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.”

Power Crowd Attends Arthur Makadon Memorial

The Inquirer reports on Monday’s memorial for Arthur Makadon, the Philadelphia lawyer who was connected just about every insider in town. Roughly 300 people showed up for the memorial at the Kimmel Center.

In addition to Rendell, Mayor Nutter attended, along with other leaders of local government and business.

“I and several others are faced with the problem of who shall we call when faced with a complex problem,” said Rendell. “He had no agenda, and he told the truth.”

He avoided philanthropic giving, but was generous to fellow lawyers at Ballard, staff, friends, family, and others, Stewart said. He was cynical about politics, but willing to offer politicians his advice, which often was sought.

David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corp., former chairman of Ballard Spahr, and a longtime friend, praised Makadon’s loyalty and his legal skills. “If you ever had a matter that involved the [fate] of your company or your personal reputation, there was no better lawyer to go to,” Cohen said.

Makadon died July 24 at age 70.

Philly Insider Arthur Makadon Dead at 70

The Inquirer (paywall) reports:

Arthur Makadon, 70, one of the most influential figures in Philadelphia’s legal and political realms for the past three decades, died Tuesday at University of Pennsylvania Hospital, his firm announced Wednesday morning.

Makadon, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, was a former chief assistant district attorney in Philadelphia under Arlen Specter. He would become one of Ed Rendell’s chief advisers as mayor and governor, first recommending his protege, David L. Cohen, to Rendell during is mayoral campaign. A 1996 Inquirer profile called him “an insider’s insider.”

Makadon chaired Ballard Spahr between 2002 and 2011 and was a partner at the time of his death. He was 70.

In 2005, PhillyMag ranked Makadon No. 31 in the list of 50 people who run this town, deftly outlining his influence in just a few sentences:

31. Arthur Makadon
chairman, Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll. Rank in 2000: 80

Friend to Rendell, Cohen, Specter and Street; head of the city’s most politically connected law firm; a go-to guy for dealmakers and those who want to make them. Makadon, 62, is also considered by many to be the one lawyer you’d want to hire if you got in trouble in Philadelphia. (Just ask the Mayor: Makadon’s repping him in the federal corruption probe.)
Strength: Far-reaching credibility that gives him rare access to insiders across the legal, political and business spectrums.
Weakness: Doesn’t suffer fools gladly. If he thinks you’re an idiot, he’ll say so, no matter who he offends.

The 50 Most Influential Jews in the World

The Jerusalem Post released its hotly anticipated “50 most influential Jews in the world” today, and all we can say is, there are probably a couple dozen mothers out there who are plotzing. So much better than being a dentist.

Below, I’ve singled out some favorites, particularly those with a local connection. Enjoy!

Binyamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel

Rank: No. 3
Local connection: Bibi went to Cheltenham High School, from which he graduated, and which obviously determined his success as a world leader. The best sentence on his entire Wiki page is this one: “To this day, he speaks American English with a Philadelphia accent.
A true InfluJew? Well, yes, of course. He’s the ultimate macher. But he’s ranked No. 3 behind his own country’s finance minister, Yair Lapid, who gave him a real run for his money in Knesset elections. You just know Netanyahu is thinking, “Am I wrong, or is ‘finance minister’ less of a big-deal title than ‘prime minister’?”

Jon Stewart, comedian/newsmaker

Rank: No. 7
Local connection: Stewart is from Trenton, which is close enough.
A true InfluJew? Absolutely. He influenced my mother to influence me to send him a letter professing my love well before he was on Comedy Central but well after I should have known better. Several years later, after he was significantly more famous, I did a phone interview with him that remains one of my career lows. I thought I needed to be clever, so my first question was, “Is it true that Trenton makes and the world takes?” Confused silence, then all downhill from there.

And that does it for the Greater Philadelphia names on the list! Thanks for coming, we’ll see you next week!

Ben Smith, BuzzFeed editor
Rank: No. 28
A true InfluJew?: As an individual, yes. With BuzzFeed, you never know (at some point, there was a smug Jewish guy all hyped about Friendster–he’s not on this list, you’ll notice). Smith helms a website that has influence in terms of popularity, sure, but more importantly, in terms of the questions it raises: How can we provide good content–of any kind–and make money? Can we break down traditional walls that ruled print publications? What are readers looking for? Is there room for long-form narrative as well as goofy lists? I had no idea Smith’s power went so far beyond my fishbowl Twitter feed. I emailed Smith to ask how he felt about being on the list, with a jaunty, “Mazel tov!” He didn’t write back.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. state representative/TV pundit

Rank: No. 10
A true InfluJew? Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Listen to that name. While others on the list have changed their names to seem less Jewish (Jon Stewart, looking at you, albeit still somewhat shamefacedly), Wasserman Schultz embraces her heritage, acting as a smart, articulate role model to awkward girls everywhere. Between her name and her spiral curls that are obviously, publicly, intractably impossible, she unapologetically represents one of the most Jewish places on Earth: Florida’s 23rd Congressional district.
Pro Jew tip: Because even her enunciation is Jewish, look for Wasserman Schultz’s appearances on Meet the Press; a chat with her is all the inoculation you’ll need to get through The McLaughlin Group.

Scooter Braun, music biz exec
Rank: No. 22
A true InfluJew?: Look. When I saw this list, Scooter Braun was the first name that came to mind, if only for his moniker. That name–“Scooter”–is so steeped in Torah, Braun could only have done better if he were named Moishe Wasserman Schultz. Think of the famous Jewish rat named Scooter, whose narrative earned this writer the Philadelphia Aratamy Award, and all those Anglo Saxons nicknamed Scooter who kept Jews out of golf clubs. Would there be a Larry David without the WASP Scooters of the world? Scooter Braun really didn’t even have to manage some kid named Justin Bieber to get on this list. But it’s a good thing for him that he does.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO

Rank: No. 8
A true InfluJew?: Yes, in fact, she’s inspired this Borscht Belt joke they tell at Kutsher’s in the Catskills: “How did Sheryl Sandberg rank higher than Mark Zuckerberg on the influential Jews list?” “How?” “She leaned in to the top 10.” Ba-dum.

Sumner Redstone, media magnate
Rank: No. 21
A true InfluJew?: Oh, yes. In fact, there’s an irony here. Anti-Semites often recur to that preposterous notion that Jews rule the country–the banks, the media, the government–a massive takeover that could never have happened (and if it did, why am I living in a third-floor walkup?). For many years in the 20th century, a Jewish person could only become powerful in one of these realms by downplaying the Jewish background. In the case of octogenarian Redstone, who does have a nice piece of the media pie, well, I’m sorry if I shock you, but “Sumner Redstone” was not his given name.

Lena Dunham, writer/actor/producer

Rank: Higher than Elie Wiesel, Natan Sharansky, Sumner Redstone, Michael Chabon, Matthew Bronfman and everyone else who comes after No. 18
A true InfluJew?: Without question, and I find the enmity she inspires distasteful and chauvinistic even though she inspires it in me too. Dunham emceed a Purim Ball and listed her favorite things about being Jewish: “Potato pancakes, gelt (why would anyone want regular money when there’s money that is chocolate inside?!), matzo balls, musicals, my grandpa, lifting people up in chairs, being worried all the time so that when something truly bad happens, you’re really ready for it.”

Bar Refaeli, model

Rank: 38
A true InfluJew?: I’m putting this in the category of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Jewish List Edition. From the Jerusalem Post because I sure ain’t gonna do it: “The supermodel and former Sports Illustrated cover girl is one of the—if not the—highest-profile Israelis in the world. Face it: Middle America knows her face, name and assets much, much better than the No. 1 entry on this list, not the least since she was voted No. 1 on Maxim magazine’s Hot 100 list of 2012. Whether it’s the fact that she was splashed all over gossip magazines during her on-and-off relationship with A-list actor Leonardo DiCaprio, a shout-out in a Kanye West song or making out with a nerd in a Super Bowl ad, Refaeli is everywhere, all around the world.”

The commissioners of the NHL, NBA and MLB
Rank: No. 50
True InfluJews?: At least when they’re grouped together and otherwise nameless.

Another One Bites the Dust: Lenfest Foundation to Cease Grant Giving

One of Philadelphia’s mega-philanthropies is willingly winding down its operations, after more than a decade of mega-giving. The Lenfest Foundation, which was founded by billionaire H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest and his wife Marguerite, is planning to sunset most of its major investments over the next 10 to 15 years. Lenfest, personally and through his charity, has disbursed $1.2 billion to Philly-area programs since founding the group in 2000. The 82-year old also chairs the board of the Interstate Media Group, which owns the Daily News and the Inquirer. [Insert snarky joke about having enough charities on his hands already.]

“I’m not in ill health. I don’t believe in perpetual foundations. We’ve given away the bulk of our wealth already, and I will have a diminished role in the future. My success in business was finding people who were better at doing things than I was. It’s a logical evolution.”

This news, as the Inquirer notes, leaves the William Penn Foundation in a class by itself, as the Annenberg Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts have shifted operations to Southern California, and Washingon, D.C., respectively. And WPF is having an identity crisis of its own. [Inquirer]

A Video of Marco Rubio Drinking Water in Slow-Motion

Here, re-live the Gulp Heard ‘Round the World, delivered during Marco Rubio’s inevitably lame State of the Union response. (SOTU speeches are tough acts to follow.) If Rubio’s parched, grasping swig was a ploy to engender sympathy from skeptical Dems and Independents, it worked. You had to feel bad for the guy. 

Fairmount Park Conservancy the Latest Victim of William Penn Foundation Grant Suspensions

Last night, City Paper reported that the $2 billion William Penn Foundation would be suspending grants to city-related agencies indefinitely. The report identified a funding request for Bartram’s Mile, a trail extension linking the East and West banks of the Schulykill River, though it’s unclear which group applied for the grant.

Today, I learned that the Fairmount Park Conservancy also received a letter announcing that its grant application had been suspended. (FPC operates under a public-private partnership.) The proposal, submitted in late 2012, requested $75,000 for planning work in West Fairmount Park. FPC Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell says she’s not exactly sure where the money would have gone, except to “work with parks and rec. in the community to really think about some possible improvements to West Park.” FPC has received numerous recent grants from the William Penn Foundation, including one in 2011 for $82,500.

Still optimistic that her grant will eventually come through, Lovell stresses that she thinks the William Penn Foundation “has a great vision for parks space.”

The WPF suspended such grants in order to deal with an ethics complaint submitted by a coalition of public school advocates that charges the mega-philanthropy has violated the city’s lobbying code. (The first complaint that’s been issued under the city’s new code.) The coalition argues that by providing the Boston Consulting Group with a grant to conduct the report that led to Philadelphia’s school-closure plan, it was effectively doing BCG’s bidding to encourage the “privatization” of public schools, and thus, should have registered as a lobbyist. In order to make sure they’re in compliance with the lobbying ordinance, WPF is suspending grants that may violate it. All previously awarded grants will, however, be disbursed; this decision only affects pending and forthcoming applications.

The city, for the record, doesn’t think there’s an issue with grants like these. “We don’t see the problem with the lobbying registration and reporting ordinance [with respect to] these grant requests and grant funding the way the William Penn Foundation seems to,” said the Mayor’s press secretary Mark McDonald.

Nor does Parents United for Public Education, one of the groups that submitted a complaint, which stresses it’s never had an issue with the sort of benign grants to city agencies and public-private partnerships WPF’s been disbursing for years.

There are, of course, more groups whose requests have been put on hold, and I’ll update the item as I learn more.

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch Dies

Ed Koch, the outspoken, sly-witted “mayor for life” (or three terms) of New York City, died this morning at the age of 88 in New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Koch presided over the city during the heyday of crime, the crack cocaine epidemic, and the AIDS crisis in the late ’70s and ’80s. In 1989 he was unseated by David Dinkins, the city’s first black mayor. “Koch,” a documentary about his mayorship premiered this week at the Museum of Modern Art, but he was unable to attend. [Reuters]

Update: Here are some choice quotes culled by the Atlantic Cities

Koch on “life in the country,” in a 1982 interview with Playboy Magazine that helped doom his chances of becoming governor:

Have you ever lived in the suburbs? It’s sterile. It’s nothing. It’s wasting your life, and people do not wish to waste their lives once they’ve seen New York! … This rural American thing — I’m telling you, it’s a joke.

Koch on sexuality, in New York Magazine in 1998:

Listen, there’s no question that some New Yorkers think I’m gay, and voted for me nevertheless. The vast majority don’t care, and others don’t think I am. And I don’t give a shit either way! What do I care?

Koch on his own way with words, just before taking office in 1978:

I’m the sort of person who will never get ulcers. Why? Because I say exactly what I think. I’m the sort of person who might give other people ulcers.

Koch on his catch phrase “How’m I doin’?” in a 1981 interview with NPR:

Some people have said that’s a mark of insecurity. Gee, I have to be patted on the back. How’m I doing? I want you to think about this: Do you know people in public life who are sufficiently secure to ask people to rate them?



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