Pulse: Chatter: An Eccentric Bar Owner Takes on Mike Chitwood
Upper Darby police superintendent and onetime noted Philly cop Mike Chitwood has ruffled his share of feathers, but his latest scuffle may prove his undoing. Unlike many police chiefs who let their publicists do the talking, Chitwood tends to say exactly what’s on his mind — particularly if there are TV cameras on hand. And that’s exactly what he did when he used the phrase “criminal enterprise” on-air to describe Cheers, a trouble-magnet of a bar at 69th and Market streets — half a block from the Tower Theatre — owned by lifelong area resident Robert Herdelin.
Herdelin — “Herky” to locals — isn’t your average nuisance-bar proprietor. The 70-year-old, fur-coat-sporting bodybuilder has amassed an impressive real estate portfolio, including two Society Hill medical buildings and several Shore homes of the $18,000-a-week-rental variety. He was an All-American basketball player for La Salle. Former Philadelphia police commissioner Joseph O’Neill gave him a citizen’s commendation in 1972 for apprehending a pair of thieves, and Chitwood himself did the same in 2008 after Herdelin — then 68 — chased and tackled the U.S. Marshal’s Fourth Most Wanted. Wearing flip-flops. Today, the multimillionaire chooses to live in a decrepit one-bedroom apartment above Cheers. “I gotta keep my eyes on the bar,” he says.
Indeed he does.
Since 2007, Chitwood’s police have been called to Cheers more than 350 times, including in March for a murder — a call that led to Chitwood’s “criminal enterprise” comment. But while Herdelin concedes that Cheers has its problems (“I don’t like this any more than anyone else,” he laments), he argues that he is no criminal, as he believes Chitwood’s comment suggests. And so he’s filed a multimillion-dollar libel suit in Delaware County.
“That egomaniac Chitwood is completely out of control,” he squawks. “If there was a bus driving down the street, he’d jump in front of it balls-ass naked just to get on the news.”
The superintendent chuckles at this characterization, yet maintains that Cheers is “a dangerous place.” “With all due respect to Mr. Herdelin,” he says, “we’ll let a court decide whether my public openness is a detriment.” After 47 years as a cop, he says, “I can surely stand on my record.”