.
"To tell you the honest truth, I don't like dealing with adults that much," he said last week."I prefer working with kids."
It's fitting that Birts' birthday bash Saturday night at the First District Plaza in West Philadelphia will be a fund-raiser for a youth scholarship program, something he's been doing for years.
Birts is circulation supervisor for Jerry Mondesire's Philadelphia Sunday Sun, and a special assistant to U.S. Rep.
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Donald Birts was born in Camden, and spent his first 35 years on the Jersey side of the river.
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"When I was a baby, I was bowlegged," Birts said.His grandmother saw his waddling walk and began calling him Donald Duck.That grew to Ducky, which stuck.
Birts starred on Camden High's state-championship basketball team in 1955 and he was later an assistant coach at the school.
After a stretch working at the New York Shipbuilding Corp. in Camden, Birts spent several years learning the menswear business at Wilmont Tailors in Camden, working as a stock boy, salesman, buyer and manager.
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The connections made Birts known and helped him open his own menswear store, Ducky's Dashery, in downtown Camden.
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"I learned then that politics could get things done," Birts said."That's how I got my loan to go into business - $6,000 at 6 percent interest.That allowed me to get a building and inventory to open my store."
City Councilwoman Marian Tasco remembers meeting Birts in those days.She attended a fundraising dance sponsored by a club with which he was affiliated.
"He wore a white leather suit, zipped up the front," Tasco recalled.Birts remembered the outfit.
"Kids wear stuff now, they think they're pulling something," Birts said."I did that a long time ago."
Ducky moved across the river in the late '60s after he got to know the legendary Rev. Leon Sullivan, who preached a gospel of black economic and spiritual empowerment.
Ducky's Dashery moved to Progress Plaza on North Broad Street, and Birts became a Democratic committeeman in West Oak Lane's 50th ward, which Tasco now leads.
Tasco said he's one of the best committeemen she's known.
"Sometimes, I'll call him to say someone is sending 10 people into his [voting] division to work against our candidates," Tasco said."He'll just say, 'Tasco, I got it covered,' and he'll bring in the vote."
Birts says he knows how to turn out his voters and get results.
"My vote is done two weeks before the election.I don't wait till Election Day," he said."I call my people ... but I know them, I'm close to them.I got them a job, or went to their wedding, or party, or a funeral, or the Little League game, or got their kids tickets for the zoo.You got to work at this.It doesn't happen by osmosis."
Birts became affiliated with the independent Democrats known as the Northwest Alliance, and got a job as an aide to their leader, U.S. Rep.
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Birts helped Tasco get elected to City Council in 1987, and she said his knack for getting into photo-ops helped.
"He knows how to get you into a place, maneuver you into a position of prominence so you're in the picture you want to be in, and how to get you out," Tasco said.
Birts smiled when told she had said that, and said he was applying lessons he'd learned in Camden years before as Ballantine Beer's first black salesman.
Birts said Ballantine liked him to get a picture with the bar owner or manager he'd visited to prove he was there, and he developed a knack for getting close to people who can make things happen.
"If you're not with the person in the action, you're not there," Birts said."You can't be tiddlywinks timid.If this is my area, you want to get close to me. People don't know you, they know me."
Birts worked hard on elections and often published a "Ducky Special," a flier for candidates he favored.He also became known over the years for speaking his mind.
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Birts lost his job as an aide to Gray when Gray left Congress in 1991.
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The shoe store fell to competition from big-box stores in the mid-'90s and Birts went to work for Brady and for the Sun.
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