Half a Town Meeting
About 75 concerned Chestnut Hillers showed up for the SOC-slate's final town meeting of the 2006 election campaign on April 24th. Beautiful spring evening. Wine and cheese being served up by Dr. and Mrs. Joe Pizzano in the foyer of the regular Library space. Witty remarks by Ed Feldman, Ron Recko and John O'Connell, the 9th Ward Democrat leader and prominent realtor: "In Chestnut Hill, you gotta dress British and talk Yiddish" Feldman quipped, from the depths of his District-check sportcoat. "We invited the other side, but despite their concern for community participation and democratic values, not one of 'em could make it," Recko laughed, indicating the bare wooden speakers' table on the right-hand side of the stage area, where he said he'd especially hoped to see Maxine Dornemann and Stewart Graham, the soon-to-be-ex-Queen and Princeling-for-Life respectively of the Action Alliance. "The new Commerce Bank design plan looks like a McDonald's!" barked O'Connell, putting as much Irish on it as old Mike Quill would have . . .
The SOC folks had more-or-less healed their differences of last week, and wanted to focus on real issues -- not the spin AA prefers to deflect its many failures: the near-collapse of the Community Fund drive this year (it brought in a mere $26,000 under the Maxinistas, where in the past $65,000 to $100,000 were not unheard of figures); the continued chiseling by Max's pals (Sanjiv Jain was pledged a $3,200 fee by recalcitrant CHCA leaders for finding a tenant for 8431 Germantown Avenue, after he'd resigned his "community property manager" role for allegedly accepting small fees for services he was supposed to provide free as a volunteer; the failures of the Black and White Gala and House Tour fiasco; the dreadful personnel bloodletting of the fall, when Jim Sturdivant, Mike Mishak, Karl Strandberg, Ellen Weiser, Shawn Hart etc., etc. left the Local in a kind of revolving door of managerial dyspepsia that attracted critical stories in the downtown media -- something the relative youngsters of the post-Maxinista AA are supposed to be concerned about avoiding.(They used to blame the Local staff for "bad publicity," until they gelded the editorial department under Carole Boynton) . . . To say nothing of the nutty designs on Hiram Lodge, and the goofy notion of hiring Alison Grove (Leigh Filippini's bad), the PR hottie responsible for the boffo Dali exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art a year ago, for $90,000.
Extravagance. Arrogance. It was as if Maxine, with little real success of her own, chased winning images like so many ambulances . . . look at the overreaching of Lea Sitton Stanley's financial deal. Fifty-five thousand bucks and $1200 a month in health insurance benefits for the Local editor and her family once her old Inquirer package runs out sometime in midsummer. While the staff gets .25 cent raises. Why would Maxine and her "business-minded" backers and successors go into such an arrangement when the CHCA is hurting financially so badly the Local's Community and Business Managers have both had their days and salaries slashed dramatically? With rumors of further reductions by Ellen Manning, the new Business "Development" (!) Manager, of front office stalwarts Ellen Maher, Mary Flannery and Cheryl Massaro? Especially when election time regime change was at hand?
Ed Feldman's theory is that Stanley's hiring was a ploy from the jump; that the old Maxinista group -- Dornemann, Doug Doman, W (!) Stewart Graham, Carolyn "Big Dog" Hausermann, Sanjiv "Nightclub" Jain -- suffering from poor PR fallout following their successful silent coup against Sturdivant last October -- went into their editorial search with Macchiavellian cunning. They'd bring in a thorough pro like Stanley, which the Lawrence Walsh/ Martha Haley/ Ron Recko left could find no fault with, at whatever figure she wanted, because they had no intention of paying her the amount agreed upon . . . As a serious journalist, she'd get them through the "anti-press" election crunch criticism they were enduring, and then they could "Grover Norquist" her, let her twist in the wind until she got disgusted enough to walk off on her own, thus breaking the contract she and her lawyer had so painfully hammered out. Then they can bring in another ringer from Lansdowne who would do what she's told, a pal of well-known free press booster Doman.
When I objected that the CHCA might simply be as financially inept as their record indicates, others present argued that Maxine and her backers' past patterns of mendacity proved them capable of such outlandish hypocrisy: Maxinistas (if not Actionistas) still deny that Sturdivant was the victim of a coup; that the presence of Joe Pie, Nancy Berger, Vijay Kothare and now Jane Piotrowski in the Local office has anything to do with spying on staff or controlling editorial decision-making; that CHCA "enemies" like Martha Haley and Lawrence Walsh were essentially forced off the Board; that cronyism among Dornemann friends such as Graham, Doman, Sanjiv Jain and SuperBrat Snowden affects CHCA decision-making; and that outright fabrications like the ethnic slur that Ed Feldman threatened "to spit in the new editor's face" (Feldman and Stanley denied that one) were standard Maxinista neg spin tactics . . .
"One of Max's tricks is to blame others for mistakes she made as president," said one attendee, long close to the action. "Nancy Berger took the fall for the unpopularity of the Sturdivant massacre; Marie Lachat was the victim of the CHCA's endless committee red tape, and wasn't part of the hottie younger Actionista crew (Tia Burke, Filippini, Boom-Boom Waters) , so when Community Managing projects under her tenure weren't as successful as they might have been, she was blamed and kicked out." There seems to be an unhealthy tendency too, to create new firestorms to distract from old ones -- the Watertower business overshadowing Commerce Bank and 8431, one mess superceding another until the mind blurs.
The younger Action Alliance people began to have enough of Maxine sometime last fall. Dina Hitchcock, none other than campaign chair for the AA, said several months ago that "We're not taking the Kool Aid anymore," and though Maxine pushed neighbor Carol Cope to replace her on the ticket after she and Jain had been persuaded not to run this year, Jeremy Heep, a 25 year-old lawyer had backers like Hitchcock, Filippini, Burke and Waters (he's a hot guy for a WASP) behind his run for CHCA president.
The old ways persist, though. Maxine still gets to sit on the Board for another year as Past President, which automatically puts her on the Executive Committee and makes her chair of the Nominating Committee, where she can do a lot of damage. She's already tried to pack the Publisher's Committee, censor of the Local, with folks like Joe Pie and Carol Cope, as one of her last acts in the short interval before the Board will have to approve. Savvy Cope apparently declined the appointment, knowing when to act responsibly.
Despite these tiny signs of hopefulness, no AAs felt showing up Monday for the Town Meeting was necessary. Dr. George Spaeth, a model of real Chestnut Hill dignity, presided as moderator over a polite, informed group which included his wife, the saintly Anne, keeper of the Chestnut Hill records; Tom Hemphill, a forthright-seeming man; Mark Keintz, the CHCA treasurer, who bravely endured some grilling on fiscal improprieties; and Shoshana Bricklin, who made a pitch to be included on the SOC slate, though she's running as an independent. There was an absence of the kind of hostile bristling that pervaded the last fully-attended Town Meeting on November 7th, called to confront the then-Maxinista majority on the Sturdivant affair.
A rumor was circulating at the Library that the AA had stayed away because Maxine, Graham, Hausermann and Doman had been giving out free CHCA memberships with filled-in ballots in massive lots, and were thus assured of winning the election. So, little reason to debate. Better to stay home with the kids and check out CSI Miami, where you can always tell the good guys from the bad ones really easily. At least AA wasn't formally instructed to boycott this time, as they were in March, in an e-mail from Mr. Jain.
"But honestly, Ron," Stewart Graham told Recko ingenuously, via phonemail the next day, "I don't know why you'd want [us] there anyway."