by John Lombardi
Always liked Greg Welsh. A mensch
. A tough Jew from the nabe with brains, a '60s era terror who straightened out and became a successful businessman, like Larry Magid from Electric Factory Concerts . . . I remember in 2000, when there were a series of stick-ups around the Chestnut Hill Hotel (and Grill, which he still manages), we cut a deal on coverage in the Local
(which I managed at the time): "Hold off a couple of weeks, while I get some rent-a-cops in place," Greg barked over a draft beer at the Hotel bar. "Then we'll have some good news to report, instead of grim stuff that makes the neighborhood sound like it's in trouble . . ."
We did that -- the only time I've ever held a story -- and then ran it on page one. Greg was leaning on the railing of the outside porch, his arms folded, squinting at Jimmy Pack's camera like Moshe Dayan in front of a tank in Nablus. The reaction from the CHCA "safety" faction headed by Caroline Haussermann, and CHBA hardliners like saloonista Anne McNally, was horrendous : Hausserman came and screamed at me on the steep steps of the Local
office at 8434 Germantown; McNally blitzed Len Lear and I when we went up the Hill to her joint to apologize for some misprints in another matter entirely . . .
I've always felt there was a classist basis to much of the bickering and undercover slander that marks Chestnut Hill's intramural fighting (I came to call it the "Phone Mafia"). And I'll never forget my ex-father-in-law, Herb Weintraub, who owned a factory and lived on Roumfort Rd., in West Mt. Airy, and liked to stroll the SEPTA tracks toward Chestnut Hill East to digest dinner; he'd always stop at the Chestnut Hill/Mt. Airy line, however: "You don't wanna go over there, Johnny," he'd warn. "Those people are crazy!
" And that was 33 years ago.
Didn't like Jews, wops, blacks, Indians, Polacks -- though they were tolerated in benign forms like Frankie Smacks, the barber, or Lou Aiello, the fixer-upper guy and perennial CHCA gofer, or Dr. Arlene Bennett, the psychiatrist and former community activist . . . they'd even let you "edit" the Local , if you obeyed orders . . .
There's certainly been some progress: Sanjiv Jain and his minion Vijay Kothare, both active in the "developer" sphere, have been allowed to play the Chestnut Hill business game, which came on in force starting with the late Maurice McCarthy, an insurance agent and Dem politico, and his partner Tolis Vardakis, the about-to-retire president of the CHCA, nine years ago. That's when the Civil Code was introduced, a rule which further restricted free expression in the paper than anything thought of previously, during the tight-butt Lloyd Wells era . I remember being dumbfounded by the readiness with which prominent Hillers like Janine Dwyer, Mary Sue Welsh, Mary Anna Ross etc. -- her name is too long to print -- and Mary Cunningham, accepted the ban on names in "controversial" letters and stories in the Local
. All for the sake of a more "mannerly," less "hostile" "dialogue."
How names contribute to hostility in a free press still beats me, but the selectively dumbed-down pattern for today was set then -- though insiders like Jain and Kothare could get away with calling opponents like Lawrence Walsh, Martha Haley and Ron Recko, plus "rebellious" staffers like Jim Sturdivant and Jimmy Pack "parasites" and "terrorists," and act to drive them out.
Historically, the CHBA has always been more conservative than the CHCA, but then both groups had the advantage of boasting men of the quality of F. Markoe Revinus , and Keen Butcher in the old days.
In the present, you've got Richard Snowden, backing the "Positively Chestnut Hill" election slate. People like Ed Feldman see him as Mephistopheles, the root of all evil on the Hill, though when he was gone south to play with his coal mines recently, for long periods, things didn't markedly improve. I say Snowboy is a spoiled brat, still angry with the Local
for a mildly critical story by the present editor some years ago, which he's never forgiven -- for reasons best left to Dr. Bennett to explain. Why Snowden isn't going after Charlie McCoy and the Inquirer
investigators who blew him out of the water publically shortly after the softball Local
story appeared, is a measure of his seriousness. He probably figures he might be able to wangle some payback in Chestnut Hill's perpetual soap opera, rather than in real life.
Greg Welsh, who is the president of the CHBA, told me recently he
came up with the idea of the PCH slate, as an alternative to the candidates already in place behind the Dina Hitchcock crew -- my words, not his
-- because he and a group of businessmen were tired of the constant fights, and "lack of forward motion", lack of transparency, etc., under Dina's direction. (Again, my words.)
"Of those 63 votes from last year's election? -- oi vey! is all I can say. Not illegal, but . . ."
Welsh claimed not to know the identity of the associate publisher who is coming to the Local
from the Delaware Valley Times
shortly, but said he felt the paper would not be "taken over" by CHBA thinking, and that the editor's job was not in jeopardy: "Hey, where are we gonna go? He knows the job, he knows the community . . . He could be a little more of a mensch
, but what you gonna do? . . ."
Labels: CHBA, CHCA Board, Chestnut Hill, Chestnut Hill Local