Last night at Parc almost every real estate agent in Philadelphia, eight City Council members (Jannie Blackwell, Brian O’Neill, Jim Kenney, Mark Squilla, Cindy Bass, Kenyatta Johnson, Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, and Council prez Darrell Clarke), and a number of important civic leaders gathered to celebrate developer/realtor Allan Domb on the occasion of his inauguration as 89th president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors (GPAR).
The crowd was well-heeled in that brokerish way: the young men made ample use of hair gel and the young women wore LBDs and heels. Everyone looked very polished and coiffed, though the Council members tend to have their own style. Jim Kenney was wearing a tweed jacket with patches on the elbows, and looked the entire time like he was about to run off either to teach a class on American poetry or join friends for a few rounds of Guinness.
Mark Squilla had on a nice lime green shirt, which made for a change of pace from the funereal colors worn by his male colleagues. Blackwell and Quiñones-Sanchez favored pants suits because that's what women have to wear if they're in politics -- unless they are state Rep. Cherelle Parker, who wore a fire-engine red dress, which suited her personality.
Everyone seemed very engaged in meaningful conversations, though Paul Levy was kind of leaning back and taking it easy, while Bart Blatstein just got his photo snapped before he seemed to disappear. I was juggling my camera, my iPhone, my pen, my pad, a glass of wine and an enormous purse the size of my torso -- all of which I felt prevented top-flight networking.
I did, however, spy two bored-looking men -- one very tall, the other not so much -- standing silently on the periphery. They looked like genial people to talk to.
"Hello! Are you gentlemen in real estate?" quoth I.
The tall man said, "No, politics."
Hmm. This felt wrong already. "What kind of politics?"
"I'm a City Councilman. This is my legislative aid."
Oh no. I said something about "cards" and "networking" and shook their hands and scurried away. Not only was he a City Councilman, he was Brian O'Neill, who has been on Council forever -- this is his ninth four-year term.
My only excuse is that he's so enormously tall, and I'm so enormously short, that I only saw into his nostrils when I spoke with him initially, and you just can't identify a man by his nostrils.
I avoided him for the rest of the night.
But what of the night? It was a great success for Allan Domb, who deserved every bit of praise he received -- not just because he's the Condo King or whatever cutesy name all the realtors give themselves, but because as president of GPAR and in his development projects, he's been tenacious about tackling big issues that mean something to the city at large. When he spoke toward the end of the event, he talked about the things that matter to him: collecting delinquent property taxes; improving AVI; paying attention to the economy as a whole; encouraging large corporations to work with the schools to improve graduation rates and job opportunities.
He wasn't talking about selling property, though we all understand that's the business he's in. He was talking about shaping the city we live in because he sees the bigger picture. For my part, I was hoping the realtors in the audience heard him loud and clear. Domb's got a big agenda for GPAR, and a lot of love for Philly.
Other key observations:
1. Darrell Clarke was funny, charming, and managed things gracefully even when they were kind of falling apart. Which is to say when the Council members had to read aloud a resolution dedicated to Domb -- each of them taking on a "wherefore" or "whereas" section. Apparently, the members don't do a lot of reading of resolutions or public speaking in their jobs.
2. State Rep. Cherelle Parker came in to praise the collaboration between GPAR, the City of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania on tax lien legislation. She drove in from Harrisburg, got up onstage, and got everyone to SHUT UP. Her voice thundered through the room. "I was a high school English teacher before I was a state rep," she said. Well, that explained it. She paid tribute to Clarke: "You know I'm not a fluffy person," she boomed, turning to him. "But this has been unprecedented collaboration." It was easy to see how she could win an election.
3. Darrell Clarke inaugurated GPAR's new board of directors, whose members walked to the front and stood at attention for their swearing in. "These are your guys," he shouted over the din. "I understand why you don't want to listen to politicians..." The swearing in involved the new members raising their right hands while Clarke said things like, "The secret of living is the art of giving." Mike McCann kept his eyes reverently closed throughout.
4. Rendell was there to "install" Domb, but he was also there, you know, to just be Ed. First he wanted to thank the group for the 16 years of support they gave him as mayor and governor. Then he talked about how Domb was the best GPAR president ever. How did he know that? Such a question merited a digression. When Ed was mayor, someone gave him a cup that said Best Mayor Ever, or something similarly superlative. But how did they know he was the best mayor ever, he asked. They couldn't know. So how did he know this about Domb? "He nagged the hell out of me!" he said. "Does he nag you?" he asked Clarke, standing offstage.
Rendell then tried to quiet the crowd before he read the oath. "When Barack Obama took the oath people weren't talking!" But when he looked at the text of the oath, he had his own doubts: "Do I have to read the whole thing?" he said. Before bounding offstage, he said, "Drink and eat all you want -- Allan's paying!" And poof! He was gone.
As for me, I was still thinking about Councilman O'Neill when a man tried to hand me a plastic tag with the number 52. It was the tag for his coat. He waited for me to take it. "Oh," I said. "I don't work here." He was completely annoyed, as though I'd perpetrated some fraud -- walking around impersonating a coat-check girl!
Congratulations, Mr. Domb. You deserve the acknowledgment.