Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chestnut Hill Yokels ...

An Open Letter
to the Vice President of Operations

Ms. Hitchcock:

In the wake of your failed putsch against the editor of the Local Jan. 22nd, I thought I'd offer some advice. Try being nice to him. Invite him up to Ned Mitinger's place on that hilltop near Cresheim, say, for some clam chowder and sherry, warm encouragement, and a soft thump on the shoulders . . . It's been clear for a long time, after Ron Recko's regime won and lost power in 2006 (the divestiture of his Oversight Committee to keep some of your little devils from causing management mayhem was particularly telling), that the editor didn't want trouble. Never a word about the abolishment of the Oversight crew! He avoided tough editorials the way the sparrow shuns the hawk! No really hard investigative pieces, even while Sanjiv Jain was marauding along Germantown Avenue with his various schemes -- like his "Playhouse" nightclub, that nobody wanted. Or when Superbrat Snowden, still allegedly angry because of some perceived slight by the Local that no one else remembers, was making dire threats to rent out some of his many empty Avenue stores to tattoo parlors and fortune tellers . . . Not even a squeak when you formed your infamous Ad Hoc committee last August, to consider what ailed the Local financially, and didn't include him! Or anyone from the Ad staff! Churchly quiet from the editor, even though the fallout from your incompetent inquiry led directly to Jimmy Pack's firing, your attempt on the editor's own job, and the ritual resignations of people from your side of the line, and those who oppose you.

Why, the editor was as reticent & mannerly as a young Philadelphia Cricket Club candidate. Instead of naming names and arguing procedural inconsistencies, he opted for "peace", and filled your front pages with opaque accounts of CHCA committee and board meetings, and heart-warming pieces about commercial efforts to revive shopping, the joy of the Garden Fest and the Run for the Hill of It. When it came to informational heavy-lifting, he depended almost exclusively on Ed Feldman, the brilliant parodist, and Jim Foster, the Mt. Airy businessman/reformer, both as fired-up as Eugene Debs against the unfairness of anti-democratic greedheads and anti-free press squawking. (One exception, however, was staffer Joel Hoffman's first piece on the closing of Caruso's Market, which drew a rain of opprobrium from the CHCA right, but no editorial comment, either.) Old interpretations of the CHCA's Lentz Policy used to allow for stout polemics in Letters and Op-Ed pages to relieve readers' senses of moral outrage, but under this editor, they became a substitute for news and opinion. And they came with a deniability clause. They were protected by Lentz and thus off-limits in the blame game. A rather Sicilian move.

But you must have seen, Ms. Hitchcock, that he really wanted to come in from the cold. The present editor's great achievement was his calling you out on the rancid 2008 election corruption, the buying of votes and destruction of evidence that would have proved what a Karl Rovian group you, Tolis Vardakis, Mark Keintz, Pam Learned, Mike Hickey, Caroline Haussermann and former editor Katie Worrall really are. Having exposed you and backed a State Attorney's probe into the election, however, the editor let the matter drop. If you asked him about it, he said the state investigators were doing their thing, and that he "couldn't find anything out." No prodding from the Local was called for. Why make unnecessary trouble? No further comment. Back to sleep.

Yet the bullying of the paper and its staff went on relentlessly, and it clearly wore on the editor. He lost weight. He looked exhausted. Sometime during the summer, you began proposing limits to the number of times critical letter writers and Op-Ed commentators could appear in the Local . Your proposed policy -- never fully adopted I understand-- specified not more than once in five weeks for wiseguys like Feldman and Foster. (To break up the harassing sniper fire.) But Feldman, who'd moved to California around this time, dropped off dramatically. His pieces were either heavily edited or denied by the editor, on his own, without your insistence. Ed's latest killed piece addressed the Jimmy Pack firing in December, but never saw print at all. Foster, too, went on a hiatus beginning in August, in that he began writing on citywide and national issues, rather than Chestnut Hill stuff. Only after the Pack affair was Foster fully rampant again. Feldman is silent.

Addressing the above drove the editor into a frenzy at the end of 2008 and during the first week of 2009. He postponed an op-ed of mine soon after Pack got broomed, on the flimsiest "legal" excuses, before reluctantly running it Jan. 1st. When I wrote a follow-up letter, protesting his placement of an editor's note before my op-ed, so that readers and management would know he discounted it (editors' notes usually appear after controversial submissions, so as not to prejudice readers in advance), he not only killed the letter, but forbade me ever to submit again, in such violent terms I was surprised to see his rather Anglican editorial of January 8, going on about the sainted George Spaeth, who'd just impressed on him while resigning from the Board on the Pack firing, that "violence doesn't work."

It's a selective belief, employed on a sliding scale by the editor, I gather. He was pretty non-violent again when his old friend Jimmy asked him to accompany him to a Kangaroo Court in the CHCA offices on December 29th, presided over by you, Ms. Hitchcock, and witnessed by Tolis Vardakis. When the editor tried to enter the office President Vardakis reportedly blocked his way, and said "This is Association Business." But when Jimmy lightly pushed him aside, to let his real boss in on his firing, the editor walked away. Which must have been really heartwarming for Pack.

It's been reliably reported to me, too, that during the editor's interrogation before the Executive Committee Jan. 22nd, a number of people, including the Pizzanos, left the room in disgust at the lawless pettiness of the "charges" being leveled against him. (One complaint, by Ms. Learned, I believe, charges that the editor should have gone to Vardakis's defense and remonstrated with Pack for being insubordinate while he was being crucified.) Only the intervention of a board member who called the disgusted back allowed the vote to break 14 to 12 in the editor's favor.

I understand that you were so sure the vote was a done deal, that you'd -- perhaps with the assistance of Carol Cope? -- already arranged to recall Mary Jane Shelly, a long-retired associate editor at the Local, away from her pointy hat, cauldron and stirring stick on Long Beach Island, to run the paper on an interim basis?

It would be a lot simpler, Ms. Hitchcock, to just seduce the editor. Six editors in nine years doesn't look good for CHCA credibility. And this one appears ready to go. Just leave him a few NPR-style illusions about "the free press" to rationalize with, and you can wrap him up and mail him. Then you'll have the sort of peace and the very dull paper that you and your friends in the CHBA seem to be convinced will reverse all the market trends, crime, diversity and social evolution that are changing the community forever.

Yours truly,

John Lombardi
Cherry Hill, N.J.

I'm told you've publicly claimed that I'd cost the CHCA $16,000 in a settlement fee for a a photo that appeared in the paper in 2000, during my editorship; and last year said I'd overspent my editorial budget for 2000-1 by $95,000, thus helping to plunge the Local into its current fiscal situation. I remember a dispute on the first one, but no payout; and have never heard of the second charge at all. So would you kindly forward any corroboratiing material you might have to my attorney? He is:

Richard T. DeCou, Esq.
Capehart & Scatchard
8000 Midatlantic Drive
Suite 300
Mt. Laurel, N.J. 08054

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Sun Feb 01, 12:36:00 AM EST  

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