Power: The Next Howard Dean?

One day this fall, Knox and Trippi are sitting in Knox’s 27th-floor office on Market Street, which has a grand view of the city they hope to conquer. They’ve just returned from lunch, for which Knox paid with a $100 bill pulled from a thick money clip. Knox, wearing a monogrammed shirt with a pen clipped in its pocket, reclines in an armchair. He’s in his default manner, a slightly disarming state of mysterious reserve. Trippi, 49, is sprawled on a nearby couch, looking pale, rumpled and exhausted after a red-eye flight from California. But then, Trippi, with his bulging eyes and unruly hair, nearly always looks that way.

If ever there was a real-life Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, they are it. Knox is tortoise-like in movement and demeanor. When he speaks, he’s quiet and terse. And he prefers to listen. “You don’t learn anything by talking,” he says. He earned his fortune through a zeal for ruthless efficiency.

Trippi, meanwhile, is inefficiency defined. He’s a talkaholic prone to long digressions. He’s the kind of guy who thrives on chaos. Some say the only thing more amazing than the money he raised for Dean was his knack for wasting it on harebrained schemes. After Dean came up short in Iowa, Trippi was pushed out. His replacement spoke conspicuously of bringing “discipline and focus” to the sinking campaign — which everyone took to mean cleaning up wacky Joe Trippi’s management mess.

This seems a prescription for real trouble. But today, at least, Knox and his political magician are laughing at themselves. Well, Trippi is laughing, at least: When he tells some long campaign war story, Knox observes him with a quizzical look that’s somewhere between subdued impatience and mild bewilderment.

Trippi, meanwhile, seems braced for some serious henpecking. At one point, Knox notes that he likes to consult a range of people before making a decision. “I need a lot of opinions,” Knox says. “I get them from Joe, but then I like to reinforce them with a lot of other opinions.”

Trippi rolls his eyes. “I’m gonna have a lot of gray hair when this is over,” he says.

At another point, Knox describes his almost alarmingly fastidious reading habits. “I don’t read anything for pleasure,” he says. “Nothing. I read because I want information. People give me books on management technique and I read that, because that’s pleasurable to me.”

“He’ll drive you crazy,” Trippi says, with a weary smile.

This is an unlikely way for a man who was once dubbed the Democratic Karl Rove to reenter the political fray. Knox is the first candidate Trippi’s worked for, after all, since the Dean meltdown. “It’s been sort of a year where I was kind of pulled away from politics for a little bit,” Trippi says. Now the
household-name political consultant is beginning his career comeback on the local level, with a life-insurance executive whom almost no one expects to win. Why? One glaringly obvious theory is that the money will be great, although Trippi says his long-term salary has yet to be determined.

Trippi offers a more high-minded take: that Knox is just the sort of outsider candidate he’s always worked for — even before Dean came out of nowhere to sack the Washington Democratic establishment like a blitzing free safety. “I’m somebody who believes the political system is pretty messed up,” Trippi says. “With Tom Knox, you’re gonna get something different. He’s not a career pol, and he gets the job done, and that’s what attracts me to him.”

Knox certainly isn’t a professional pol. After growing up in a poor Irish/German Catholic family in Philly’s Abbottsford housing project, he left school following 10th grade and joined the Navy. Afterward, he fell into life insurance sales and earned his first riches by becoming, in his words, “the most prolific life insurance salesman in the United States.” In the 1980s and 1990s, Knox exponentially grew his fortune through a series of business ventures, including investments in a bank, a distillery, and a set of turkey farms.

It can hurt to be a rich guy in politics. But Knox and Trippi insist lower-income voters will relate to Knox’s humble origins. And they spin the upside of his fat money clip: His largely self-funded campaign means he won’t sell out to donors. His lack of higher political ambitions — “I’m not running again for anything after this,” he says — will keep him honest. And his business track record proves his knack for running an organization and taming a budget. It’s Michael Bloomberg, Philly-style.

Couplings: The Angelina Problem

 Despite our Puritan roots, our culture applauds a certain amount of sexual liberalism. Or at least the appearance thereof. For instance: We love it when chicks make out in bars. We respected Hillary Clinton’s stoicism about the Monica Lewinsky affair so much, we elected her to the Senate. Jealousy, on the other hand, is unsexy, primitive, the province of Amy Fishers and Lorena Bobbits, of Julia Roberts’s scary mustachioed husband in Sleeping With the Enemy. Monogamy, even as a word, is unsexy. But threesomes — that’s sexy.

Once, Phil told Amy he thought Faith Hill was hot. “She blurted out, ‘Omigod, Faith Hill is so beautiful, I’d do her,’” he tells me. “I replied, ‘That’s on my List.’”

Okay, great. But honestly? Amy is lying. Here is how I know: No regular 34-year-old woman wants to get naked in the same room as a completely flawless pop star. (And btw, Hillary is pissed, and the chicks kissing in bars pretty much hate themselves.) But Amy, like me with Mr. Huge in our initial Angelina Jolie conversation, feels a need to project a more liberal front. We all want to appear like we’re really self-secure, even if we’re not.

That can backfire. Take Colleen and John in Center City, who, when I asked them about their lists, came up with different answers:

“John gets a pass for Christina Ricci — before she succumbed to the Hollywood mainstream,” said Colleen, a curvy brunette, confidently. “He’s very into her curvy, mildly Goth look. And I have to say it makes me like him more, because he’s got the hots for someone who isn’t the complete opposite of me in the looks department.” Meanwhile, across town, John, asked who he’d want a pass for, answers quickly: “I would use my ‘Get out of jail free’ card for [emaciated actress] Keira Knightley.”

“He said that?” says Colleen, later. Oops.

Worse, games like the List can become a gateway drug. As you get progressively more comfortable, you start moving beyond fantasy to the realm of possibility. Elizabeth and Steve’s A-list exemption mandates that “only super hot, super exclusive” celebrities make their lists because once, Elizabeth says, “I tried to argue for Donnie Madia, a Chicago restaurateur. Steve vetoed it.”

That was probably smart. If Elizabeth adds a restaurateur today — even one who lives in a different city — what’s to stop her from adding the guy who works at their local coffee shop tomorrow? Or a co-worker? Or a mutual friend? Basically, someone close enough that Steve might actually worry about her actually cheating with him? I mean, how out of the realm of possibility is it that Brad once had a list — and Angelina Jolie was on it?

Vera recently told me that Tom occasionally mentions how pretty a certain one of her co-workers is. “He just thinks she’s the cutest thing,” she says. “I mean, it’s funny. Kind of.” I don’t think it’s funny. I want Tom to shut up, because he’s taken the game to a bad place. Britney Spears, who lives in magazines, is one thing. Someone you see every day — and could potentially run away to the Mount Laurel Hampton Inn with — is quite another.

Look at my friend Dan, who had a girlfriend he played these kinds of games with. She once mentioned that she thought his roommate was hot. He laughed it off, but it made him uneasy. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” he said. “I felt like she was flirting with him every time they had an interaction.” And guess what? After Dan and his girlfriend broke up, she started seeing his roommate.

“Once I was having a super crush on a mutual friend,” says Amy. “I was really obsessing, to the point I felt the need to confess. Then when I did, Phil’s reaction was just ‘Okay.’” Well, of course it was. Phil had set up a paradigm where he had to be okay with confessions like that. Luckily, for them, things worked out. “I was so waiting for this big reaction that didn’t come that it made my crush less exciting, and it just fizzled out,” Amy said. Hopefully Phil is on the same page, although I wonder how he really feels whenever Amy is alone with their mutual friend.

Vera, for her part, is considering retiring her List. “I swear the reason Tom says that stuff is because I’ve been acting so cool about it, and he believes that I’m cool, but the truth is, I’m only pretending to be cool. And that’s my fault, not his. And I can’t blame him for it, because he’s being honest … and I’m not.”

So this week I canceled my order of ­custom-made Vince Vaughn wallpaper. And when Vince comes to town, I may just keep my sightings of his celebrity super-fineness to myself. 

Exit Interview: Andrea Mitchell

We tried. We honestly tried to uphold a more intellectually refined discourse in honor of NBC News correspondent and former KYW reporter Andrea Mitchell, whose new book, Talking Back … to Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels, details the 59-year-old’s illustrious career. We discussed her classical music radio show at Penn, her chats with feared dictators, and even the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, which she says were actually far worse than the media portrayed. Then we brought up her husband, outgoing Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, and, well, we just couldn’t help ourselves. Old habits, you know.

Exit Interview: Tell me about your radio show at Penn, Musica de Camera.

Andrea Mitchell: It was a pretentious way of saying “chamber music.” The show’s theme song, if you will, was the third movement of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances for the Lute.

EI: Are you a total Ivy League snob?

AM: Not total. Only partial. It came out of my background as a violinist and pianist.

EI: Is it true you were also Candice Bergen’s roomie?

AM: No. That was misreported in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Candice Bergen was in my class at Penn, and we were in the same dorm. But I knew her, and she was not only one of the nicest, but one of the most glamorous freshmen.

EI: Would other girls in the dorm draw mustaches on her photos and hang them on her door?

AM: Definitely not. She was very popular. Very well-liked.

EI: Were you two party girls?

AM: I can’t speak for anyone besides me. Obviously, I was.

EI: Clearly, judging by that radio show.

AM: I was a wild and crazy girl.

EI: When it comes to dictators you’ve covered, who was the toughest interview: Fidel Castro or Frank Rizzo?

AM: Probably Castro, because he starts his interviews around midnight. He stays up all night. It puts anyone interviewing him at a distinct disadvantage. Frank Rizzo helped shape my career by toughening me up as a reporter, teaching me how to stand up to strong, powerful men, and how to talk back.

EI: We have a copy of your book, and I love it when the publisher gives us a list of “suggested interview questions.”

AM: Oh, I’m so sorry. Don’t hold me responsible for those!

EI: Have you been interviewed by someone who only asks you those pre-fab questions?

AM: I’ve never seen the questions.

EI: We just happen to have them. Here’s my favorite [in the tone of a host from The View]: “You’ve covered the Jonestown Massacre and visited refugee camps in Darfur. How do you stay focused on your story in the face of human tragedy?”

AM: It’s hard to cover disasters without becoming emotionally engaged. As a reporter, you are trained to keep a distance. In the hurricane coverage, you’ve seen a change in that. Reporters have become very involved in challenging the assertions of government officials at every level. I have concerns that some of my colleagues are going to wake up months from now and have a delayed reaction to everything they’ve witnessed.

EI: As in post-traumatic stress?

AM: Yeah, because they saw some things that were too horrible to even talk about on television. Trust me, we did not reveal everything that we saw down there. I wasn’t there, but I’m talking about my colleagues.

EI: How bad was it?

AM: Since I was not an eyewitness, I shouldn’t speak to it, but I know they saw some truly horrific things, with, you know, people who were dead and dismembered, and other kinds of horrors. Far beyond what you could ever talk about on television.

EI: Who have you interviewed that turned out to be the opposite of what you expected? Maybe you thought you’d hate Kim Jong Il but then, hey — turns out he’s quite the little charmer.

AM: [laughs] No, Kim Jong Il was exactly what I expected. With the platform shoes and the teased hair, or weave, or whatever the heck it is. It’s sort of a Donald Trump hair thing.

EI: But when he says “You’re fired,” it has a whole different meaning.

AM: It does! Castro was surprising in that I didn’t expect him to be as well-read as he was, and as up to speed on contemporary economic issues. I thought of him more as a Cold War icon, and he’s actually on the Internet.

EI: Let’s discuss the rock star in your family. Your husband.

AM: I thought you were talking about me. No offense. He’s my rock star.

EI: Is it true that your nickname for him is Sweet Pea?

AM: [sighs] That’s classified.

EI: How did he woo you?

AM: Very slowly. [laughs]

EI: You first met him during an interview about the federal budget. Was there an instant spark from such a sexy topic?

AM: You don’t think deficits are hot?

EI: Well, I imagine him having a few glasses of wine, talking about “working capital positions” and his “long hedge,” then getting slapped.

AM: Everything can be misinterpreted. That’s the joy of being with Greenspan. He has so many levels of meaning.

EI: Did he ask you if you wanted to see his prime rate?

AM: Not hardly.

EI: Who balances the family checkbook?

AM: [laughs] Not me. Would you expect I’d be in charge of family finances?

EI: Probably not. So when Sweet Pea resigns in January, will we see him on QVC pimping your book?

AM: Um, I think he’ll have more important things to do.

Contrarian: Boys ‘R Us, Inc.

Say what you will about sleaze and self-dealing in corporate America, I doubt there was ever a company like the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where the entire management hierarchy fronted for a network of child molesters. Yes, the management weasels at Enron stole millions from their investors, but they didn’t rape their kids. And they didn’t cover for anyone who did.

Catholic Church reformers might want to readjust their sights. If they could get the church to achieve the levels of treachery and deceit that characterized Enron’s corporate culture — well, that would be real progress.

The Catholic Church in America had serious headaches even before it got out that some priests were taking too literally Jesus’s plea to “suffer the little children.” Attendance on Sundays keeps going down, new priests are difficult to recruit, and the church’s teachings on subjects like birth control have long been considered laughably irrelevant by the bulk of U.S. Catholics.

These kinds of problems aren’t unique to the Catholic Church. All organizations tend to run out of steam when the people in charge start putting their own desires before the needs of those they serve. It’s a thorny dynamic, but the business aisle of any bookstore is filled with diagnostic advice. Particularly sick nonprofits are often plagued with power-mad managers who prefer weak and dependent employees they can push around — which pretty well describes Bevilacqua’s relationship to his pederast priests. The tendency to overpromise and underperform is commonly known as “the marketing-sales disconnect.” When the marketing materials promise eternal salvation and a portion of the sales force rapes small children, that’s quite a disconnect.

Unfortunately, all the well-known strategies for reviving stagnant institutional cultures start with new procedures for openness and accountability — two things the bishops and cardinals evidently fear more than the flames of hell. There are countless books, videos and corporate seminars on moral intelligence, emotional intelligence, and overcoming self-deception in leadership. If all the members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops considered these ideas and took them to heart, they might have to resign en masse.

In response to the Philadelphia grand jury report, archdiocese lawyers complained that the Catholic Church had been singled out for criticism by a jury empaneled to look at clergy abuse in all faiths and denominations. The fact is that while the grand jury discovered sex abuse among clerics in other faiths, only the archdiocese had a top-down system to keep the crimes under wraps. The archdiocese couldn’t be charged with obstruction of justice in part because the archdiocese isn’t even legally incorporated. It truly is a medieval institution, without a board of laypersons to exert the kinds of checks and balances that every corporation, for-profit or nonprofit, relies upon.

The former governor of Oklahoma, a devout Catholic, was forced off a Catholic reform commission a few years back after making an indecent observation: The church isn’t run like a business, but it’s run an awful lot like that other famous Italian import, La Cosa Nostra.

Once again, I’d say that casts far too harsh a judgment — on the mob. The mob, after all, has some family values.

Forget Jesus, CEO. A Catholic Church operating on true Christian values is way too much to hope for in this lifetime. For now, Cardinal Rigali could improve the moral tenor of the archdiocese if he arrived at work each morning asking himself: What Would Tony Soprano Do?

Poker Prodigy

Poker’s hotness isn’t news to anyone who watches cable TV or goes to bars on weeknights. It has been hot for so long now that the inevitable trend stories on the poker boom are no longer considered prescient, and dire predictions of a poker bust are in the air. But the poker boom has thus far resisted the standard NASDAQ crash narrative. An estimated 50 million to 80 million Americans played in a live poker game last year, and 1.8 million played for cash online, a number that’s grown by 50 percent in the past nine months alone. A small handful of this number, probably fewer than 500, are like Jordan, making a living playing the online game at its highest levels. Some of these online pros actively seek publicity, but Jordan deliberately keeps a low profile at the tables. Using an assortment of accounts and user names, he believes, keeps his opponents from noticing that the same guy is taking all of their money. Up until this year, it also kept offshore cardrooms from realizing that he hadn’t yet turned 18.

Jordan’s biggest score came several weeks after his $210,000 jackpot. In September, he won the World Championship of Online Poker, and $577,342 in prize money, defeating more than 1,400 players from around the world, each of whom had paid $2,500 into the prize pool. Most of them were professionals who’d been in the game longer than Jordan has been alive, including World Series of Poker winners Greg “Fossilman” Raymer and Barry Greenstein. But Jordan didn’t display the humility of the novice at the final table. In the wee hours of the morning, with the tournament money on the line and the rest of the online poker world watching, he typed garbled boasts into the chat box, tapping out “JORDAN B-E-R-K-O-W-I-T-Z. don’t forget it.” He claimed he’d had 14 beers to drink, and that playing under the influence “makes u way better.” While still in the throes of battling two silent Swedes for the top three places, he told the tournament director to inscribe the championship bracelet “Jordan.” A few hands later, he’d won, though Greenstein says Jordan still has a few things to learn:

“He’s almost certainly going to go broke again. He’s got a little too much gamble in him, which he’s got to get under control or it could possibly destroy him, emotionally and financially.”

“Jordan had a lot of leeway compared to most children, but I feel like it brought us closer,” says his mother, Pagona Berkowitz, who was raised in a strict Greek Orthodox family in Newtown Square. She’s kneeling on the living room floor, putting a coat of maroon paint on the fireplace hearth as Jordan clicks away in the next room. “Jordan and I are best friends. I don’t think a lot of parents can say that.”

Pagona, 48, is a compactly built woman who never seems to be standing still. She wears her chestnut-colored hair short, with a long, thin rat tail trailing down her back, and sounds alternately stern and resigned when looking back over her only child’s poker odyssey. “Poker is gambling,” she often says. “I’m like you, I work hard for my money. So when I gamble, I set a limit of $50.” She jokingly calls herself Jordan’s “constant maid,” and has been separated from Jordan’s father Jay for three years now. Pagona runs her father’s painting business and spends her spare time compulsively decorating and redecorating the house. Everything in Jordan’s room is black, red and poker all over: poker glasses, napkins, tissue dispensers, lamps, sheets and coasters. Straight flushes fan out across the bathroom’s hand towels and the cabinet beneath the sink. A wet bar and flat-screen TV are on the way.

Features: Sweet City: Our Favorite Cookie

To find our favorite cookie, we asked more than 350 pastry chefs and bakers to send us samples of their favorites. We were in search of an impressive but easy recipe, one we would make at home. We tasted dozens and dozens of cookies before proclaiming a winner: the Ritz-Carlton’s flawless cranberry wreaths. We couldn’t get enough of executive pastry chef Tomas Ruiz’s chewy blend of vanilla and brown sugar, mixed with white chocolate chunks and just a hint of dried cranberry.

Cranberry Wreaths
Submitted by executive pastry chef Tomas Ruiz, the Ritz-Carlton.

Makes four dozen.

    2    c. cake flour
    1    c. bread flour
    1    tsp. salt
    1    tsp. baking soda
    2 1/2    c. unsalted butter, chilled
    3    large eggs
    2    Tbsp. acacia honey
    1    stick Tahitian vanilla
        (Cut stick in half and scrape
        the inside with a knife  to release vanilla)
    3    c. light muscovado sugar, plus more for sprinkling
    2    c. white chocolate chips
    1    c. sweetened dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 360˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift all dry ingredients except sugar and set aside. Cream together butter, eggs, honey and vanilla in a mixer on medium speed. With mixer still on medium, add sugar. Then, with mixer on low, add sifted dry ingredients half a cup at a time and mix until dough is of uniform consistency. Fold in white chocolate chips and cranberries, mixing gently.

Using a small ice-cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets. Using your palm, flatten dough into three-inch circles. Use a one-inch circle cookie cutter to cut out center of each cookie to form wreath shape. Sprinkle the tops with muscovado sugar.

Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until golden brown. Using spatula, transfer to wire racks for cooling.

Note: It was the somewhat pricey, high-quality ingredients, especially the muscovado sugar, that made us love this cookie; buy them at Assouline & Ting (215-627-3000) and Foster’s Gourmet Cookware (215-925-0950). Or substitute light brown sugar for the light muscovado sugar, three cups all-purpose flour for two cups cake and one cup bread flour, and a vanilla bean for the stick of Tahitian vanilla.
Of course, we couldn’t pick just one! For our delicious runners-up, see the recipes on page 171.

More Great Cookies

These recipes — both classic and unusual — were crowd-pleasers in our cookie competition.

First Runner-Up

Ginger Cookies
Submitted by Alison Barshak and Eileen Talanian, Alison at Blue Bell.

A beautiful, simple cookie that slowly reveals its depth of ginger and cloves in every moist, chewy bite.
   
    Makes four dozen.

    1    c. unsalted butter, at cool
        room temperature
    2    c. granulated sugar
    2    tsp. ginger root, finely chopped
    2    Tbsp. ground ginger
    1    Tbsp. crystallized ginger,
        finely chopped
    1    Tbsp. ground cinnamon
    1    tsp. ground cloves
    4    tsp. baking soda
    1/2    tsp. salt
    2    large eggs
    1/2    c. light, unsulfured molasses
    2 3/4    c. all-purpose unbleached flour
    1 3/4    c. whole wheat flour
    1    c. dark or golden raisins (optional)
     2    tsp. crystallized ginger, chopped,
        for garnish

Preheat a conventional oven to 325˚ or a convection oven to 310˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place everything except the flour, raisins and ginger for garnish in a large mixing bowl. Beat on medium-high speed for two minutes. Scrape the bowl, and add the flour and the raisins (if you’re using them). Beat on low speed just until the flour is mixed in. If you’re using a hand mixer, blend in half the flour with the mixer and the rest with a wooden spoon.

Portion the dough into slightly mounded two-tablespoon balls. (You can use a slightly mounded #40 dough scoop for this.) Place the dough balls two inches apart on the lined baking sheets, and garnish the centers with a few small bits of chopped crystallized ginger. Lightly press the dough down with the palm of your hand to a thickness of one-half inch.

Bake the cookies in a preheated oven for 15 to 17 minutes, turning the pans halfway through the baking time. The cookies will still be soft when done, but the edges will be slightly firm. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack for a few minutes, then slide the parchment, with the cookies on it, off the sheet and onto the wire rack to finish cooling.

Note: You can replace the whole wheat flour with unbleached all-purpose, and some or all of the granulated sugar with brown sugar. The cookies will keep, in a zipper-top plastic bag, for several days, or can be wrapped, airtight, and frozen for up to two months.

Best Chocolate Cookie

Snow-Topped Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Submitted by Sonjia Spector, Matyson.

These brownie-like confections are decadent without being overly sweet.

    Makes about six dozen.

    1/2    c. unsalted butter
    6    oz. bittersweet baking chocolate
    4    large eggs
    1    Tbsp. vanilla extract
    2    c. granulated sugar
    2    c. all-purpose flour
    2    tsp. baking powder
    1/2    tsp. salt
    1    c. chocolate chips
        Granulated sugar for rolling
        Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl over simmering water or in a double boiler, melt butter with the chocolate. Using an electric mixer, mix eggs, vanilla and sugar until ribbony. Add melted chocolate and butter and stir. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Roll dough into one-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar. Place two inches apart on pan. Bake cookies at 325˚ for 10 to 15 minutes, until just done in the middle. Remove from pan and place on cooling rack immediately. When cool, dust tops with confectioner’s sugar and place in airtight container.

Note: Good-quality chocolate is the key to this cookie. Spector recommends Valrhona.

Best Sugar Cookie

Sugar Cookies
Submitted by Blair Bleacher, Old Original Bookbinder’s.

Flaky and light, these cookies have just the right amount of sweetness.

    Makes two dozen.

    3/4    c. unsalted butter
    3/4    c. granulated sugar
    1    large egg
    1    Tbsp. lemon zest
    1    tsp. vanilla extract
    2 1/2    c. all-purpose flour
    1/4    tsp. salt
        Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten
        with 1 Tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 350˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer until fluffy. Add egg, lemon zest and vanilla. Beat until blended. Sift together dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture slowly, beating until incorporated. Form dough into two flat disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for two to three hours.

Dust your work surface with flour. Roll dough to two-eighths-inch thickness. Cut to desired shape. Brush tops with egg wash. Bake at 350˚ for eight to 10 minutes.

Remove to wire racks. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Note: Cookies can be decorated with colored sugar (before baking) or melted chocolate (after baking).

Most Original Cookie

Earl Grey Tea Cookies
Submitted by Jimmy Flail, High Point Cafe.

Tea leaves lend this cookie a surprising, light flavor, a nice break from the heavier sweets of the season.

Makes two dozen.

    3 1/2    c. all-purpose flour
        Contents of 4 Earl Grey tea bags
    1 1/4    c. unsalted butter
    1    c. dark brown sugar
    2    large eggs
        Granulated sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 375˚. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine flour and tea and set aside. Beat butter and brown sugar with electric mixer for two and a half minutes. Beat in eggs. Beat in dry ingredients until well incorporated. Roll dough into three-fourth-inch balls and roll in sugar. Place on baking sheet. (There is minimal spreading.) Press balls to about one-and-a-quarter-inch disks. Bake at 375˚ for 10 to 15 minutes, until just firm. Let cool on pan; store in airtight container for up to three weeks.

Most Kid-Friendly Cookie

Toasted Peanut Butter S’Mores
Submitted by Frank Urso, Barclay Prime.

The recipe for this candy-like cookie is daunting, but your guests will appreciate the effort.

    Makes four dozen.

Chocolate Cookie

    1    c. all-purpose flour
    6    Tbsp. Hershey’s Dutch-processed
        cocoa powder
    1/2    tsp. baking soda
    1/4    tsp. salt
    10    Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
    1    c. granulated sugar
    1    large egg
    1    tsp. vanilla extract
    1    c. mini chocolate chips
    1    small jar marshmallow creme
        (put creme in zipper storage bag
        and set aside for later use)

Mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Cream the butter and sugar in a separate bowl, using a mixer, until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla to the ­butter-sugar mixture. Beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, mixing well. Stir in chocolate chips. Wrap bowl with plastic and set aside.

Graham Cracker Crust

    1    c. graham cracker crumbs
    3    Tbsp. granulated sugar
    1/2    c. unsalted butter, melted
    1/2    tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients until combined. Set aside.

Peanut Butter Filling

    1/2    c. creamy peanut butter
    1/4    c. unsalted butter, softened
    1/2    c. confectioner’s sugar
    1/4    tsp. salt
    1/2    tsp. vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients with a mixer until smooth and creamy. Fill a zipper storage bag with filling. Set aside for later use. (A pastry bag can also be used.)

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 350˚. Lightly spray two mini muffin tins with nonstick spray.
Place one rounded teaspoon of the graham cracker mixture in the bottom of each muffin cup. Press firmly. Divide chocolate cookie dough into teaspoon-sized balls. Place one ball of dough in each muffin cup and press lightly with moistened fingers to fill cup.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 350˚, until set. Remove from oven. Immediately make an indentation in each cup with the back of a small spoon. Cool cookies completely in pans. Remove from pans with the aid of a paring knife. Place cooled cookies on a cookie sheet.

Preheat broiler. Squeeze a dime-sized dollop of the peanut butter filling in each cavity. Cut small corner off zipper bag of marshmallow creme. Squeeze a small amount of marshmallow onto each cookie to cover peanut butter filling. Place cookies under the broiler, watching very carefully, until marshmallow is lightly browned. (You can also use a brûlée torch.) Cool cookies completely and store, tightly covered, in a single layer.

Note: Cookies may be frozen without the marshmallow creme for up to three months. Just defrost, top with marshmallow, broil and serve.

Sweet City: Best Bakeries

A hazelnut gâteau, Chantilly cream puffs — or even straightforward from-scratch brownies — can intimidate the most accomplished home cook. But the region’s ever-expanding assortment of dessert-rich bakeries means the end of toiling over soggy apple tarts or falling soufflés. Head to one of these 20 top spots for a just-filled cannoli, a pumpkin charlotte or a decadent sticky bun. Sure, there’s still the effort of picking up the goods. But until Le Bec-Fin’s dessert cart starts home delivery, we’ll happily take what we can takeout.

* Center City

Beiler’s Bakery
Reading Terminal Market,
12th and Arch streets; 215-351-0735
Wednesday through Saturday, a warm, better-than-Cinnabon cloud of baking goodness emanates from Beiler’s, enveloping the northwest corner of Reading Terminal. It defies passersby not to stop to watch white-bonneted workers pound out dough and extract steaming, golden-brown cinnamon rolls from the silver oven. Resistance, of course, is futile when faced with dozens of those soft, buttery, raisin-, pecan- or plain-topped sticky buns.
Sweet tip: Shell out an extra buck for a whoopee pie, a round and feather-light dark chocolate sandwich stuffed with marshmallow fluff.

Metropolitan Bakery
Various locations;
metropolitanbakery.com
Known first and foremost for its artisanal breads, Wendy Born and James Barrett’s 12-year-old project nonetheless cranks out a mean fig bar, millet muffin, lemon pound cake and chocolate chip cookie. This is quite a feat, considering Metropolitan is the region’s longest running artisanal bread bakery, with several locations in Center City and outposts in Chestnut Hill, Ardmore and West Philly. We keep coming back for pound bags of crunchy granola, chocolate truffle tarts, iced cinnamon danish, and Normandy apple bread—and the Shelburne Farms cheddar to go with it.
Sweet tip: This year, try Metropolitan’s version of Italian fruitcake, a brioche-style dough dappled with bits of candied citrus and chocolate and dusted in powdered sugar.

Petit 4 Pastry Studio
160 North 3rd Street; 215-627-8440
Why this Old City bakery doesn’t have a line out the door on Friday nights—the way bars down the street do—is inexplicable. After all, Joe Moorehead’s artsy-chic shop is the consummate date spot or place to catch up with friends over shared slices of apple pie topped with crème anglaise, hazelnut almond torte layered with raspberry jam and chocolate buttercream, buttery-tart linzer tortes, or banana chocolate chip cookies. In the five years since Moorehead hung his vintage surfboard at this address, Petit 4 has changed little. The shop still makes a mean snickerdoodle—and continues to build amazingly sculptural cakes.
Sweet tip: In winter months, Petit 4 mixes up ganache-based hot chocolate and tops it with fresh whipped cream.

Tartes Fine Cakes & Pastries
212 Arch Street; 215-625-2510
One of Old City’s few remaining secrets is this petite, pale pink bakery across the street from the Betsy Ross house, open Tuesday to Saturday. In the late afternoon, patrons drift up to the service window for cookies (oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, sugar, and our favorite, fresh ginger with chocolate chunks), bars (lemon, chocolate toffee) and, of course, light-crusted four-inch tarts. The repertoire of self-taught baker Teresa Wall includes heirloom apple, cranberry-walnut, pear and cranberry with ginger/brown butter custard, and sweet potato/pecan.
Sweet tip: After-hours cravings for Wall’s famous chocolate espresso
tarts can be satisfied at Monk’s in Center City.

* Philly Neighborhoods

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique
Liberties Walk, 1030 North 2nd Street, #601, 215-629-0999;
brownbettydesserts.com
Repeat after us: Pineapple cupcakes. Coconut cream pound cake. Double-chocolate peanut butter cookies. Liberties Walk. Never heard of this last one? It’s the quietly emerging retail center just north of the Standard Tap on 2nd Street—a groovy pedestrian strip mall, if you will. The walk is home to this non-stuffy parlor of a pastry shop, a place to sit on an antique sofa and nibble at the first three items, old-fashioned treats made from the recipes of Elizabeth “Betty” Hinton, whose daughter and granddaughter run the place. Pop in after noon to pick up a snack—but call ahead if you require a freshly baked apple brown betty.
Sweet tip: Think Magnolia’s cornered the cupcake market? Order a dozen of Betty’s buttermilk pound-cake variety with chocolate buttercream, and get back to us.

Cake
184 East Evergreen Avenue,
Chestnut Hill; 215-247-6887
Tucked away in the heart of the Hill, this rustically hip spot offers rough-cut plank tables, unframed art, and servers wearing funky glasses. Owner Grey Heck has a degree in pastry from Napa’s Culinary Institute of America. The result: Dense cupcakes frosted in buttercream flowers or injected with lemon curd, caramelized Granny Smith tarts, double-thick cream cheese  brownies, plenty rich raisin scones, and downright orgasmic mocha-mousse-filled chocolate cake — wearing a crown of ­chocolate-­covered coffee beans.
Sweet tip: The name’s Cake, but this place also does a bang-up job on sugar cutouts, chocolate rum balls, gingerbread people, and mini peanut butter, double chocolate, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and ginger cookies.

Essene Market
719 South 4th Street (at Fitzwater Street),
215-922-1146; essenemarket.com
Baking is hard enough as is. Take away staple ingredients—white flour, butter, eggs, granulated sugar—and baking anything tastier than your basic granola bar seems downright impossible. Still, if anyone’s up to the challenge, it’s Laura Grove. A cheese-eating vegan who trained under Metropolitan’s James Barrett, she opened the back-room bakery in Queen Village’s natural foods market in 1991. Her greatest achievements: crispy toffee cookies, berry cobblers, organic fruit muffins, chocolate birthday cakes, earthy pumpkin pies, and something called a Mikerific—banana sponge cake topped with peanut butter and iced with dark, dairy-free ganache. Look out, Kandy Kake. The vegans are coming.
Sweet tip:  Essene’s oat bars, thick rectangles filled with locally made organic jam, rule.

Famous 4th Street Deli
4th and Bainbridge streets; 215-922-3274
The éclairs in Famous’s gleaming pastry case are approximately the size of women’s bedroom slippers. In a size eight. Maybe 10. ­Custard-filled and chocolate-dipped, the choux sandwiches are delicate in taste but nearly oafish in appearance. Indeed, ever since Kibbitz entrepreneur Russ Cowan took over the place in April, Famous’s unofficial motto has been “Bigger is better.” Black-and-white cookies could double as frisbees. Cream-cheese-rich rugelach, filled with almond, apricot, raspberry or chocolate, are bites- (not bite-) size. Layer cakes—coconut-dusted lemon, mocha-frosted checkerboard—are not only impossibly moist, they’re also as thick as ceiling beams, and available by the “chunk,” or whole, if you dare.
Sweet tip: Yes, they still give out David Auspitz’s famous chocolate chip cookies after each meal. As if you had room.

Holmesburg Bakery
7933 Frankford Avenue, 215-624-1091; holmesburgbakery.net
The senior citizen on this list—at an impressive 105 years—Holmesburg epitomizes what older folks call a “Philadelphia-style” bakery. Turns out our fair city is known for shallow, rectangular cheesecakes with rich pie crusts, tart-like coffee cakes topped with slices of fresh plums or peaches, feather-light Polish chrusciki, sweet and yeasty cheese-filled babkas, crumb-topped Melrose danishes, and cream-filled doughnuts. In other words, Philly—via Holmesburg’s treats—represents a diverse group of immigrants that settled here more than a century ago.
Sweet tip: December’s the time for springerle, German anise-seed cookies stamped with images of birds, houses and leaves.

Isgro Pastry
1009 Christian Street, 215-923-3092;
isgropastry.com
Gus “Isgro” Sarno can go on forever about cannoli. The fried-and-filled pastry wrap is an obsession he inherited from maternal grandfather Mario Isgro, who founded this Italian Market business 101 years ago. Sarno will tell you each shell must be 1.5 millimeters thick, and that a special blend of homemade red and sweet white wines makes it blister. He can quote the exact moisture content of the cinnamon-kissed ricotta-chocolate chip filling (63 to 64 percent). Still, that doesn’t mean the shop neglects its other wares. The second-best-seller is cassata, Italian rum cake enrobed in pebbled almond candy. And during the winter holidays, a close third is the precious, pistachio-chocked, stick-to-your-molars torrone, sold by the rugged brick.
Sweet tip: Call ahead to order the grand cannoli—a tower of two dozen minis.

Night Kitchen
7725 Germantown Avenue, Chestnut Hill, 215-248-9235; 45 East State Street, Doylestown, 215-348-9775; nightkitchenbakery.com
Open for 23 years—with three different owners—this bottom-of-the-Hill spot still possesses its original folksy charms. Owner Amy Edelman and her baker husband, John Millard, stick to the first two owners’ recipes, and have made only a few small changes for the better—like substituting butter for margarine in the icing, making chocolate bread pudding from Friday’s leftover challah, decorating cakes with fondant cutouts in the shapes of barnyard animals, and opening a Doylestown location. It’s the standbys customers return for: thick shortbread cutout cookies in cocoa-y chocolate and chocolate chip, lovely scones, and tart lemon squares.
Sweet tip: Edelman asks for a week’s notice for special-order cakes. The mocha mousse and the lemon curd are birthday favorites.

Termini Brothers
1523 South 8th Street, 215-334-1816;
termini.com
Even if it didn’t make the best sfogliatelle in town, we’d still come back to this iconic 82-year-old South Philly pasticerria—for the atmosphere alone. On line-out-the-door Saturdays, the white-uniformed counter clerks approach wits’ end, kids can’t keep their fingers out of the center buffet, and the person ahead of you in line inevitably can’t choose between ricotta and chocolate Italian cream cannoli. Still, the Termini experience never becomes annoying, because the weekend keyboardist and accordionist heartily thump out the theme from The Godfather, and the reward for your patience can be a box of dense, chewy pignoli.
Sweet tip: Kids getting out of hand? Send them into the kitchen to see how the torrone—a chewy pistachio nougat—is made.

* The Main Line

Aux Petits Delices
162 East Lancaster Avenue, Wayne,
610-971-0300; auxpetits.com
This black-and-pink-awninged jewel-box shop is to French pastry what Cartier is to cocktail rings. Welcome to the terroir of reigning Main Line patissier Patrick Gauthron, where gold-leaf swirls embellish ganache lids of opera cake, red raspberries glisten atop custard-swaddled tarte barques, and dark-and-white-chocolate-striped spirals bedeck crunchy-creamy hazelnut and chocolate mousse delices. Occasions are celebrated to the utmost: There are three-foot-tall, $125 chocolate bunnies at Easter; rich meringue-mushroom-topped bûches de Noël at Christmas, truffles packed into pretty navy and gold boxes for Valentine’s, and, for lazy, luxurious mornings, flaky and delightful pure butter croissants.
Sweet tip: Break this New Year’s resolution the way the French do: Order a king’s cake (almond cream-filled choux) for Epiphany.

The Carrot Cake Man at D’Innocenzo Pastries
Lancaster County Farmers Market,
389 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne;
610-687-6580
Wearing his signature bow tie and straw hat, Vernon “The Carrot Cake Man” Wilkins offers his signature item—in a choice of flavors—from a corner of  D’Innocenzo’s conglomerate-style bakery. In the past decade, he’s become a Main Line fixture, offering up toothpick-speared cubes of his crunchy-crusted, carrot-threaded wares to compliant farmers’-market shoppers every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. With just a hint of nutmeg and a side of cream cheese frosting, these one-slice-is-not-enough sweet breads come in coconut, walnut, pineapple, pistachio and banana, but the most popular flavor is peach. Wilkins’s own favorite: apple.
Sweet tip: The other end of D’Innocenzo’s counter is home to Marie Connell’s thick My House Cookies—dark chocolate chip, oatmeal-cherry, blackout, ginger, three for $4.

Le Petit Mitron
207 Haverford Avenue, Narberth;
484-562-0500
This über-traditional patisserie is just the sort of reason people move to Paris … or Narberth. Patrick and Isabelle Rurange—the husband-and-wife team formerly known as “that French couple that makes the croissants for La Colombe”—have spent the past four years helping to transform their township’s workaday image, one royal cake at time. Today, regular customers include morning R5 riders who stop by for a cup of joe and a pain au chocolate—and area families for whom Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without Le Petit Mitron’s pumpkin charlotte, and Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the Saint Honoré (a decadent cake built of caramel-coated cream puffs).
Sweet tip: On weekends, the Ruranges run specials, delicious experiments that might involve dark chocolate mousse, fruit-flavored chiboust, or delicate tufts of crème chantilly.

Sweet Jazmine’s
15 Bridge Avenue, Berwyn, 610-644-1868; sweetjazmines.com
There is no such thing as a plain cheesecake at Kimberly Davis Cuthbert’s adorably green-and-violet bakery. There is heady amaretto cheesecake. There is sweet-tart lemon blueberry cheesecake. There are apple-­cinnamon, raspberry mango, pumpkin spice, and cappuccino/white chocolate cheesecakes (45 kinds in all). But sorry, the closest this shop comes to plain is vanilla—and vanilla usually involves a cherry center and dark chocolate shavings. No plain, only fancy, which is fine with Sweet Jazmine’s devoted customers—Renee Chenault-Fattah and Chaka Fattah and Senator Vincent Hughes and Sheryl Lee Ralph ordered their wedding cakes here.
Sweet tip: For an almost-homemade dessert, pick up a jar of Cuthbert’s dark butterscotch sauce, which comes with the world’s easiest recipe for bananas Foster. (Just add bananas.)

*Northern Suburbs

Cramer’s Bakery
26 East Afton Avenue, Yardley;
215-493-2760
Cramer’s is not the place to go for a complicated French framboisier. It’s a place where you stock up on powdered-sugar-dusted walnut crescent cookies. Or zucchini bread. Or Polish poppy seed rolls, plain-dealing pound cake, jam-filled cream cheese cookies, holiday butter cookies—and maybe a cinnamon doughnut. Founded in 1946, this all-American bakeshop isn’t above using a little shortening and a splash of food coloring. Nor, thank goodness, is the staff above coming to the rescue when you dash in just before closing, all out of breath, and beg for a Superman cake inscribed with “Happy Birthday Max.”
Sweet tip: Believe it or not, Cramer’s pumpkin-spice chocolate chip cookies outsell the classic Toll Houses.

Zakes Cakes and Cafe
444 Bethlehem Pike, Fort Washington, 215-654-7600; zakescafe.com
Enter this pretty, side-of-the-road stone Victorian house on a Friday afternoon around 1:30, and count how many times you hear the phrase, “Dessert? Oh, I shouldn’t. … ” Zakes is the consummate ladies-who-lunch spot, with rooms painted the color of raspberry chai, and grilled chicken and chèvre salads that may be tasty, but really are only a prelude to plated-up cream puffs with fresh blackberries, deep-dish apple pie, and a bevy of mild cakes that inspire requests for extra forks. The place is popular from breakfast (think lemon-raspberry, orange-pecan and cranberry-pear muffins) through light ­dinner—by which time they may, unfortunately, be out of éclairs.
Sweet tip: For Passover, Zakes bakes chocolate soufflés, raspberry shortcakes and black-and-white gâteaux.

* New Jersey

McMillan’s Bakery
15 Haddon Avenue, Westmont;
856-854-3094
Since 1939, this South Jersey bakery has been turning out the ultimate in comfort fare: crispy cake doughnuts whose centers have been cut open to make room for copious clouds of extra-sweet, extra-secret-recipe white cream filling. Or go for the cake-like cream cheese and fruit muffins, raisin “tea biscuit” scones, thickly iced cupcakes, and 60 varieties of cookies: classic chocolate-dipped brown derbies, nut-and-chip-chocked Hollywood Hills, and lumpy, confectioner’s-sugar-dusted Cape Mays that are thick with raisins, whole walnuts and dried apricots.
Sweet tip: The McMillan family promises its fruitcake defies stereotypes—and offers free samples to all doubters.

Miel Patisserie
Village Walk, 1990 Route 70 East, Cherry Hill, 856-424-MIEL, and 204 South 17th Street, 215-731-9191; mielpatiserrie.com
Named after the French word for honey, three-year-old Miel Patisserie has two, dichotomous homes: Miel Cherry Hill is strip-mall convenient. Miel Center City is marble and mahogany. Jersey is where the goods are made: five-star crumb cake, chocolate mousse, a classic French gâteau, and 16 varieties of chocolates (including fleur de sel and Szechuan pepper). The man behind it all is Rocco Lugrine, who hails from the pastry kitchens of San Fran’s Panorama and our very own Brasserie Perrier, and who now bakes birthday cakes for M. Night and casts (even when Joaquin Phoenix requires a vegan creation).
Sweet tip: Gotta impress on the run? Pick up a Miel gâteau, an impressively complicated layering of chocolate mousse, vanilla Bavarian cream, chocolate génoise and rich ganache.

Sweet City: Classic Confections

Doughnuts   These heartier versions of hole-less doughnuts get their sweetness from butterscotch sauce and creamy gelato. “I added cold ice cream to warm doughnuts, because contrast in desserts is always a great thing.”
—Jemal Edwards, Brûlée

Apple strudel   Warm strudel with caramelized apples and nuts slightly melts cinnamon-spiked panna cotta. “Cold weather inspires apples and cinnamon, and the creamy panna cotta and flaky strudel go nicely.”
—Emily Landis, Nectar

Tapioca pudding   Refreshing coconut blends with the soft, creamy consistency of classic tapioca pudding and gets some crunch from guava oatmeal bars. “We’re taking comfort food and putting a Cuban twist on it.”
—Kate Honeyman, Alma de Cuba

Ice-cream sundae   This cool dessert salutes the Italian concept of melting ice cream with coffee. “I wanted to do an affogato version of the sundae, because I love the flavor of espresso. It’s more of a fancy retro dessert.”
—Sonjia Spector, Matyson

Bread pudding   Liquor-infused cherries, green apples and sweet vanilla ice cream add depth to moist bread pudding. “We change the ingredients seasonally but always have bread pudding, because it’s a best-seller.”
—Evan Turney, Valanni

All the Vince That’s Fit to Print

THAT FUMO SHOULD find himself the object of media attention should be news to no one with the most cursory knowledge of Commonwealth politics. At a time when even the most skilled candidates are happy to come off as inoffensive facsimiles of real human beings, Fumo is an anomaly: powerful, profane, a smorgasbord of delicious contradictions. He’s a product of South Philly who belongs to Mensa; an entrepreneur, a millionaire, and a member of the NRA who has one of the most liberal voting records of any Pennsylvania politician; someone capable of shouting “faggot” on the Senate floor who is a staunch supporter of gay rights. A licensed electrician, a plumber, a man with a talent for swearing like a dyspeptic longshoreman who nonetheless has done as much as any politician to support the city’s most prominent cultural institutions. Over the years, he has been such a consistent source of good copy that his business cards might as well read: “Vincent J. Fumo: State Senator, Banker, Lawyer, Godsend to Pennsylvania Media.”

Yet to say the Inquirer has covered Fumo during the past two years is akin to saying the Titanic took on some water. Since November 2003, the Senator’s name has appeared in almost 300 stories, columns, letters and op-ed pieces. There have been articles about Fumo’s friends, his feuds, his finances, his campaign, his spending habits and his bank. The paper has parsed, probed and deconstructed one story in particular: how a South Philly nonprofit with which Fumo is closely tied, Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, managed to secure millions in donations from companies — PECO and Ikea — with whom the Senator had done deals.

The exhaustive exposure has at times reflected a uniquely Fumo-centric rendering of the world in the Inquirer’s pages. On one day — in a bit of synergy that surely deserves some sort of award — the paper managed to publish a column about Fumo that referred to a news story about Fumo that also took issue with an op-ed piece about Fumo. And in September, after reporting that Citizens Alliance had paid for some political polling for Fumo — a big no-no — the Inky published an editorial structured as a fictional poll question: “Fumo always wins reelection handily,” it noted. “Does his unchallenged political power make you very nauseated, somewhat sick to your stomach, mildly queasy, or totally listless and apathetic?”

This is not how major metro daily newspapers usually write about local politicians, even rich, powerful, gay- and gun-loving, potty-mouthed politicians. Reporters and editors at the Inquirer, not surprisingly, argue that the scrutiny of Fumo is well deserved — and long overdue. He has been a central figure in state and local government — making deals, punishing enemies, rewarding friends, pulling the levers of power — for almost 30 years. “Investigating and holding accountable those who have influence over many peoples’ lives in our communities is one of our most critical missions,” says Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett.

Fumo, to put it mildly, disagrees. He has complained at length and in public about how the Inquirer covers him: the tone, the frequency, the placement of stories. (They always seem to end up on the front page — or at least the front page of the local section.) He has called the paper obsessed and overzealous. He has accused it of pursuing a vendetta. He is not the only one who believes these things. “Vince is not a perfect guy,” says James Kenney, a Philadelphia city councilman who once worked for Fumo. “He can be abrasive. He can be tough. He can get in your face. But I’ve never seen such a coordinated attempt at one newspaper to bring a guy down.”

Mutual distrust — antipathy, even — between the press and politicians is an American tradition, up there with parades and personal-injury lawsuits. Yet the clash between Fumo and the Inquirer is more than another public pissing match. At a time when both sides are a little bloodied, a little bowed, the fight has taken on the proxy frustrations of two wounded institutions: Fumo’s aggravation at being investigated by the feds and his endless uphill fight with Harrisburg’s Republican horde; the Inquirer’s loss of readers and relevance, as well as its corporate purge of veteran employees. Still, to understand how Fumo came to be the paper’s favorite topic, one has to understand the history and dynamics of the peculiar relationship between the two. This is not the biggest, the best or the last battle for either. But it has been an inevitable one.

The Passion of T. O.

The name Alexander City sounds vaguely epic, and mighty grand for a little Methodist town in middle Alabama. So most locals shorten the name to the decidedly un-epic Alex City. They’re modest people.

The town sits a long way from anywhere else, surrounded mostly by the dying foothills of the southernmost Appalachian Mountains. The whole community huddles around the Russell textile mills, where its citizens work turning out sweatpants and jerseys for the rest of America. In the evenings they might stroll to the Russell Library, or bob on the lake in boats from Russell Marine, or — heaven forbid — seek care at the Russell Hospital. Their children attend Benjamin Russell High School. On Friday evenings, their boys go to war on the football field, protected by Russell’s finest gear. And the whole town cries out: Go Wildcats!

Across the Norfolk Southern Railroad’s tracks, on the town’s north side, a little green house sits on a street called Emerson. It’s a clapboard house, small but neat. It’s here that the baby Terrell arrived just over three decades ago. He came so tiny, so fragile. Women in the family had a tradition of going by their first names, because the men rarely stuck around long enough to pass along a family name. The grandmother, Miss Alice, hadn’t known her father, and her mother disappeared when she was a child. Terrell’s mother, Miss Marilyn, hadn’t known her father. It seemed natural that Terrell didn’t know his.

The house belonged to Miss Alice, and she ruled it jointly with God. She shut out the world — literally closed the doors and drew the blinds — and in the darkened house she taught her grandchildren Bible verses for recitation. She liked her home clean, and her children well-mannered. Peeking through the blinds, Terrell watched other children play outside, and emotion welled inside him, spilling from his wide-set eyes. Terrell wept.

I met recently with his mother, Marilyn, who remembered her mother as disciplined but loving. “People may not understand,” she said. “It may seem hard to them. But after everything she had lost in her life, she wanted to protect her family.”

Terrell’s mother and grandmother worked at Russell in alternating shifts, taking turns watching the children. The only respite for the family came when Miss Alice tipped a bottle of booze too far. Sometimes, when she passed out drunk, the children sneaked out to play.

About the time Terrell turned 12 years old, he strung together enough illicit rendezvous to develop a crush on Felicia, the girl across the street. She had almond-shaped eyes and round cheeks. She seemed sweet, and they shared a lot in common. They played hide-and-seek in her family’s yard, ducking and running in the grass.

I talked with Felicia recently. “Oh my goodness, Terrell was skinny,” she said. “But he was nice.”

They played in their clubhouse, where Terrell worked on his Michael Jackson dance. They even played football. They grew closer, until one day Felicia’s father sat them down in his living room. He settled on the sofa and looked Terrell in the eyes. Strange: Terrell had lived his whole life across the street from Mr. Russell, but never really talked with him.

“You can’t be liking her,” the man said, indicating Felicia. “She’s your sister.”

And that’s how Terrell met his father.

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