My father met Frank Rizzo a handful of times, at crowded cocktail parties or Bookbinder’s or Phillies games. Each time, the same dynamic took place. No matter how packed the crowd or how harried Rizzo was, my dad said, he had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world to him, even if you only shared 30 seconds. Rizzo would bore in, clasp your hand in almost a bear hug, and hold eye contact with you — even while exchanging banal pleasantries. The outside noise didn’t seem to register.
I found myself thinking often of Rizzo’s legendary charisma while reading Jason Fagone’s character study of union leader Johnny “Doc” Dougherty (page 94), who is positioning himself as heir to Rizzo’s throne as king of Philly’s white, rowhome ethnics. I’ve been on the receiving end of Doc’s charisma, and it sure feels similar to Rizzo’s. Doc will get very close to you, sear you with those blue eyes, and joke around or talk about your work — proof that he’s done his homework on you — in a way that makes you feel special. And in a way that makes you want to have a beer with this compelling Philly character, as I’ve done, at Doc’s Union Pub.
Sometimes we in the media can overthink politics. Maybe it’s not that much more complicated than our high-school class president races, where the most-liked kid got elected. There’s no question Doc is likable, and that comes through in Fagone’s piece. But what also comes through are some troubling questions. How contrived is the persona? How authentic is Johnny Doc? Does he sanction union shenanigans that run counter to the interests of democracy? Does he stand for anything beyond the orbit of his own narrow interests?
After reading Fagone’s piece, I still want to have beers with Doc at a Phillies game. But whether that qualifies him to be mayor … read the profile and see what you think.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a fear of flying. Oh, I still do it, when I must; I just load up on some good drugs and get loopy enough that I won’t mind too much when we go hurtling back down to Earth in a fiery torpedo. Which reminds me: It’s a misnomer to say I’m afraid of flying. I have no problem flying. It’s crashing that freaks me out.
Anyway, maybe my neuroses are beyond cure, but that doesn’t mean the experience of simply getting on one of those jumbo death traps has to be so bad and take so long. It’s clear, as writer-at-large Maureen Tkacik chronicles in “Terminal Illness” (page 98), that our airport is an impediment to growth in our region — right when we’re on the verge of world-class status. Tkacik highlights our airport’s problems and details prescriptions. As for my fear, she says I already know the answer: “Drugs, dude. Drugs.”
I hope you can join us on Wednesday, July 26th, at 6 p.m. at the National Constitution Center for the second in our “Philadelphia Talks” series. Each month, in partnership with the NCC, we bring you public forums on pressing issues facing our city and region. This month, the topic is a bit more lighthearted and self-referential: Best Of Philly, our annual August issue that serves as a guide to the finest the region has to offer. I’ll be joined by editors Tom McGrath and Jessica Blatt and food editor April White on a panel moderated by the National Constitution Center’s Anthony Green, who was a staff writer at Philadelphia magazine when Best (and Worst) Of Philly first entered the local cultural zeitgeist, in 1974. Come hear our defense of our Best Of awards — from Best Politician to Best Cheesesteak — and tell us why we’re wrong. We promise we’ll consider your suggestions for next year. Enjoy.