El-Bedawi had been staying at a city homeless shelter on Ridge Avenue for about a week when, he said, some people who called themselves "election workers" visited to say they needed help on Election Day. They were offering $100 cash - plus breakfast, lunch and dinner - in exchange for distributing campaign literature at polling places.
Interested helpers were told to report to the parking lot of the Progress Plaza shopping center on North Broad Street at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, where they'd receive their assignments. When he arrived, El-Bedawi was surprised to see six idling buses and to learn that he'd be working the polls in Maryland, not here in Philly. He needed the money, so he got on the bus with about 200 others - recruited, he learned, from city homeless shelters and drug-treatment centers.
(To see a video of some of the Philly recruits, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIx9H7hd MuA.)
"I thought we'd be back by dinnertime," said El-Bedawi, 47, who planned to vote at his usual spot in Germantown. The bus dropped him and others at a school-based polling place in Baltimore, where voters were overwhelmingly black.
At first, the time passed pleasantly until some of the voters took a closer look at the flier that El-Bedawi was passing out, and went ballistic. It was labeled "Ehrlich-Steele Democrats" and "Official Voter Guide," and its sample ballot pushed Ehrlich and Steele, who are not identified as being Republican.
It also pictured three prominent black Democratic leaders above the words, "These are OUR Choices" - suggesting that Ehrlich, who is white, and Steele, who is black, had the trio's endorsement.
"People started screaming, at us, 'Do you think we're that stupid? What are you trying to pull?' " said El-Bedawi. "I said, 'I didn't know it was a lie! I'm from Philly!' And they said, 'Then go back to Philly!' "
When the voters left, he said, he was so shaken and angry, he tossed his remaining literature in the trash. On the bus back home that evening, he said, others were as upset as he was. They were told, "Don't worry about it. People don't care."
"That's some dirty, sneaky, underhanded stuff," said El-Bedawi, shaking his head. "Voting is the most important thing we do. To mess with it is wrong."
But to pay someone to unwittingly mess with it for you?
My repeated calls yesterday to both Ehrlich's and Steele's camps went unreturned. So I wasn't able to ask: How can you live with yourself, recruiting poor, vulnerable, minority campaign workers to unknowingly play sleazy for you at polls frequented by poor, vulnerable minority voters?
Especially given that, just last month, Ehrlich had thrown his support behind an NAACP campaign to ensure that "every Marylander has access to a fair and accurate election system."
And that Steele has served on the NAACP's blue-ribbon panel on election reform?
Yesterday's Washington Post reported that neither Ehrlich nor Steele was personally aware of the Philly hires - who knows which group loosely connected to the camps got the bus caravans rolling? Though Ehrlich told the Post, "If folks are here from out of town, that's fine with me. That's what the Democrats have always done."
"I am so angry and upset, I don't know what to do," said El-Bedawi, who's particularly shattered that he and at least 200 other Philadelphians didn't get home from Maryland in time to vote here.
"These people think we're too stupid to understand the magnitude of what we did." What they did, said El-Bedawi, was cheat an entire community of unsuspecting voters