What Ever Happened to the South Philly Mob?

It’s been at least six years since anyone has been killed by the Philadelphia Mafia. Is it the passing of a way of life, or an eerie calm before an ­approaching storm? Our writer takes to the streets of South Philly — and sips wine with the current Godfather — to find out

Later, I’ll hear that Ligambi has some regrets about having met with me. He doesn’t give interviews, and now he wonders if I’m planning on publishing every little thing he said. He had hoped, it seems, that I would simply write down that I saw him as he sees himself — as a regular, down-to-earth man. A nice man. But of course, I’ve printed it all. Because isn’t this the point of the story — that Joe Ligambi’s mob, though evidently passing from this Earth, isn’t like the mobs that immediately preceded it? And that Ligambi’s mob has been something other than ruthless and stupid, and with Joey Merlino on his way out of prison, some fear we’re about to have a ruthless, stupid mob again? Isn’t the point of this story that Ligambi, as these things go, has run a quiet little mob — one we all know is there, but aren’t afraid of?

Lifting himself off his bar stool, Ligambi reaches out and shakes my hand again.

“Thanks,” I tell him.

“It was a pleasure to meet you,” he says.

He walks away, shoulders stooped, with an old man’s hip-rolling gait, to the sidewalk, and disappears into the evening sunlight — a nondescript old man unless you know he is a marked man; a man who lived a life that maybe his son can render on film someday; a man who will go on drinking his expensive wine until the day the cuffs are slipped around his thin old wrists, with a click.