Over the last couple of weeks, some kind folks have asked what the biggest change has been in my 25 years at the Northeast Times, and it gets me thinking.Hmmm. I suppose it’s that I don’t goof around and raise as much hell as I used to here. And on Saturday nights I’m usually snoozin’ by 10.That’s when I realize they’re asking about technology and stuff. Oops … stupid me!May 9 closes a quarter-century run for me as editor of the Northeast Times, a personally enriching and glorious run that I don’t measure by anything I’ve done, but rather by the remarkable people — some still in this Trevose building, many spread elsewhere, a few who have left us forever — who have given me a cardboard box full of wonderful memories to chuck in the back seat.Initially, I wasn’t moved to do a “farewell column.” Too many good things have spurred the Times’ growth over the years that I won’t ever be able to take credit for. But then I figured maybe I should do a farewell column, simply because I fret about the future of newspapers these days, and perhaps in 2550 when Franklin Mills is being knocked down to make way for a regional government launching station that will send colonies of Northeast Philly residents to Jupiter, this edition will be unearthed, and someone will marvel that there really was a paper called the Times that chronicled life in the Northeast for years and years and years.To be honest, so much of those 25 years … I can only recall it with a haziness akin to driving up 95 to work on a fog-enshrouded morning. But I doubt I’ll ever forget March 1, 1987, the day Lou Chimenti, the executive editor of the Smylie family’s Northeast Times, gave me the chance to leave a South Jersey newspaper — where the editors were ensconced and becoming the fossils that I myself have become — and boss people around in my own newsroom.What a wonderful 35th birthday gift!The Times was on Frankford Avenue in Holmesburg then, just above Rhawn Street, in a narrow and crumbling white stucco building that I figured had to have been built around the time of the Louisiana Purchase. I just remember arriving for the job interview and peering out my car window, unsure I was at the right place, thinking, “I hope that’s not it, it looks so … so … condemned.”It was the right place.A week later — my very first day — immediately established the tone for why I’ve wanted to be here all these years. I felt good that morning. Figured I’d wowed my new, young staff with my personality and knowledge shaped by 12 years in the business, and I was ready to tackle lunch.Rich Bradley was the young managing editor, a talented but pain-in-the-butt little rascal who wore a stud earring long before guys even had the brass to do that. I think he also invented “Let’s Haze the Editor.”“Where can I eat that’s fast?” I asked Bradley.“Well, there’s a Roy Rogers restaurant. Just go onto Frankford Avenue, turn right, and walk two or three blocks … you’ll see it.”Seven blocks later, this Roy Rogers still was nowhere in sight. So I kept walking, block after block, thinking surely it had to be the next one, feeling very much like Peter O’Toole in the movie Lawrence of Arabia as he meandered across the desert in search of water, but at least Peter had a camel. And finally there it was, Roy Rogers, roughly a mile from the office.I know that some people may call that trek stupidity. I prefer to call it optimism. Either way, as I wiped my glistening forehead with a napkin and bit into my Roy’s Double-R Ranch Burger, I took out my small writing pad and pen.“Note to self: Fire that kid.”Yes, it was an endearing place. But it also established a 25-year journey that I will remember most for remarkable colleagues in all our departments — in my newsroom, in advertising and business, in production, in circulation — who shared the goal of growing a wonderful Northeast Philly newspaper that had been an heirloom of the Smylie family for 65 years, until they sold it with reluctance in 1999. I wish I could take time to name them all. But I’d be like the guy who wins the Oscar for Best Totally Obscure Foreign Film and has 266 people to thank — and then the orchestra music suddenly builds to a crescendo, his clue to get his butt off the stage.I will say there’s a little Oscar I’m taking with me. It’s a miniature version of the Times front page embedded in a glass cube, a Pennsylvania Newspaper Association honor for having been selected as best statewide weekly in our circulation category a few years back. We were fortunate to have won that award twice; I gave the first cube to former owner Bob Smylie, but I need to keep this one, not as any trophy, but simply as a memory. I’m grateful to all at this paper who have enriched my life. I’m grateful for so many young journalists over the years, so into this business and so eager to learn, because they kept me young too. I’m grateful for the loyal readers and advertisers who’ve believed in the Times. Grateful too for Northeast Philly, such an amazing coverage area with so many stories to tell. I’m especially grateful that I could work in jeans.Of course, there is always unfinished business. And there are worries, whether it’s the fragile future of newspapers, or a new generation of journalists wondering when opportunity will knock, or even if the Northeast Times can keep fighting in this unpredictable era for newspapers.I think I’ve done all I can do.So I’m pleased to offer best wishes to Lillian Swanson, a veteran Philly newswoman who came on board as editor this week to help our publisher, Perry Corsetti, and owner Darwin Oordt keep the pages turning here at the Times.I do need to express my affection for some longtimers who have devoted huge parts of their lives to this paper, and their names are familiar to many: managing editor Fred Gusoff, reporters Tom Waring and Bill Kenny, and our community editor, Joyce Ruggero.I just cleaned out a lot of years of stuff but didn’t keep much, only because sentimentality has a way of making the suitcase too heavy. Besides, most of it is stored in my head and in my heart.And as time passes, my friends, that will bring me the best feeling of all.Thanks for making it happen.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.That old saying applies to so many things, including the long commercial strip along Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philly’s Castor Gardens and Oxford Circle sections — where the types of businesses, like the surrounding neighborhoods, have undergone somewhat of a transformation of late.Change can be a good thing, even in the wonderful world of good old-fashioned family-run businesses, which are prevalent on Bustleton Avenue, which has seen an influx of Asian, Middle Eastern and Hispanic merchants.Indeed, ZIP code 19149 was described as a “global nation” by an Asian-American official of the city’s Commerce Department, which last week stepped up efforts to create a Bustleton Avenue Business Association.The new group would address issues that long ago have been tackled by organizations in other Philadelphia neighborhoods, including security, sidewalk cleanliness and parking. To be sure, the Northeast deserves some of the blame for the City of Brotherly Love’s other, less charitable nickname, Filthydelphia, so whatever the new Bustleton Avenue group can do to chip away at that embarrassing moniker would be welcome. Upgrades to the sidewalks and installation of benches would be a good start.The new inhabitants on the residential and business sectors, along with the old-timers who have not yet fled to greener, “safer” pastures in suburbia, represent an opportunity to rejuvenate an area that once put the “bustle” in Bustleton. All it takes is for the merchants — ALL of the merchants — to join together and make it happen.Send letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Firefighter Daniel Sweeney: 9-18-86 to 4-9-12The entire Sweeney family wishes to express our heartfelt thanks to all who reached out to us since the death of Dan and his supervisor, Lt. Robert Neary. The tremendous outpouring of support has helped us in these troubling times. David and Marian Sweeney sincerely appreciate your prayers and generous acts.Contributions in Dan’s name may be made to The Daniel Sweeney Memorial Scholarship Fund, accepted at any Police and Fire Credit Union or simply mailed to PFFCU (c/o the fund), 901 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19107 or Local 22 Philadelphia Firefighters union, 415 N. Fifth St., Philadelphia, PA 19123.The fund is set up for deserving children who wish to attend Bishop McDevitt High School (Dan’s alma mater) and any other school.
“Let the justice system handle Mister Toledo.”That was the very wise advice from Capt. Frank Bachmayer, commander of the 15th Police District, following the arrest of an Aldine Street man who allegedly slashed tires on vehicles belonging to his neighbors in Mayfair and Holmesburg.While residents may be sleeping a tad bit more soundly these days now that David Toledo has been apprehended and awaits his day in court, folks ought not get too lackadaisical.They should remain vigilant, aware that quality-of-life crime and the type of low-level urban terrorism Mr. Toledo allegedly put them through can happen anytime. They should continue to join and support their local Town Watch groups — heck, the more the merrier; remember, in unity there is strength — and frequently peer out their windows for signs of trouble.But residents must never allow their justifiable anger to move beyond the thought process, even if the wheels of justice move at a snail’s pace. A temptation to harass the suspect, his family or his property may be a natural instinct for folks who have lost time, wages and lots of dollars to get their cars repaired following the vandalism, but, as Capt. Bachmayer suggested last week, such action is off-limits. Crime victims must refrain from becoming criminals themselves in the name of retaliation.
More than 400,000 people call Northeast Philadelphia home, but it’s a safe bet that for many of them, their only exposure to the area along the Delaware River is when they glance at it on the way to or from the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.That limited exposure should change in a few weeks when Lardner’s Point Park, a 4.5-acre jewel of the outdoors between Robbins Avenue and Levick Street, is formally dedicated for all to enjoy.The trash and debris that once marred the area will be replaced by a medley of amenities, including a walking trail that will be part of a 3,000-mile path along the East Coast, a fishing pier, benches and picnic tables, solar-powered lights, parking, and perhaps most important, trees.Much of the $1.5 million cost of the project came from state funds — in other words, you the taxpayers — so it would behoove able-bodied Northeast denizens to attend the May 14 dedication to check out the new and improved waterfront.With other improvement projects on the horizon, the area soon will offer Northeast residents great reasons to spend some of their leisure time in their community instead of the easy chair.• • •Speaking of treasures, America became a bit poorer last week with the passing of the world’s oldest teenager, music legend Dick Clark.Although watching the New Year’s Eve festivities on TV arguably lost much of its luster when bandleader Guy Lombardo died in 1977, Mr. Clark became a beloved tradition on ABC with his hosting duties on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. This year, New Year’s Eve just won’t be the same. ••Send letters to: email@example.com
What’s the matter with kids today?Who knew the police outside the middle school by me are there to protect the public from the kids and not the other way around? The other day, I was in my back yard with my almost 2-year-old, when I heard yelling and lots of cursing. I looked up the driveway and there was a gaggle of middle-school kids; it seemed like two girls were getting in a fight.They kept getting closer, so I yelled for them to take it back to the street and watch the language, there was a child nearby. They actually did! Then I heard horns honking; these kids were just walking right in the middle of the road. Fortunately, as quickly as I dialed 911, a police truck came through honking. I remembered then, they usually hang out around the school when the kids are being let out.Oh, how I wish the parents of some of these kids could see what they are up to when they leave to come home! I hate to be out at that time, because of this. A school-age kid that lives nearby said just the other week some kids went running/fighting through his yard.Boy, I hope we are out of Philly by the time my kid is school age, or at least get her in a charter school; no way she’s going to the school that, sadly, is so conveniently close to us!Eileen TetiCastor Gardens
If you don’t know the significance of next Tuesday, you’re probably the kind of person who whines about government but rarely or never bothers to vote. If so, shame on you. Shame, shame, shame on you.There’s a host of important decisions to be made in the primary election. It’s time to select candidates for president, the U.S. House and Senate, the state legislature, attorney general, auditor general and treasurer, and whether you like it or not, some of those men and women are going to retain or win their positions of public trust. Therefore, it’s up to you to know who they are and what they stand for and then give them an earful.Sadly, some of the state representatives and senators up for re-election this year have no opposition whatsoever — no opponents in Tuesday’s primary nor the Nov. 6 general election. In a free and democratic society, that is pathetic.Remember, an active, informed, motivated electorate is many a politician’s worst enemy. Citizens who exercise their right to vote every election day are helping to hold elected officials accountable for their actions — or, too often, their inactions — and in so doing, they demonstrate a sense of self-respect and a desire to do their part to control their own destiny. Yes, gentle readers, the politicians listen to the people, but only if the people speak up. If you sit on your hands on Tuesday thinking that your vote doesn’t count and that the politicians will do what they want anyway, you deserve the consequences. People who don’t vote are essentially inviting politicians to give them the shaft.Even if you think elections force you to pick the lesser of two evils, or the least of all evils, go to the polls anyway. Because in a democracy, silence is never golden.Send letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org
No crossing at the Boulevard crossoverSurprise! The crossover on the Roosevelt Boulevard going southbound in the inner lanes to get to Unruh Avenue has been cemented closed!Now, if you want to cross over from inner lanes to the outer lanes, you have to get over at the Cottman Avenue crossover or go past your streets to Levick Street. Whose idea was that? You would think after over 30 years or more, they would tell you of a change like this. I lost my crossover!Fran KaminskyCastor Gardens
Fire department captain appreciates our supportThank you very much for your editorial last week regarding the brownouts in the Philadelphia Fire Department (Respect our firefighters).As a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department for 35 years, it is extremely rare to see anything in writing from the media here in Philly which depicts us firefighters in a positive light.As far as I’m concerned, it seems very obvious that the two major papers (The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News) are pretty much controlled by City Hall, which I think is pathetic.These brownouts are no different than Russian roulette. The city is taking a chance that a fire does not occur in a company’s particular local area on any given day.Although nobody can say with absolute certainty that some of the fire deaths that have occurred when brownouts were in force would not have resulted with the same outcome, there have been a few where many of us firefighters feel there could have been a chance to save the lives of some of these people.I believe that the city of Philadelphia treats its firefighters like second-class citizens. I also believe that the public, in general, does not really care about us either. The one time I do know that they care about us is when they need us, whether it’s for a medical emergency, fire in their home, natural gas leak, or whatever the case may be.Once again, thank you for your support. It is appreciated.Robert BowmanCaptain, Engine 58Bustleton Avenue and Hendrix Street
Too often, city officials and judges believe the best way to handle a problem is to first pretend it doesn’t exist, then pretend to do something about it, then, only if absolutely necessary, do something about it. Now, two firemen from Northeast Philadelphia are dead, and it appears their blood is on the hands of local government.The horrific five-alarm blaze at a vacant warehouse in Kensington that killed Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney Monday morning likely would not have happened had the city and court system been proactive, not reactive. The Langhorne-based company that owned the empty warehouse, on the 1800 block of E. York St., owes back taxes and unpaid water bills. That’s bad enough, but the building reportedly had been visited by the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections a half-dozen times since November and had been broken into, even after the city sealed it up.Something’s terribly wrong with this picture. Too many Philadelphia neighborhoods have abandoned warehouses that are tragedies just waiting to happen.If city officials and the courts, from Mayor Michael Nutter and president judges on down the ladder, had any courage, they would have made sure that buildings like the one that collapsed on Lt. Neary and Firefighter Sweeney were torn down years ago.Like so many other segments of government, vigorous enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy on tax deadbeats and absentee landlords — of hazardous residential AND commercial properties — is doable but rarely done. Had the city and courts not dilly-dallied, two Northeast families and the entire family known as the Philadelphia Fire Department would not be in tears today. ••Send letters to: email@example.com