Meet Ed Bassmaster, Philadelphia’s Biggest Star … on YouTube

Ed Bassmaster as the character “Always Teste,” left, and as himself. Photography by Gene Smirnov

Ed Bassmaster as the character “The Hacker,” left, and as himself. Photography by Gene Smirnov

There isn’t much that grates on Philadelphians more than having their city defined by a tired canard about a Santa Claus who got booed in 1968. (Or by a bell. Or a sandwich.) Which explains the citywide stomach-drop when news broke in August that a defenseless globe-trotting robot had been annihilated here. Every hard-fought reputational victory, every hint of burgeoning cosmopolitanism — put on hold for the foreseeable future. “Somebody put a lot of work into that robot,” ashamed resident Cathie McMullin told 6 ABC. “It’s been all over the world, and ‘Welcome to Philly! Let’s kill you.’”

HitchBOT, constructed by Canadian engineers, was a science experiment in human compassion. A white plastic bucket equipped with GPS plus blue pool floaties for limbs, the robot was to hitchhike across the world, relying on random humans to transport it from one city to the next. It made it across Europe but couldn’t make it from Massachusetts to San Francisco; on the morning of August 1st, hitchBOT was found, wasted and inert, on the streets of Old City. A few days later, grainy video footage emerged of a man in a throwback Randall Cunningham jersey appearing to assault poor hitchBOT. Read more »

Allan Domb: The Condo King

Allan Domb in his Rittenhouse Square office. Photograph by Colin Lenton

Allan Domb in his Rittenhouse Square office. Photograph by Colin Lenton

There are two distraught gentlemen in Allan Domb’s lobby, flipping out about the Pope. The date is July 29th, almost two months before Francis and a million of his admirers are to plunge the City of Philadelphia into holy sacramental chaos. Domb’s visitors are emissaries from the restaurant world, here to bang warning gongs about the culinary gridlock they foresee: marooned employees, bewildered customers, spoiled meat.

“There doesn’t seem to be a strategic plan at all. Just, ‘Hey, you guys are fucked.’” This is Greg Dodge, manager of the wine bar Zavino. Either Greg’s face is really tanned or all the blood has rushed to his head. He’s wearing one of those shirts where the collar is white but everything else is blue. “It just doesn’t make any sense.” Read more »

How Stockton University Lost Its Atlantic City Gamble

Illustration by Matt Herring. (Saatkamp: Donna Connor Photography; Showboat: iStockphoto)

Illustration by Matt Herring. (Saatkamp: Donna Connor Photography; Showboat: iStockphoto)

The first and only time I sat down with Herman J. Saatkamp Jr., the former president of Stockton University, he was very much the current president of Stockton University. A few weeks later, an avalanche of disastrous business decisions and horrific PR blunders would tarnish the school’s reputation, help bring an end to Saatkamp’s career there, and, for good measure, plunge the zombie metropolis that is Atlantic City into ever deeper chaos. But on that late afternoon in early March, all seemed fairly peachy. Read more »

Natalie Guercio’s Mob Rules

Natalie Guercio, whose family runs a funeral home, joined the show last season. Photo: VH1/Piotr Sikora

Natalie Guercio, whose family runs a funeral home, joined the show last season. Photo: VH1/Piotr Sikora

Natalie Guercio lives in a funeral home. Carto, on South Broad Street. Her family has owned it forever, and until recently she was full-time there, doing hair for corpses. The day after Christmas, Natalie buzzes me in and tells me to ride the elevator to the third floor, where she rooms with her young son, Nunzio, and her 86-year-old grandfather, Nunzio, the patriarch of the funeral parlor. Natalie, wearing a black tank top, is doing her makeup. Her boyfriend London is on a Starbucks run. Grandpa Nunzio paces silently around the kitchen table. Even for a funeral parlor, the place feels sleepy. Apparently this will change the next time an episode of Mob Wives airs on VH1. “You get some haters that will call in,” she says. “‘Where’s Natalie? I hate that fucking bitch.’”

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What’s Your Problem With Michael Nutter, Philadelphia?

Photograph by Neal Santos

Photograph by Neal Santos

Michael Nutter has recently finished his second glass of sangria at a soul-food joint on South Street when he starts talking about Donovan McNabb. The precise reason for the name-drop isn’t particularly relevant. What follows, more so. “I think he, as some other athletes, has a complicated relationship with Philadelphia,” Nutter begins, shaking his head.

He goes on: “This is a tough town.” He repeats himself: “This is a tough town.” Then he repeats himself again: “Tough town, tough town.”

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Franny Rizzo Not Running for Mayor After All

Frank Rizzo Jr

AP | JOSEPH KACZMAREK

Several months ago, Frank Rizzo, the son, submitted to a lie-detector test. He did so to prove that he was running for mayor for legitimate reasons, and not, as some suspected, to benefit State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams. (He would have peeled away votes from a white challenger, the thinking went.) Franny passed the test, I wrote about it, and then nobody heard from him again.

Perhaps we should have also tested him on whether he was really serious about his mayoral bid. Turns out, he wasn’t. Rizzo told me by phone yesterday that he had changed his mind, and will instead run to reclaim his at-large seat in City Council, as a Democrat. (Rizzo had been a Republican his entire career, until losing his 2011 re-election bid.)

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Swarthmore’s “John Doe” Settles Assault Case With College

Photo credit: Fritz Ward via Flickr.

Photo credit: Fritz Ward via Flickr.

As the epidemic of campus rape continues to flare up — see fraternity, University of Virginia — so do lawsuits from male college students expelled for sexual assault. One such case, which I wrote about in my May feature on rape at Swarthmore College, dealt with a “John Doe” who had been found responsible for assault, then expelled, in May 2013. In January of the following year, while residing in North Carolina and attending a different college, he sued Swarthmore, claiming his punishment had not been merited. Here, from the piece, is a description of the incident in question:

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Pot Is Coming, Philadelphia!

Photography by Clint Blowers

Photography by Clint Blowers

It’s a Saturday morning a few months ago. I’m in Atlantic City, sitting on a folding chair in a medium-size conference room at Bally’s, along with maybe 75 other bleary-eyed semi-note-takers. I’m here for day one of a four-day horticultural seminar — cost: $995 — in which the only plant that will be discussed is marijuana. The event is being run by Oaksterdam University, a college in Oakland, California, that behaves like it’s in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. (Sample course — “Methods of Ingestion: Vaporizing 8701.”) Oaksterdam, founded in 2007, has only been raided by federal agents once.

Among the first speakers is a handsome young New York lawyer named Adam Scavone who specializes in deconstructing the incomprehensible mishmash of local, state and federal laws that govern pot consumption in this country. “Let me ask you a question,” Scavone begins. “Are there any law enforcement officers in the room?” Four very silent seconds pass. “All right, good. That doesn’t mean there’s not. So just keep this in mind. We don’t know who might be here.”

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The 11 People Leading the Charge for Legal Pot in Philadelphia

The Politicians

pot-package-pols-940x689

Photos: Senate of Pennsylvania (Leach); Will Connelly (Kenney)

Two local politicians — er, pot-iticians? — stand at the forefront of the movement. State Senator Daylin Leach (left) has co-sponsored legislation in Harrisburg both to legalize medical marijuana — a bill that passed the Senate — and to legalize pot outright. (See Leach’s hilarious appearance at ThinkFest below.) City Councilman Jim Kenney (center) has recently fashioned himself into a millennial folk hero, championing gay-rights legislation and marijuana decriminalization that saw passage in September. Michael Bronstein (right), of the Bala Cynwyd political consultancy Bronstein & Weaver, is helming a nascent pot lobby called the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp, designed to persuade states to pass cannabusiness-friendly legislation.

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Did Political Donation Grease the Wheels of Little Pete’s Demise?

little-pete-sign-940

When it comes to generating public outrage, it’s hard to top demolishing a beloved, grimy, 24-hour diner and replacing it with a luxury hotel. Plans to do just that, of course, were revealed last week, when Councilman Kenyatta Johnson proposed a bill (below) that would rezone the Center City block on which Little Pete’s diner sits, paving the way for the $125 million Hudson Hotel.

Well, there’s one more element you could add to the mix to amp up the outrage further: The whiff of transactional politics. In a twist to the Little Pete’s story, it turns out the developer of the proposed 300-room hotel — there’s already a Hudson Hotel in midtown Manhattan — is a recent contributor to Councilman Johnson’s campaign committee.

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