Ajay Raju Profile: The Big Raju

The Dilworth Paxson CEO in his $3.1 million Society Hill home. Photography by Chris Crisman

Dilworth Paxson CEO Ajay Raju in his $3.1 million Society Hill home. Photography by Chris Crisman

Might as well start with the hair.

“My life,” he says, “is driven by my obsession with my stupid hair.”

“My wife,” he says, “hates my hair. She wants me to have no gel.”

“When I discovered gel,” he says, “it was like Aha! Caveman discovers wheel.”

“My brother,” he reports, “says, ‘It’s a previously frozen raccoon that died on the road and was tarred over and then they put it on Ajay’s head.’”

“I’m the Indian Don King.”

Born near Bhopal, brought by his parents to Northeast Philly at the age of 14 speaking no English, Ajay Raju has transformed himself from a kid who felt insecure ordering at McDonald’s to a polished 44-year-old law partner who is quickly and deferentially seated at his preferred table (rear corner near the bar, where he can see everyone come and go) in the posh 1862 dining room at the Union League. He nonchalantly requests dishes not on the menu — tonight, grilled salmon and salad, since his weight is his other obsession. “I’m a peacock,” he’ll say, again and again.

“He has one quality that you definitely do not see in the legal class — pizzazz,” says one of Raju’s friends. “They buy their clothes at Joseph A. Bank. And obviously Ajay does not shop there.” In fact, Raju appears in advertisements for Boyds; his shoes, which can run up to $12,000 a pair, come from Tom Ford.

“We’ll see whether the personal flamboyance undoes him in this town,” this observer says. “At this point, it seems not. He’s going to be a player.”

It’s not as if he’s waiting on the bench now. On this late-winter night, Raju is little more than a month into his new job as CEO and co-chairman of Dilworth Paxson, one of Philadelphia’s most storied law firms. He moved there after nearly a decade at Reed Smith, a much larger firm with an international presence, where he managed the Philadelphia office and was acknowledged as a top rainmaker among 1,800 partners worldwide.

There are those who think Raju’s move to a smaller, more Philly-focused shop is really about having a home in a politically connected firm and dressing himself in the double-breasted, pin-striped aura of Richardson Dilworth, the legendary mayor and political reformer. He already sits on a dozen nonprofit boards around town, ranging from the Art Museum to the Zoo. He has his own political action committee — Center PAC — that has helped raise money for Tom Corbett and Bob Casey. Raju, possessed with what he calls “immigrant impatience,” has been raising money for politicians since he was a teenager. (As a young peacock, he disguised fund-raisers as fashion shows.) Raju calls Center PAC an “incubation platform” and plans eventually to help launch the political careers of civic-minded business types. People like him.

During talks about his move to Dilworth with its longtime partner Joe Jacovini, who stepped aside from running the firm for Raju to move in, the two men had a number of meetings right here in full view at the Union League. “They thought a merger was happening — this crowd,” Raju says, glancing across the table to the full and noisy bar area. “It’s almost like they analyze your stools to see what you ate this month. In New York, nobody would give a rat’s ass. Here, they watch everything.”

Of course, he’s a guy who doesn’t mind being watched. Peacocks don’t try to hide. While he may not be ready to run for mayor, he’s long been running for something. At this point, he has a self-appointed position; call it ch­eerleader-in-chief. Ajay Raju is making a deliberate effort to make sure people don’t just look — he wants them to look and listen.

It’s the reason he’s spending hours tonight dining with someone who can bring him no legal business, who offers no new connection in the guarded back corridors of power and influence. He’s here despite the objections of those around him.

“I can honestly tell you that every friend and adviser tells me not to talk to you right now,” Raju tells me just before — diet be damned — ordering dessert, his third helping today of Union League brownies with peanut butter ice cream. (It’s a long story that involves having two lunches.) “‘You can gain nothing with a profile of you; nothing good comes out of it. It doesn’t get you anywhere.’

“But I think it’s the perfect time. I have this idea, and I want the message to get out there.”

Penn Law Ranks 7th on U.S. News List

Philadelphia Business Journal reports on the new law school rankings from U.S. News and World Report: Penn is the area’s top law school, according to the rankings, and it isn’t close:

University of Pennsylvania Law Schoolwas ranked seventh on the list for the fifth consecutive year. The law schools ahead of it are Yale UniversityHarvard University,Stanford UniversityColumbia University, the University of Chicago and New York University. Penn Law has 786 full-time students, up from 776 last year and 805 two years ago. Tuition increased slightly to $54,992 from $53,138 last year and $50,718 two years ago.

Read more »

Slate Calls Out Norristown for Really Dumb Law

Norristown’s got a law that a landlord can evict a tenant if they make three or more 911 calls within the span of four months. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick thinks that law is really, really dumb. Why? Because this happens.

[Lakisha] Briggs did not call the police on the night of June 23, 2012, when the same boyfriend hit her in the head with a glass ashtray then stabbed her in the neck with a piece of broken glass. The police had already warned her that she was on her third strike after their last visit. So she didn’t make the call and—just before she passed out—Briggs begged a neighbor not to do so on her behalf.

Read more »

Feds Investigating Chickie’s and Pete’s

chickie-and-petes

Chickie’s and Pete’s is scrambling as the US Labor Department looks into payment violations and more than 60 former and current employees are suing the now ten-location strong chain.

Though a Chickie’s spokesman says they will “vigorously contest [the charges] in court,” the company’s recent actions, including issuing 2012 refunds on the “Pete tax” and adjusting how tipped employees are paid, must say something.

Chickie’s and Pete’s facing lawsuits, probe over employees’ pay [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Chickie’s and Pete’s [Official Site]

Pros and Cons of Latest Liquor Privatization Bill

Harrisburg State Capital Dome

Dan McQuade reviews Governor Tom Corbett’s latest proposal to privatize the Pennsylvania liquor system.

The Good:

  • Beer can be sold at grocery and drug stores.
  • Beer distributors could buy a license to sell wine and liquor.
  • The state stores go away
  • Selection should improve

The Bad:

  • It creates six new categories of licenses
  • It continues pointless limits on alcohol purchases at one time
  • It does little to address the negative effects of alcohol

Read the rest of McQuade’s column on the Philly Post. For another look at the privatization effort, check out Lew Bryson’s Why the PLCB Should Be Abolished.

Pros and Cons of of Governor Corbett’s LCB Privatization Plan [Philly Post]

New Jersey To Vote on Conversion Therapy

Photo by Think Stock

New Jersey could become the second state in the nation (California was the first) to pass a new law that would ban reparative – also known as conversion therapy. The controversial treatment seeks to alter sexual orientation from gay to straight – and is often directed at young people despite there being no proof to its effectiveness. The American Psychiatric Association has actually refuted claims from conversion therapy groups, going so far as to suggest it can cause depression and even suicide in young people.

But this new bill, sponsored by Sen Steve Sweeney, would ban the practice in the Garden State for those younger than 18 years old.

And while Gov. Chris Christie has already vetoed marriage equality legislation, the fate of conversion therapy will rest on his desk. And while there are opponents to the bill – namely therapists which practice conversion therapy – Sweeney has admitted publicly that he’s confident the bill will pass as early as this week.

Could PA Outlaw Gay Marriage?

The future of marriage equality could come down to yet another proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania State Constitution that would define marriage between one man and one woman. Representative Daryl Metcalfe has again introduced an amendment that, if passed, would become the first of its kind to legislate discrimination.

“In the near future, I will be introducing legislation proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Pennsylvania providing for the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. My legislation is similar to a bill that passed the House in June 2006 by an overwhelming majority,” he drafted in a memo to the General Assembly.

His memo continues:

Read more »

Marriage Equality in New Jersey?

New Jersey’s first openly gay Assemblyman Reed Gusciora may have introduced legislation this week that would put same-sex marriage on the ballot as early as next year, but leaders in the Garden State seem to be at odds over whether voters should decide the fate of what many are calling a civil rights issue.

That’s not stopping LGBT groups and other marriage equality supporters from using some of the momentum of last month’s successes in states like Maryland and Maine to help move the issue forward, even if some legislators seem to be dragging their heels.

And while Gov. Chris Christie says he would veto the legislation, a majority of Jersey voters say they support gay marriage rights. A recent poll has support at over half (53 percent) with as many as 72 percent of voters saying they would like to go to the polls to decide the issue.

Read more »

Court to Hear Two Marriage Cases

Photo by Think Stock

On Friday, the United States Supreme Court made two important announcements that could impact the fuiture of marriage equality in this country. The first was an order granting review in the Hollingsworth v. Perry (formerly Perry v. Brown) in California that challenges Proposition 8 which prevents same-sex couples from marrying. The court is tasked with deciding whether Prop 8 violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution concerned with depriving people life and liberty.

It all started three years ago when two California couples, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, argued that the Prop 8 ruling interfered with their freedom to marry. And by February of this year, the Court of Appeals issued a landmark ruling calling Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The argument isn’t an easy one, though the American Foundation of Equal Rights (AFER) is the sole sponsor of the case.

“Proposition 8 has already been declared unconstitutional in Federal District Court and in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Now the Supreme Court has an opportunity to do the same and send a resounding message of hope to LGBT young people from coast to coast that they have the same dignity and same opportunities for the future as everyone else,” said AFER co-founder Chad Griffin. “I believe our cherished constitutional principles will win the day and that the Court will uphold the fundamental right that all Americans can marry the one they love.”

Philly’s Perfect Score for LGBT Equality

Let’s face it, usually Philly ranks pretty low in the national ratings (we’ve been called everything from the ugliest to fattest city in America). But the good news is that we now have the proud distinction of rating a perfect 100 on HRC’s first-ever Municipal Equality Index.

The MEI rates cities based on 47 criteria falling under six categories, including non-discrimination laws; relationship recognition; the municipality’s employment practices; inclusiveness of city services; law enforcement; and municipal leadership.

Key findings from the MEI create a snapshot of LGBT equality in 137 municipalities of varying sizes drawn from every state in the nation – these include the 50 state capitals, the 50 most populous cities in the country, and the 25 large, 25 mid-size, and 25 small municipalities with the highest proportion of same-sex couples.

Philly and other 100-point cities serve as shining examples of LGBT inclusivity, with excellent policies ranging from non-discrimination laws, equal employee benefits and cutting-edge city services.

Click here to find out what makes Philly oh-so gay.

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