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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Meeting Arlen Specter in a Rite Aide; Meeting former DA Lynne Abraham on a bus, and more..

The Local Lens
Published• Wed, Sep 05, 2012

By Thom Nickels

Politicians at some point have to think about what they will do for a living when their ‘term of service’ is over. This must be a very difficult undertaking. I’m thinking especially of former State Rep. Babette Josephs, who represented the 182nd Legislative District from 1985 to earlier this year, when she lost to contender Brian Sims.

After that election, Ms. Josephs was not only out of a job, she was out of the (highly prized) public relations loop—the city’s ‘in the know’ circle that includes all sorts of perks and whistles. Prior to the election she was assured of walking down the street and getting nods, smiles and handshakes, but after her defeat (and the power shift) these things no doubt took a nose dive. This must hurt. I say this with some certainty because recently I passed Ms. Josephs on a Center City street and noticed that the fixed smile she wore for years seemed to be less slanted in the upward position. Sadly, she’d become--- in the six seconds that it took me to pass her on the sidewalk--- just another Center City elderly shopper.

Some months ago, I was in an Old City-bound bus on Chestnut Street when I noticed a sweet little old lady sitting to my left. Quiet and diminutive looking with her hands folded on her lap like a 1950s parochial school girl, I gave her a passing glance only to realize that the lady was none other than former Philadelphia DA Lynne Abraham (1991-2010), the ferocious lion who would not give up the search for Ira Einhorn, the founder of Earth Day in 1970 who murdered his girlfriend Holly Maddux sometime in 1977 and then stuck her body in a truck in his Powelton Village apartment. On television, strong personalities like Abraham appear larger than life; that’s why seeing them in person can sometimes be a shock. When I introduced myself, the former DA said something funny and self deprecating and wished me a good evening.

About this time I found myself in line at a Center City Rite Aid. The store was crowded but when my turn came to approach the register a customer appeared out of nowhere and threw the item he wanted to pay for on the counter in front of me. The cashier turned to the man and said, "I’m sorry, sir, but this gentleman [meaning me] was in line before you." I looked at the man who threw the item and saw that it was Arlen Specter, Philadelphia’s DA in 1965 and (for a while) Ira Einhorn’s defense attorney. Like the diminutive Abraham, Specter was far smaller and frailer than his TV image. He looked at me in a quizzical way as if he expected me to support his hijacking of the line.

I wondered then if Mr. Specter had a habit of throwing items on store counters as a way to jump the line. Was he used to people bowing to his wishes and saying, "Oh, honored sir of the Warren Commission Report, oh honored ex-Pennsylvania senator, please, by all means, step ahead of me and all the people behind me. As first among equals, please proceed."

While I didn’t say this, I knew I had to say something, so I did the next best thing: I introduced myself by mentioning that I’d been following his career for years and that it was a pleasure to finally shake his hand. This was not a lie or even flattery but the God’s truth. When we shook hands, Mr. Specter said, "I’m not worried about you, I’m worried about her," meaning the poor check out girl who had had the verve to do what was right but who was now being given an eyeball once over by Mr. Specter. The truth of course is that the cashier, being in her twenties, probably didn’t even know who Arlen Specter was and wouldn’t have recognized Lynne Abraham or Babette Josephs either. But even if she had recognized them, she still would have stuck to the rules of the line.

As for Mayor Nutter’s plunge into future relative obscurity, it’s my guess he will not go gentle into that good night.

Mayor Nutter will not go the route of other former mayors of Philadelphia. He will not become a man of the cloth like Wilson Goode, disappear into the either like John Street, or become a radio personality like Frank Rizzo. What he will do is attempt to follow former Governor and Mayor Ed Rendell’s example and opt for a spot on the national political stage. The national stage is where the real Public Relations perks and whistles are. This is where Mayor Nutter wants to be; the proof, my friends, is in the grooming process he’s already undertaken, namely his handling of the first ticketed concert ever on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

There’s never been a ticketed event on the Parkway, much less the $75.00 Labor Day weekend ticketed event that the city built up with the construction of two eight foot high walls, one draped in tarp to keep people without tickets from seeing anything and the other a wall to keep crashers from getting in free.

Listen here, the mayor told whiners, if you can’t afford a ticket, go buy the CD.

Ok, so let’s suppose you applaud Mayor Nutter’s exercise in thinking big. After all, what better way to attract a national or international audience than to hold a ticketed concert with acts like JAY-Z? Imagine the publicity Philly will get, never mind the boom to the city’s hotel industry, but think of it: Mayor Nutter on national TV the night of the concert—Mayor Bloomberg eat your heart out—talking about the urban Woodstock of the Depression Age (sans murders, of course). What a career catalyst! Talk about a musical trampoline to national prominence! Why, if this concert is a success, political head hunters will be all over Mr. Nutter like flies on butter.

The first of its kind anywhere: a JAY-Z concert as a resume career planning move!

His Honor’s reluctance to answer reporters’ questions concerning how much taxpayer money is being used to organize and clean up after the concert (think of all the extra police that were hired to arrest fence jumpers) is yet another indication that, in his mind at least, the mayor has already set one foot on the national stage.

"Philadelphia, Shrilladelphia," he might as well be saying, "What the promoters of Made in America didn’t pay for in their lion’s share agreement is none of your business.

"Because I’m moving on… and moving up…"