Best of Philly: Best Philadelphians 2016

Movers, shakers, creators, instigators: the Philadelphians who are crushing it right now.
From left: Taff, Ubiñas, Woodard, Mustafa. | Photograph by Nell Hoving

From left: Brian Taff, Helen Ubiñas, Omar T. Woodard, Yasmine Mustafa. | Photograph by Nell Hoving

TV Reporter

Brian Taff, 6 ABC

Let’s face it: Philly broadcasters have traditionally been little more than talking heads. But Taff is doing something different. He regularly takes to Facebook to break an unwritten rule of TV journalism by expressing his personal opinions on controversial topics like gay marriage and the hate-filled antics of Donald Trump. In an even tone, he calls for civility and
logic in an era that lacks both.

Columnist

Helen Ubiñas, Daily News

Sometimes, being an outsider is a good thing. Ubiñas moved to Philly from Connecticut four and a half years ago and has used her column to point out just how screwed up this city is when it comes to handling issues like poverty and crime. She knows things can be better, and she’s not afraid to use some stunt journalism to prove it: She recently made national headlines when she wrote about how it took her all of seven minutes to buy an AR-15 rifle in Philly — and much longer to get rid of it at a police station.

Up-and-Comer

Omar T. Woodard, executive director, GreenLight Fund

This 32-year-old North Philly native first caught our eye as the sharp-talking policy director on Anthony Williams’s mayoral campaign. Now he’s leading the Philly chapter of the GreenLight Fund, a nonprofit that’s raised more than $7 million and creates entrepreneurial programs in high-poverty areas. Because of his business acumen, philanthropy smarts and innovative thinking, he tops the list of locals we’d like to see in public office.

Entrepreneur

Yasmine Mustafa, founder, ROAR for Good

The Kuwaiti native made a name for herself when she sold her WordPress plug-in before she was 30. (She also founded the Philly chapter of Girl Develop It, a nonprofit that provides low-cost coding classes to women.) Now the Temple grad is using her tech know-how for a noble cause: ROAR for Good, a line of Fitbit-like devices for women that alert loved ones via an app that the user is in distress or danger. She raised more than $300,000 on a crowdfunding site to get the product to market. Look for it soon.

Civic Savior

Cecil Baker, founder, Cecil Baker + Partners Architects

Philadelphians have notoriously low expectations when it comes to design and development, but Baker, from his perch on the Civic Design Review Committee, has used gentle encouragement to push developers and architects to improve their projects. Plus, he leads by example: Last year, in a desperate attempt to stop a design they didn’t like, a group of Rittenhouse residents hired the soft-spoken starchitect to redo plans for the residential tower at the controversial Boyd Theatre space. Now, everyone is (finally) happy.

Mascot

Olive, the Fishtown Pig

Olive’s just like any of us — she enjoys Sunday brunch in Fishtown, leisurely strolls around the neighborhood, and bagels. But here’s how Olive is different: She’s a mini-pig with 4,200-plus Instagram followers (@oliveintheheights). For those lucky enough to run into her, she serves as an adorable reminder that life doesn’t always have to be so serious.

TV Personality

Alex Holley, co-host, Good Day Philadelphia

For the past two years, this smart, funny and sassy co-anchor has more than held her own on Fox 29’s zany morning show. Off-screen, she’s become a Philadelphia fixture, working the social scene like she’s been here forever. Bonus points for her strong social media game.

Political Newbie

Jane Slusser, Mayor Kenney’s chief of staff

Proof that a 30-something non-Philadelphian with relatively scant political experience makes a good chief of staff for the Mayor: Through masterful political maneuvering, Slusser got the soda tax passed and her boss’s name on the national stage. (Read more about her on page 30.)

Sports Stars

Jay Wright and the Wildcats, Villanova men’s basketball head coach and team

They stole our hearts with dramatic upsets, a clutch four-year captain, and that heart-stopping, out-of-a-sports-movie three-pointer at the buzzer from Kris Jenkins. Thanks for bringing home the trophy, boys.

Neighborhood Maker

Penelope Giles, executive director, Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation

Giles is in the same position as many of her contemporaries: She’s navigating the delicate push-and-pull between preserving the integrity of her neighborhood — just east of the Eastern State Penitentiary — and recognizing the need for new development. But in contrast to her peers in some other low-income neighborhoods (and with the support of many of her neighbors), she’s doing this by getting out in front of gentrification rather than fighting it. To wit: She helped launch a popular farmers’ market and programs for youth and seniors.

Activist

Hannah Sassaman, policy director, Media Mobilizing Project

A community and media activist for more than a decade, Sassaman is no stranger to fighting the powers that be. Yet her latest shakeup just might be her greatest: When the city and Comcast squared off last year to negotiate their 15-year contract, Sassaman and her media advocacy team joined the fracas. She spoke at City Council’s 2015 Comcast hearing and tirelessly pressured the company to extend Internet service to low-income communities and better protect its workers. And she won.

Master Planner

Natalie Shieh, principal planner, 30th Street Station Project at Amtrak

A note about that massive 30th Street Station project: Pulling it off well will be no small feat. That’s where planning whiz Shieh, 36, comes in. As the overseer of the master plan, she’s working on meeting many needs, including those of daily Amtrak commuters, local residents, major institutions (Drexel and the Science Center), and powerhouse stakeholder and lead developer Brandywine Realty Trust. The result will be an ambitious civic project that will change our city forever. (No pressure, Nat!)

Sports-Radio Announcers

Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen, play-by-play announcer and color analyst, WIP

Passionate, funny, a great rapport, and arguably the only thing that got us through the Phillies’ last season.

Politician

Josh Shapiro, candidate, state attorney general

Though Shapiro — an Abington resident and most recently a Montgomery County
commissioner — has no prosecutorial experience, he won the Democratic primary for state attorney general and is gunning for the office come November. He has an impressive track record of getting things done, a reputation as honest and reliable, and a plan to return order to an office that’s in shambles after Kathleen Kane’s tenure.

Visionary

Eric Goldstein, executive director, King of Prussia District

It takes a lot of foresight to imagine that a town known for a hulking, inward-looking mall could become an outwardly focused, walkable, mixed-use destination that’s attractive to urban-loving millennials. But that’s exactly what Goldstein — with a whole lot of tenacity and savvy — did. (Read more on page 25.)

Reality Stars We’re Actually Proud Of

Jess Edelstein and Sarah Ribner, co-founders, PiperWai Natural Deodorant

After appearing on Shark Tank, these Friends’ Central besties turned their brilliant business venture — PiperWai, an all-natural deodorant — into a runaway success that netted $2 million in sales in three months.

Rookie

Shayne Gostisbehere, defenseman, Philadelphia Flyers

When Gostisbehere was pulled up from the farm team early last season, the Flyers went from ho-hum to wowza. The offensive-minded defenseman set a new NHL record (longest point streak by a rookie defenseman), finished fourth among rookies in points and assists (all without playing the full season), and, thanks to his knack for timely goals, got the Bullies to the playoffs.

Visual Artists

Steven and Billy Dufala

Through hilarious attention-getting stunts (a toilet tricycle race, a funeral for a home), these Philly brothers comment on consumerism, communities and our environment, but they do more than make us think; they’re also champions of the local art scene. Both teach at PAFA, and Billy co-founded RAIR, an artist residency located in a garbage dump and construction site in the Northeast that’s basically an artists’ playground.

Innovator

Stephen Klasko, CEO, Thomas Jefferson University

Since taking the reins in 2013, Klasko has propelled Jefferson forward, forging partnerships with Abington Health and Aria Health and inking a merger with Philadelphia University that will add 100 acres to his downtown school. The release last spring of his latest book, We CAN Fix Healthcare, The Future Is NOW, which looks at the future of health care as an opportunity rather than a partisan grudge match, proves he’s ready to have a voice on the national stage.

Instagrammer

Brendan Lowry, @Peopledelphia

The premise: a stream of photos capturing the real Philadelphia — a dad walking through the Italian Market with his daughter on his shoulders, people waiting for their train at 30th Street Station, a biker in FDR Park. Seeing everyday places as sets for living art makes us love the city all over again.

Kingmaker

Marian Tasco, former City Council member

Though perhaps best (worst?) known for her creative use of the city’s DROP retirement program (she famously retired for one day just to receive her payout), Tasco is a legend in political circles — and after the year she’s had, who could argue she shouldn’t be? Her early endorsement of Jim Kenney was crucial to his election, and her partnership with Dwight Evans helped make him a Congressman. This year, Tasco retired (for real), but she got two of her mentees elected to Council. Philly politics is a rough sport. Right now, nobody is playing the game better than Tasco.

Inspirational Thinker

Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author

Grant is one of those guys you kinda want to hate: star athlete, top salesperson at his first job, tenured as a Wharton prof while still in his 20s, wrote two New York Times best sellers (plus some fantastic New York Times articles), crushed his TED Talk, and on and on and on. But he’s in Philly, so we love him. Pick up a copy of his latest read, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, with a forward by Sheryl Sandberg (it got major props from Malcolm Gladwell), and show up at any event at which he’s speaking. (Or, shhh … consider crashing a class.)

Local Band

Modern Baseball

Not long ago, they were honing their emo-indie sound in basement shows between classes at Drexel and Chestnut Hill; this summer, the foursome headlined the Fillmore in support of their new release, Holy Ghost, and managed to snag envious press in the New York Times. Believe the hype.

Teenage Do-Gooder

Eli Wachs, founder, High School HeroesX

Three years ago, as a Haverford School freshman, Wachs started High School HeroesX, an initiative with a simple goal: present a tangible problem (like, say, Philly’s low high-school graduation rates) to students and have them work in teams to create scalable solutions. The winning team gets grant money to see its idea through, so it’s not just pie-in-the-sky plotting. Wachs has garnered tons of kudos, was named a PA Youth Ambassador, and has since launched the competition at other high schools around the world. Feeling underaccomplished yet?

Stage Artist

Jennifer Kidwell

This Pig Iron Theatre resident is more than just a brilliant actress; she’s a powerful creator who makes her audiences feel deeply and think differently. See: Her recent play, Underground Railroad Game, a dark comedy that explores how history in this country is taught through a racist lens.

Glass-Ceiling Breaker

Madeline Bell, CEO, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

There’s so much to extol about Bell that it’s hard to know where to begin. So we’ll let her résumé do the talking: CHOP nurse turned first female CEO of one of the country’s top children’s hospitals (that employs more than 11,000 people, mind you), mother of seven, blogger, lifelong learner, strong and empathetic leader, newly appointed Comcast board member and Philly native. She’s been on the job for just over a year and is already an inspiration to all ambitious women.

Published as “Best of Philly 2016” in the August issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Join us in the heart of the city on August 4th for an evening of award-winning food, summer cocktails and dancing under the stars in celebration of the winners at the Best of Philly Soirée. Get details and ticket information here.