The Power Fifty 2009

What This List Is: Our ranking of the most influential Philadelphians. What This List Isn’t: A rehash of the usual suspects

1. David L. Cohen, transformational
Executive Vice President, Comcast
2005: 5 :: 2000: 2

For the past decade, Cohen, 54, has been the man local honchos go to when they need to get something done, large or small. (Recent example: When Police Commissioner Ramsey wanted to honor officers killed in the line of duty, he made a call to Cohen. Presto: Comcast is developing a video kiosk at the Roundhouse.) As right-hand man to Brian Roberts, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, board of trustees chair of the University of Pennsylvania (starting this month), confidant of Governor Rendell, and key adviser to Mayor Nutter, Cohen has a role in shaping every aspect of city life. See the profile here.

2. Joe Neubauer, transformational
Chairman and CEO, Aramark
2005: 25 :: 2000: 68

Neubauer shot up so high on our list because, simply, he’s got the power to transform with a snap of his fingers when not too many in town do. Most of his clout comes from his private food-and-facilities service management company, which had $14 billion in revenues last year. So there’s no debate with some management board or corporate HQ before he lends his name or Aramark’s to a cause, or gives money. And give he does (albeit in a low-key way), supporting the Orchestra, nudging the Barnes Museum move along, and keeping Eakins’s The Gross Clinic in town. At 68, Neubauer is still far from finished with Aramark or Philadelphia.

3. Dwight Evans, transformational
PA State Representative
2005: 46 :: 2000: Not on list

Sure, he lost the mayor’s race, but his skyrocketing rise on our list is due to the fact that as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Evans, 55, understands that money means power. “He’s incredibly good at the inside game,” says one political watcher. “And now, on the committee, he wields an incredible amount of power without the scrutiny that comes with being Speaker.” Plus, he’s been first on issues like gun control, predatory lending, abandoned homes and autos, school choice, alternative prison sentencing (boot camps!) — and a recent fresh-food initiative to get grocery stores into the state’s most blighted communities. Evans is more stolid workman than budding Machiavelli — his power stops at the State House door, while Vince Fumo’s ran far beyond the State Senate. And despite the flap over North by Northwest (an Evans-connected nonprofit group bought that failing Mount Airy club from owners who included Evans–connected Ahmeenah Young), we find it refreshing to hear words like “sincerity,” “commitment” and “character” when asking about a pol.

4. Ed Rendell, transformational
2005: 3 :: 2000: 18

When Rendell steps down from his Harrisburg throne in January 2011, his friends and foes will remember his legacy in different ways. But no one will call him boring. Rendell, 65, never quite expanded his success as Philadelphia’s mayor into statewide appeal, and maybe that’s why he’s still so powerful here. He’s our guy, after all: a Philly tradition. The personality that won Philly lost much of western Pennsylvania, and he never shook his reputation as a -hoagie-scarfing, party-loving, Eagles–commentating big-city guy. He also never forgot us, and we admit we’re hoping for some goodies to come our way before he bows out of the Capitol. Plus, he’ll still be looking out for Philly via his tripartite effort (along with Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger), Building America’s Future. Which may all go to explain why he’ll be welcomed home with open arms, as well as the call from some in the business sector for him to run for mayor in 2011.

5. Stephen Starr, lifestyle
2005: 4 :: 2000: 84

While Starr’s empire of 18 restaurants and a catering division has given him fame and fortune, no one has reaped the benefits of his labor more than Philadelphia has. He ranks so high on this list — and is our highest entry with Lifestyle power — because his restaurants improve neighborhoods by spurring economic development and increasing property values in a way no foundation, initiative or law can. A Starr restaurant today is a destination neighborhood tomorrow, drawing city dwellers, suburbanites and out-of-towners into our restaurant scene. Witness the revitalization of Old City after he opened Continental, or Morimoto’s and Jones’s transformation of a once-seedy strip of Chestnut Street into a Restaurant Row. And our hopes for an increasingly downtrodden South Street burgeoned when Starr opened Pizzeria Stella in September.