Just Who Is Maria Papadakis?


I’m roaming around a giant warehouse by the Delaware River, looking for Maria Papadakis.

Maria isn’t hard to spot when she’s onstage with a mic in her hand, her long blond hair spilling onto her bright blue dress. When she’s not onstage, like right now, I have more trouble. The event is called Feastival. Maria’s emceeing, and if there’s such a thing as Philadelphia society, much of it is here, swilling absinthe cocktails and clogging Pier 9 to the point of non-maneuverability.

Before I find Maria, I find her mother, Eliana Papadakis, who flashes a gap-toothed smile and gives me a hug. She tells me she’s just arrived from “the other event with Liam Neeson.” Eliana is the widow of beloved Drexel president Constantine “Taki” Papadakis, and a veteran of the philanthropic/charitable cause scene. She quickly cuts the chitchat and begins picking off VIPs.

“Richard! Richard!” Richard Vague is summoned. “Did you see Maria?”

“I did,” drawls the board president of FringeArts, which is what we’re celebrating tonight. “How could I miss her?”

“Did you like her?” Eliana asks.

“I love both of you,” he says, then floats off.

Moments later, Eliana spots Comcast matron Suzanne Roberts, treading slowly. “Suzanne! Suzanne! Oh my God!” Next up, Ed Rendell, distracted by two young women and not in the mood to talk. Retreating, Eliana whispers to Marsha Perelman, who has recently materialized: “He’s aged.” Her longest conversation takes place with Tom Knox, a Papadakis family friend who, along with 500 other people, was on the guest list at Maria’s wedding, which was held last November to great fanfare. (The marriage ended seven months later, to less fanfare.)

“He’s writing a story about Maria!” Eliana tells Knox, pointing to me. “Do you want to say anything about Maria?”

“She’s very pretty,” he says.

Eliana frowns.

“She’s very outgoing, attractive, she’s going to be very successful in life,” he adds.

I nod and tell him that many of her friends say she has the ability to accomplish whatever she wants to.

“Well, not whatever,” Knox says. “But most things.”

Feastival is precisely the sort of power-crowd schmoozefest Maria got acquainted with at the Drexel president’s mansion in Wayne. It’s also a good illustration of the professional niche she’s now carved out for herself. Since her father’s death in 2009, the 28-year-old has become an all-purpose cheerleader for the city, hosting a monthly arts expo, a video series on Philly.com, and a show for Comcast SportsNet. She’s also shooting episodes for a national TV program, the details of which are currently embargoed. Maria owes much of this success to her ubiquitous presence in society photographer HughE Dillon’s party pictures, which turned her into an object of gossipy fascination. “She was absolutely famous,” HughE says, “until I made her famous on a bigger scale.”

Famous is a relative term. In Philadelphia, it doesn’t take much to get there. Here’s one route: A society photographer decides that you’re a bona fide member of said society. He befriends you, makes you his muse. Hundreds of photographs later, your name and face have become inextricably lodged in the city’s consciousness, and the rest of the local media begin to play along. This dynamic is in full force at Feastival, where HughE Dillon of PhillyChitChat.com photographs Philly.com contributor Maria Papadakis and her soccer-player boyfriend Chris Konopka—their relationship was first reported by the Philadelphia Daily News, which is principally owned by the same guys who own Philly.com—and promptly sells the image to Philadelphia magazine, which sponsors Feastival.

All of this incestuousness makes it more or less impossible to figure out if Maria’s fame is, in fact, warranted. Is she a pretty blond legacy kid taking advantage of a celebrity-starved city? Or a bright girl squandering her impressive credentials by spending her time smiling for the camera? Put another way, does she owe her current station in life to the city’s insularity? Or is it Philadelphia that’s holding her back?

Meet the Philly Start-Ups Leading the Entrepreneurship Era

Philadelphia start-up company AboutOne

Photo by Jonathan Pushnik, styling by Jessica Lawinkski

Something big is happening. It’s not obvious, and it’s nothing tactile—but it’s most definitely a shift in the way we normally do things around here. It’s spurred on by a group of people who, above all else, want to create something that is their very own. With a whole lot of passion and tireless energy, they’re dreaming up new uses for technology, coming up with problem-solving products, and sketching out websites on napkins at coffee shops. Our research turned up more than 100 start-ups (whittled down here to the 20 coolest) that are happening right now. And while those companies may be small, what they’re part of is something huge: They’re changing the way business and culture look in Philadelphia. They’re ushering in an era in which our city is suddenly smarter, hipper, younger, more communal, more energetic and more creative than ever before. And this is just the beginning.

>>Could your kid be the next Steve Jobs? Inside the push to create the next generation of entrepreneurs.

>>If you’re going to run a startup, you may as well do it right. Here, a roundtable with Philly’s entrepreneurship leaders.


Lifestyle | Paoli
The pitch: Creating a safe digital place for families to share information.

Joanne Lang’s lightbulb-over-the-head moment came in the wake of an unfortunate situation—as her asthmatic son was rushed to the hospital, she was asked for his medical information and couldn’t remember a thing. “I knew all the information was filed away, but I couldn’t click on anything to give the paramedic what he needed,” says Lang, 43. “It was traumatizing.” (Her son is okay.) As a developer for SAP, she had the background knowledge in secure cloud technology to be able to turn her filing cabinet into a digital platform. The result: AboutOne, a secure family-planner app that aggregates items and info like health records, education forms, important contacts, numbers and dates for parents and caretakers. Since its introduction three years ago, it’s garnered press from the New York Times, USA Today and the Today Show.

Make or Break: AboutOne has raised $4 million in venture capital, and a new user platform is in the works. An official launch in January will be Lang’s first glimpse of revenue projections—users who want more than 1GB of cloud space will have to pay for a premium subscription. Long-term, Lang hopes to repurpose the platform into a tool that’s useful for corporate executives.



Business | Center City
The Pitch: Harnessing the power of pictures.

It seems like a runaway success—revenue has increased seven times compared to last year—but Curalate, the company started by Apu Gupta and Nick Shiftan, was initially something else entirely. Recognizing that it wasn’t working, Gupta, 38, and Shiftan, 32, instead came up with Curalate: a visual marketing analytics company that tracks the impact of images using sophisticated picture-scanning technology—an invaluable tool to better understand photo-driven sites like Instagram and Pinterest. Big-league clients include Gap, Neiman Marcus, Urban Outfitters, Under Armour and Swarovski.

What’s Next: Curalate has received a total of $4 million in VC money and continues to add more services, like Fanreel, a tool that allows clients to reuse user-uploaded, hashtagged images on their own e-commerce sites.



Tech | Paoli
The Pitch: Online search without the creepy spying.

The search-engine world might be dominated by one untouchable, but 34-year-old Gabriel Weinberg is banking on a novel concept: privacy. In 2008 he launched DuckDuckGo, a search engine that eschews the personal data collected by sites like Google and Bing—data that can not only tarnish accurate ad results but is seen as increasingly invasive. He’s on to something: Last summer’s Snowden NSA scandal helped grow DDG to more than 100 million searches a month.

Make or Break: DDG brings in revenue through a single ad banner and an affiliate program with Amazon and eBay through which DDG gets a percentage of transactions that start from the site.


SEER Interactive

Business | Northern Liberties
The Pitch: The smartest SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the foundation on which Wil Reynolds, 37, built SEER. He hired his first employee in 2005 and his 70th in the fall. Crayola, Wine Enthusiast, a Fortune 50 bank and BHLDN have all hired SEER to get them more online visibility by analyzing the way they interact with search engines like Google and Bing, then implementing adjustments to their standards and websites. Finding and retaining talent is key, and to help, Reynolds has created a Silicon Valley-esque culture: His headquarters (nicknamed the “Search Church”) are in a rehabbed house of worship, and he takes the gang on field trips to Six Flags and hosts yoga classes for his crew.

What’s Next: Most of SEER’s success has been recent—the company has grown 35 to 55 percent over the past few years. Reynolds is committed to Philadelphia: Last year he relocated about 40 percent of hires to our region.



Retail | Center City
The Pitch: Coupon-clipping goes digital.

Penny-pinchers, rejoice! SnipSnap’s technology lets users snap photos of coupons, upload them, share them with friends and scan them at checkout—entirely through an app. When the idea hit, 36-year-old Ted Mann left his job and joined local accelerator program DreamIt Ventures (a company that awards seed money and mentorship to great ideas) to work on it. Thanks to front-page placement in the iTunes App Store, SnipSnap secured 200,000 downloads in its first two weeks.

What’s Next: Mann recently scored impressive retail partnerships with Toys “R” Us and Bed Bath & Beyond, which will publish coupons directly to the app. SnipSnap will take $1 every time one of those coupons is redeemed.

Why Did the Schaibles Let Their Children Die?


Photo by Jonathan Barkat.

On the night of April 18th, Detective Brian Peters of the Philadelphia homicide unit saw something strange—something he’d never witnessed before—when he interviewed Herbert Schaible. Herbert’s seven-month-old son, Brandon, had died earlier that evening. Herbert and his wife, Cathy, were brought downtown for questioning from their home in the Northeast.

That was because the Schaibles were already on probation for involuntary manslaughter, following the death of another son, two-year-old Kent, in 2009.

Both boys had died of bacterial pneumonia, which most of the world treats successfully through vaccination or, in the event of an infection, antibiotics. But Herbie and Cathy Schaible are members of First Century Gospel, a nondenominational Baptist church on
G Street in Feltonville that believes strictly in divine healing—meaning no vaccinations, no medicine, no doctors. Prayer, its members believe, and believe fervently, is the path to conquering illness or injury. The members reject many other mainstays of modern life. They don’t believe in home ownership. (Everyone rents.) Or birth control. Or seatbelts. Or eyeglasses. Or college degrees.

None of that was what was strange to Detective Peters, however.

Peters likes to get to know people a bit, make human contact, before the formal interview. And Herbie Schaible, 44, a tall man dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans, with short-cropped hair, was perfectly willing to explain, calmly: Healing occurs through God’s will. Only God’s will could have saved his son. He said this several times, and would repeat it in his statement when he was asked if he regretted not taking Brandon to a doctor. “No, I don’t regret it,” Herbie said, “because we believe that the only way is the right way and that is through God. I would change places with either of my sons. But it’s God’s will. He is the healer of our bodies.”

Cathy Schaible told detective Jimmy Crone the same thing. A small, quiet, deferential woman who wholeheartedly abides by church teaching that her husband is in charge of family decisions, Cathy said, simply, “We pray and ask God to heal … the way Jesus did when He was on Earth.”

But even more surprising than the belief that only answered prayers could heal their son was the demeanor of both Herbie and Cathy. They were low-key. Calm. Very calm. Matter-of-fact, one might say. Peters and Crone have seen a lot of things in their years of talking to suspects and family members of murder victims, but never that.

There was something else Detective Peters had never witnessed: children so well-behaved. Six of the Schaibles’ seven living children—three-year-old Nolan was with his grandmother—had come to police headquarters with their parents. As Herbie and Cathy were questioned, their children sat together on a bench, quietly, and waited for two hours. Seventeen-year-old Herbert, the eldest, was in charge. Peters and Crone had never seen such polite, nice children, obviously well cared-for, brought into a police station.

Nor parents so calm in the face of the sudden death of a child. Their second child to die in four years.

There is an explanation for the attitude that befuddled the detectives. The Schaibles’ relationship with God is, far and away, the most important thing in their lives; everything springs from it. So their faith trumps even their love for their children. The night Brandon died, the outside world—through the legal system, in the questions of the detectives—was asking for an explanation, which placed Herbie and Cathy directly in the place they feel most comfortable: within the dictates of their faith. Why hadn’t they taken Brandon to a doctor even when it was apparent he was quite sick? To our ears, it sounds absurd. In their minds, it’s fundamental: Brandon could only be saved by God’s will.

Not that it has been easy. Later, alone and with family, they would break down and cry, grieving for their second dead son.

And now Herbert and Catherine Schaible face third-degree murder charges, for not getting medical help for Brandon, for letting the pneumonia he developed kill him. Their trial is months away. Herbie is in prison—the judge is worried about him fleeing. Cathy is under house arrest at her parents’ home on Roosevelt Boulevard. Some of the remaining children are being cared for by Herbie’s youngest brother, others by a cousin.

Their family has been torn apart, but the Schaibles remain steadfast in their faith—a faith that if anything, says their pastor, is now stronger. They have prayed for greater understanding. To understand what it is they were doing wrong, what it is that would lead God not to answer their prayers to save Kent, and then Brandon.

The Schaibles’ story, and that of First Century Gospel, is large. Two children are dead. They may be dead because their parents practice a brand of Christianity that seems straight out of the Dark Ages. The D.A., however justified in charging them with murder, is rubbing up against the American founding principle of religious freedom. It is a case that may, in fact, threaten the very existence of their church.

And it’s large because of its strangeness. We want to know how you get here, where Herbie and Cathy Schaible have landed. Not the legal trouble they’re now in—that path is clear enough—but rather, their brand of faith. These two things—being accused of murder and their faith—are firmly intertwined.

It is difficult not to pass judgment, to resist dismissing the Schaibles’ beliefs as flat-out stupid or crazy. But such judgment makes the Schaibles, and their church, impossible to understand.

ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio Was a Nobody in High School

Illustration by Andy Friedman.

Illustration by Andy Friedman.

My name is … Salvatore Anthony Nicholas Paolantonio. “Sal Pal” for short.

I was named after … my mother’s oldest brother, Salvatore Giardina, who served in the Army in World War II. He was legendary in my family.

I am a … reporter. My job is to find out new stuff and tell our audience about it. It’s really that simple.

I got my big break … when I got out of the Navy and was hired at the Albany Times Union. I was only at the paper 16 months when they sent me to cover the famine in East Africa, because I had been there for the Navy. Right after that, the Inquirer hired me.

My people are from … a little town called Calitri in Abruzzo, Italy. It’s a sheep-herding and farming town in the mountains. My grandfather came here in 1920 with his two brothers. The two brothers went back, and he stayed. Or else I’d be a sheep-herder.

When I was seven years old … we were all ducking and covering under our desks. Then Kennedy was shot. Thank God the Beatles showed up a couple of months later and gave us hope again.

When people don’t like what I have to say … they tell me about it, and I like that.

The next Philly team to win the championship will be … the Eagles. It’s easier to prevail in the NFL than in the other professional sport leagues. And they’ve just invested $30 million in Chip Kelly, so they’ve got no choice.

One bad habit I just can’t break is … ice cream. Chocolate water ice from Rita’s with vanilla ice cream in it.

People would be surprised to know … that I love to garden. I spend a lot of time planting flowers and weeding with my iPod in my ears.

My favorite Philadelphian … is Frank Rizzo, who embodied everything there was about the city.

The best Philly athlete alive today … is Chase Utley. Fundamentally great. Tough as nails. And instinctively knows what’s going to happen next. That’s rare. You can’t teach instincts.

If I owned the Eagles … I would make Ron Jaworski general manager. He’d win a Super Bowl in three years.

The farthest I’ve ever been from Philadelphia … is Diego Garcia, a Navy base in the Indian Ocean. I served from 1978 to 1983, and I spent the summer of 1981 chasing Russian submarines around the Indian Ocean.

I met my wife … in 1976, when I moved her into the dorm at SUNY Oneonta. I was the R.A.

Andy Reid was … respected but not revered. He got close but didn’t get the Super Bowl, and that’s how people will always remember him here.

My dad always told me … it’s not how you act; it’s how you re-act. In other words, don’t show on your face how your ass is getting kicked.

For Thanksgiving, I will … be working. We play NFL football on Thanksgiving. Just the nature of my job: I work on holidays. God bless my wife.

The most misunderstood Philly athlete of all time … would have to be Dick Allen, but only slightly ahead of Donovan McNabb. Not everybody gets to win a Super Bowl. Dan Marino didn’t win a Super Bowl. And remember: As a human being, as a teammate, as a member of the community, there aren’t any players better than Donovan McNabb. He finished a game with a broken leg.

In high school, I was voted … nothing.

Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Xi’an Sizzling Woks

Photo by Jason Varney.

Photo by Jason Varney.

It’s not every day that you come across a condiment that makes you do a double take. Heck, it’s not every year. But think about how it felt the first time you smeared wasabi on a sushi roll, or dolloped pepper jelly on a country ham biscuit—and then head to the corner of 9th and Arch immediately to get a jolt of that same rare giddiness at Xi’an Sizzling Woks, which opened as softly as a whisper in May.

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The New Philadelphia Nightlife

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

River Boat Tours

Misc. Nocturnal Frivolity | Docks at Rittenhouse and Penn’s Landing
Whether you prefer your cruise of the Schuylkill or Delaware to be narrated or self-guided, boozy or low-key, privately chartered or filled with new friends, Patriot Harbor Lines has your ticket to ride. Our fave: the seasonal “Different Night, Different Lights” tour, highlighting the evening glow of Boathouse Row and the downtown skyline—the city at its prettiest.

Bluegrass at Fiume

Music | 45th and Locust Street
If you think all music must be amplified, you need to get to Fiume, a tiny (and we do mean tiny) bar on the second floor of West Philadelphia restaurant Abyssinia. The bourbon-scented room gets packed (and we do mean packed) every Thursday including the devoted followers of the Citywide Specials. If you close your eyes, you might swear you’re in Kentucky circa 1921. Alas, the drink prices will remind you that you’re not.

Pep Bowl

Games | 1200 S. Broad Street
Say goodbye to snooty upscale bowling alleys and behold the stripped-down glory of Pep Bowl: six lanes, 1950s furnishings, beer coolers encouraged. (It’s BYOB and BYOFood.) And just like fans of The Big Lebowski, the clientele ranges from blue-collar to hipster, everyone abiding each other just fine as they drink and roll through the night, till as late as 1 a.m. on Saturdays.

First Friday at the Arden

Arts & Culture | 40 N. 2nd Street
Not the sort of person who goes to the theater? Not even for free beer? Every First Friday, the Arden Theatre Company presents edgy, top-notch acts—Bearded Ladies Cabaret, the Dali Quartet, Headlong Dance—at both its headquarters and a nearby performance space, to lure those who are “not our typical demographic,” says marketing manager Leigh Goldenberg. Did we mention free beer?

Blues at the Twisted Tail

Music | 509 S. 2nd Street
Sixty bourbons. Twelve bars of blues. Six nights a week. One cool night out. All that and more at Twisted Tail.

Art Alliance Cave Casts

Dance | 251 S. 18th Street
Part music master class and part intimate club night, DJ Brian Cassidy’s live podcasts at the Art Alliance are performances unto themselves. The host interviews an expert on a genre, artist or era, who provides the soundtrack for the evening’s live podcast. Then the dancing begins, sometimes going all night. This season’s lineup focuses on surf rock, Philly soul and sampling.

The Happy Rooster

Karaoke | 118 S 16th Street
Where is everyone in Rittenhouse getting drunk on Thursday nights? At the Happy Rooster, where the crowd skews young and fun. Expect to hear Madonna, “Sweet Caroline” and No Doubt.

Art After 5 at the Art Museum

Arts & Culture | 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Kick off the weekend at the Great Stair Hall as international and local artists turn the otherwise staid space into a live-music party. Nibble on Starr snacks, hit the bar, and take guided tours of select galleries. Just exercise moderation—if you break it at Art After 5, you can’t afford to buy it. Fairmount, 215-763-8100; Fridays.

Grace Tavern

Food | 2229 Grays Ferry Avenue
Why in-the-know up-all-nighters prefer Grace Tavern: The kitchen serves the entire menu until 2 a.m., not just some puny list of snacks. Open till 2 a.m. Monday to Sunday.

Hot Yoga After Dark

Misc. Nocturnal Frivolity | 1520 Sansom Street
Yoga gets cool—and really, really hot when this Bikram studio hosts a special evening session set to amped-up music, with refreshing nonalcoholic drinks, like mint-infused coconut water, to cool you down afterward. The class officially ends at nine, but sticking around to hang with your sweaty new friends is encouraged (and inevitable).

Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret

Arts & Culture | 624 S. 6th Street
Dig, if you will, the picture: Jared Leto in a linebacker’s body, wrapped in a flapper frock, strutting across the 624 S stage, leading his band through a samba version of “Paint It Black” and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” R&B-style. He’s the genre-bending, gender-bending Martha Graham Cracker. Two guarantees: a Prince cover and a funky good time.

The 10 Most Philly Coaches Ever


Illustration by James Boyle.

This is a strange moment in Philadelphia sports. For the first time, all four of our major teams are led by rookie managers or coaches—the Eagles (Chip Kelly), Phillies (Ryne Sandberg), Flyers (Craig Berube) and Sixers (starts with a B … I think). Of course, this also means four guys got canned.

With such historic bloodshed and so many questions about the new men in charge, it’s a good time to look back at the best coaches and skippers in this city’s history. What, exactly, do I mean by “best”? One way to define it would be by championships won, but that would not only be relentlessly boring; the resulting list would also be—in this land of crushed sports dreams—ridiculously short.

Instead, for the purposes of these rankings, I’m defining “best” by Philly-ness—some essential Pattison Avenue quality about each of the men honored here, in ascending order of their bona fides. You’ll see that Andy Reid didn’t make the cut; despite his success with wins and losses, we see nothing of ourselves in Big Red (aside from, perhaps, his waistline). And in this town, your record alone doesn’t earn you a statue. Instead, this list pays tribute to the assholes, the also-rans and the epic losers (along with a winner or two) who, for better and often for worse, made us who we are as sports fans.

West Philly’s Quest for the Automotive X Prize

Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Photo by Ryan Collerd.

The bell rang at 3 p.m. Kids burst from their second-floor classrooms at the West Philadelphia High School Academy for Automotive and Mechanical Engineering and leapt down the stairs. Most filed past the metal detector onto the street, where a trash bin spilled colorful garbage, but a few stayed behind, making their way into a drafty garage and slapping down their backpacks with purpose. A vaguely fungal smell emanated from racks of motor fluid, tools and spare parts, and a sign straight out of the ’50s read ALL SKIRTS & SHORTS MUST BE WORN KNEE LENGTH. It was February 2010. On a wall, a lime-green banner was emblazoned with a quote from Henry Ford: “Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible.”

Several students entered a small, brightly lit classroom to the side of the garage and dug into a cache of snacks. Others clustered around Simon Hauger, 40, a spindly white guy with an icy thatch of prematurely gray hair. He stood next to a black sports car. The body was removed for now, sitting off to the side, meaning that the steel frame beneath was visible, along with two separate propulsion technologies: an electric motor and battery pack in the front, and a diesel engine in the back. This was a hybrid vehicle of original design, built by Simon and the kids to travel the energy equivalent of 100 miles on a single gallon of gasoline. If they could get to 100 MPGe (the “e” stands for “equivalent”), they had a chance at winning a $10 million contest for the Automotive X Prize. They called themselves the West Philadelphia Hybrid X Team.

Simon said he wanted to work on the sports car’s turbocharger.

“What’s a turbo?” he asked Diamond Gibson, 17, a native of Liberia.

“A turbo, it uses air,” Diamond said.

“It’s like a fan or something,” said Azeem Hill, a thoughtful junior with freckles and thick glasses.

“If I took the fan that I put in the window in the summer, my box fan, and blew air in, would that push enough air?” Simon asked. “No. That only sucks so much air.”

A turbo, he continued, is basically an air compressor—a tool that converts energy into quick bursts of air. The point is to increase the engine’s efficiency by allowing it to squeeze more air into each piston.

“Now, here’s the hard part,” Simon said. “You need to pay attention. Anytime you compress anything, what happens to its temperature?”

“It rises,” Diamond said.

“Right. It gets hotter. And when things get hot, like in a hot-air balloon, what do they want to do?

“Expand,” said Azeem.

“Expand. So our goal for a turbo is to pump air in. So you’re compressing air. It’s getting hot. You’re fighting yourself, right? You need something that cools it off.”

The kids liked Simon; he had a way of relating abstract concepts to the real world. “The way he teaches,” said senior Jacques Wells, “he could teach algebra to a guinea pig.”

Off the Cuff: October 2013

Next year is the 100th anniversary of the First World War, and we are beginning to see new Woodrow Wilson biographies and other books about that crucial time in history. When reading about Wilson, who was president during the war, you learn that there are many ironic similarities between him and Barack Obama, starting with this: They are our only two true professor-presidents, and both Wilson and Obama were elected largely due to their oratory skills.

There are other similarities: Woodrow Wilson pursued an ambitious progressive agenda, and like Obama, he was unable to compromise—“God save us from compromise” was Wilson’s fervent hope. No wonder they became two of the most polarizing presidents in our history.

Ultimately, there is an important object lesson in this comparison: A great mind does not necessarily make a strong leader. In fact, how Woodrow Wilson tried to shape the world in the First World War’s aftermath—and failed—mirrors just what is wrong now. Barack Obama’s recent hamhanded attempts to reach out to Congress help demonstrate how isolated his decision-making has become.

Wilson was a complicated man; initially, he was very good at pressuring Congress and getting things done. During his eight years in office, Wilson called 25 joint sessions of Congress, and he would push his agenda in person, literally grabbing senators on their way off the floor if he needed to convince them of his side. Early in his first term, Wilson also demanded that Congress stay in session for virtually 18 months straight, and the results were astounding: That body reformed banking, enacted an antitrust law, pushed through an inheritance tax and a graduated income tax, signed child labor acts, and created the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve.

But Wilson, a Democrat, reverted to a different form when it came to the greatest challenge and hope for his presidency. He decided to lead the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I. He also neglected to take any Republican senators with him. When he returned home in July 1919, Wilson delivered the Treaty of Versailles to the Senate, declaring, “Dare we reject it and break the heart of the world?” The treaty included the formation of the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations, but Wilson’s assumption that he had the Senate in his pocket would prove disastrous.

Wilson the politician had morphed into Wilson the imperial president, one who believed that his brilliant staking-out of the high moral ground would carry the day. The treaty fell short of ratification by seven votes in the Senate.

Conservatives now hold Wilson up as an example of an overreaching president who chases high principle instead of solving problems. Which brings us to the current crises in Syria and other parts of the world.

“The President thinks he can do foreign policy all by his lonesome,” Time magazine’s Joe Klein recently wrote. “This has been the most closely held American foreign-policy-making process since Nixon and Kissinger, only there’s no Kissinger. There is no éminence grise—think of someone like Brent Scowcroft—who can say to Obama with real power and credibility, ‘Mr. President, you’re doing the wrong thing here.’”

Not when our president, like fellow academic Woodrow Wilson a century ago, is so certain that he alone knows best.

Lynne Abraham Has the Constitution of an Ox

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham

My name is … Lynne—that’s L-Y-N-N-E—Abraham. Almost everybody forgets to put the “e” on there.

When people referred to me as the “Deadliest D.A.” … it was a gross oversimplification of my responsibilities. And it was also wrong.

My biggest regret … is not finding my husband [radio host Frank Ford] sooner. I was 36 when we married, and he was 60. He died in March 2009.

The place in Philadelphia I most like to visit … is the Art Museum. And the Barnes, which is just sensational.

If you really want to piss me off … tell me that Philadelphia is a backwater between New York and Washington.

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