The 10 Best Philadelphians » Best Philadelphians: Sam Katz
He is the man who lost the mayor’s race three times, and three times bitterly. But it turns out Sam Katz had an even higher calling: explaining Philadelphia to Philadelphians.
It all came about, as these things tend to, by accident: After watching documentaries on several other cities, Katz went looking for Philadelphia’s. None existed. This, he decided, would not do. So in 2008 he founded a production company, and has since created three stellar documentaries on our past, part of a planned 12-episode (plus 20 hours of other media, including webisodes and oral histories), $4.8 million series covering pre-Colonial days to the present. 6 ABC is airing it; the ultimate goal is to go national, to broadcast a perspective of Philly that goes deeper than the cheesesteak, or Andy Reid’s offense. “Sam is smart, caring, and committed to the best interests of the city,” says his onetime rival John Street. “There is no higher qualification to catalog its history.”
Katz, 62, is taking his abiding love of the city beyond filmmaking. He’s the CEO of USA250, a nonprofit aiming to make sure Philly is the focus of the nation’s 250th birthday in 2026—and to avoid the screw-up that was the Bicentennial. “Philadelphians beat the crap out of their city for all kinds of reasons,” he says. “But their sensitivity to their place in it is powerful. The more they know about it, the more they understand their own stories—black, Irish, Italians, female—and the more prideful they feel.” He should, too. —Michael Callahan