Friday, February 27, 2009

The Daily Numbers - Feb. 27

The Daily Numbers: 12, as in midnight Saturday night, when the contract between the United Steelworkers Local 10-901 and the Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook expires.
3 percent raise in each of 3 years of the deal the two sides have agreed on. That’s not the issue. Sunoco wants to reduce staffing at its plants. The union is vowing to fight it.
200 union members who held a rally in downtown Philly yesterday afternoon, winding up outside Sunoco headquarters.
128,000 dollars in unauthorized bonuses handed out by Radnor Township Manager David Bashore, according to commissioners. They suspended him while they investigate the matter.
2,000 dollar reward being offered for information on the whereabouts of Joseph Roman, aka Jason Mendez. He’s wanted for murder in New York and is believed to be in the Chester area.
41, age of Ridley Township man, a registered sex offender, charged as a “Peeping Tom.” David Gromek is charged in an incident in which it is alleged he was looking into the bedroom window of a home as a young woman was getting dressed.
40, age of Lower Chichester woman who has been charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old male over the course of a year.
201 million dollars in upgrades that have been given the green light by SEPTA, all part of the federal stimulus package.
15, as in March 15, the Ides of March, when the contract expires between SEPTA and the union that operates its vehicles in the city. The suburban contract expires April 1.
30 day extension given by SEPTA to Community Transit of Eddystone for disabled transport services in Delaware County.
1 bullet wound to the leg suffered by a Philadelphia detective who was trying to arrest a drug suspect yesterday.
25 dollar boost in unemployment compensation that goes into effect this week in Pennsylvania.
2 employees of Boeing in Seattle among the victims killed in a plane crash in the Netherlands.
12 job offers rescinded by the Philly D.A.’s office as they deal with budget cuts.
49,986 dollars, what it will cost to attend the University of Pennsylvania next year. That includes a 3.75 percent tuition hike.
7 straight losses for Saint Joseph’s, which fell to No. 19 Xavier last night.
22 points for Rodney Green to lead La Salle to a huge upset win over Temple last night.
2 scoreless innings for top Phillies pitching prospect Carlos Carrasco yesterday in Grapefuit League action.
2 straight losses to kick off the exhibition season for the Phils, who lost to the Blue Jays, 6-2.
3 very familiar names from the Eagles who are entering the free agent market. Those would be Brian Dawkins, Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan.
Call me a Phanatic: A look at the ups and downs of being a Philadelphia sports fan.Raise your hand if you can see Brian Dawkins wearing a uniform other than the Eagles. Thought so. Bet on him being back with the Birds.
I Don’t Get It: We just buried another Philly police officer, when we got word yesterday that still another cop had been shot in the line of duty. Thankfully, this one was not fatal.
Today’s Upper: This weekend marks the arrival of still one more sure harbinger of spring, the Philadelphia Flower Show.
Quote Box: “We’re miles apart still. Nobody wants a strike, but we’re prepared to give them one at noon on Sunday.”
-- Tim Kolodi, president of United Steelworkers Local 10-901, on talks with Sunoco.

Sharing the information superhighway

It is one of my favorite things about the Internet and our Web site,

Call it feedback. Interaction. Sound Off. Whatever. That’s the whole idea behind what we’re doing online. It gives readers the opportunity to talk with us, literally holding something of a cyber-conversation about the stories we present each day.

We realize that a lot of the stories we publish – both in print and online - spark a pretty fair amount of conversation among readers. Often people take the time to call or e-mail me with their opinions.

But online is a different animal. We deliver stories. Then the floodgates open, as the public reads what we wrote, then offers their own ideas.

I love reading the comments attached to the stories we publish online. For one thing it provides immediate feedback. It also tells me what stories are drawing the most interest.

But it also does something else. It provides me with a window into the hearts and minds of our readers.

Which brings me back to the story of Mark Duncan. He’s the assistant principal at Academy Park High School who has been charged with making a threat against a student.

Our Web site has been buzzing since we first posted the initial word of his arrest. It’s pretty clear that the incident has been the talk of the school district.

It’s also pretty clear that there is no shortage of opinion as to exactly what happened between Duncan and that student, as well as his role at the school, just how tough that job must be, where the line should be drawn in terms of what a person in his position can say, and also a pretty lively debate about the conduct of young people today, both at Academy Park as well as elsewhere.

We made the paper’s position clear today on our editorial page. We believe there are two sides to every story and we’d like to hear Duncan’s version of what happened.

We’ll continue to follow this story as it makes its way through the courts. And we continue to invite readers to offer their opinions along the way.

That’s why they call it the information superhighway. You now have an opportunity to get behind the wheel and drive the conversation.

We’re more than happy to share the road.

Heat is on at Sunoco

A glance at the calendar says we’re still weeks away from the official start of spring, let alone summer.

Not at the Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook. The heat arrives there this weekend. And at another Sunoco facility in South Philly.

The company and one of its big unions, United Steelworkers Local 10-901, are in a standoff at the negotiating table. The contract expires midnight Saturday night.

This one’s not about money; it’s about jobs, and how secure those union positions are.

The company and union seem to be on the same page when it comes to money, agreeing on a 3 percent raise across the board in each of the three years of the deal. There’s also a $2,500 lump sum bonus when a new deal is ratified.

But the company has made it clear that it intends to reduce jobs at its refineries in South Philadelphia and Marcus Hook.

That’s where the two sides sit, staring down the barrel of a possible work stoppage that could start as soon as noon Sunday.

Tim Kolodi is the president of United Steelworkers Local 10-901, which represents 500 workers at the Marcus Hook plant.

He doesn’t exactly sound optimistic.

“We’re miles apart still,” Kolodi said. “Nobody wants a strike, but we’re prepared to give them one at noon on Sunday.”

That’s what you call turning up the heat. Stay tuned.

A tiger by the tail

Now you know why I don’t make my living in Vegas.

In this space Wednesday, I predicted Tiger Woods, back on the PGA Tour after missing the entire second half of last year, would win as he made his debut at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

That looked good on Wednesday, when he looked like he hadn’t missed a beat in winning his first match. Yesterday was another story. Woods fell to Tim Clarke, four and two. For you non-golfers, that means the match ended on the 16th hole, with Woods being down four holes with just two more to play. Game, set and match.

The biggest loser in in all this? Not Woods, he’ll be fine. It’s a pretty big hit for fans, like me, who were looking forward to seeing the rare kind of drama that seems to surround the best golfer on the planet.

But the real loser in all this is the TV broadcast, which was banking on Woods being available all weekend.

In the meantime, all those bland characters that seem to make up the tour will soldier on.

And it says here viewers will stay away in droves.

It also says here Tiger is still the favorite to win the Masters.

Familiar face missing for Eagles

The man many fans feel is the face of the Philadelphia Eagles - as well as their heart and soul - is a free agent this morning.

Free safety Brian Dawkins, the emotional leader of the team for a decade, entered the free agent market at the stroke of midnight. That doesn't mean he won't resign with the Eagles. The team has apparently made him a contract offer, but there is no deal in place just yet.

It’s kind of hard to imagine the Eagles without Dawkins. And it’s equally hard to envision Dawkins in something other than that familiar green, black and silver.

That means, technically, Dawkins is not on the team's roster as of right now. He has company on that list with two other familiar names, both veteran members of the team.

Longtime starting left tackle Tra Thomas, yes, the guy who protects quarterback Donovan McNabb's blind side, also is now officially a free agent. So is his bookend on the offensive line, right tackle Jon Runyan. Interestingly enough, Runyan was one of the first big free agent signings of the Andy Reid era.

Between them, that's more than 30 year of service to the Eagles hanging in the balance.

It's possible the Eagles might simply be waiting to see what kind of interest is shown in this trio of aging stars.

But it's a bit of a roll of the dice. Thomas is considered one of the top left tackles on the market. Dawkins also is expected to draw interest. He struggled early in the year, then rallied and again was one of the keys to the Birds' stellar defense that propelled them into the playoffs. Runyan may not get as much interest. He is rehabbing from microfracture surgery on his knee.

Dawkins, a second round draft pick out of Clemson, has been with the Eagles for 13 years. Thomas was the 11th pick taken in the 1998 draft.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Daily Numbers - Feb. 26

The Daily Numbers: 12, age of youth gunned down as he sat in a car with his mother on a Philadelphia street. Police say he was targeted and that the shooter is not much older.
2,209 dollars police say was embezzled by a former bookkeeper from a Home Depot store in Concord.
19, age of suspect charged with stealing a PlayStation from an Upper Darby youth who had begged him not to take it because it was one of the last things his mother gave him before she died of cancer.
2 longtime members of the GOP in Newtown Township, a sitting supervisor and a former supervisor, who are switching party affiliation and going over to the Democrats.
173 million dollars up for grabs in Saturday night’s Powerball drawing after no one hit the big prize last night.
17 members of Philadelphia City Council. A local watchdog group is now questioning if the city needs that many leaders in times of massive budget deficits.
23, age of mother in Norristown who delivered her 3rd child last week. She’s now charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of her 20-month-old son.
2 men, one from Bucks County and one from Camden, charged as Internet predators who tried to sexually exploit children.
2 women in Delaware who are charged with using their kids as part of their scheme in a shoplifting spree. They were hiding the loot in the baby carriage.
34, age of pro wrestler from Levittown who has been arrested for filing a false injury claim. He claimed he threw out his back when he slipped on a puddle of coffee at a local 7-Eleven.
1 man charged in Delaware in connection with a hit-run crash that took the life of 2 young girls. The suspect is 33, and his parents have now been filed for hindering prosecution in the case. They apparently claimed the car in the crash had been stolen.
3,458 bears bagged by hunters in Pennsylvania in 2008.
26, age of suspect shot and killed during a confrontation with police yesterday in Levittown.
10 percent rate cut coming for those who use natural gas from Peco Energy to heat their homes in Delaware County.
45 percent of those who responded to a poll about Philadelphia who believe crime is the city’s top problem. 37 percent said they don’t feel safe outside in their neighborhoods at night.
29,600 Pennsylvania jobs that were eliminated in “mass layoffs” in January. That ranks 3rd in the nation. A mass layoff is a single action that involves at least 50 jobs.
547 million dollars in profits recorded by TD Bank Financial Group. That’s down 29 percent.
4 percent cuts slated by Pa. Gov. Ed Rendell. Some in the GOP are now saying the cuts are too steep.
31 percent decline in home sales in the region in January, as opposed to the same month last year, according to figures compiled by Fox & Roach HomExpert Report.
1 cent dip in price of gas at the pumps in the region. We’re now paying an average of $1.98.
8 runs given up by the Phils as they dropped their Grapefruit League opener yesterday to the Pirates.
2 scoreless innings given up by Jamie Moyer. He gave up one hit.
21 consecutive wins at home for Temple Owls, who upset No. 13 Xavier, 74-65.
36 goals for Flyer Jeff Carter, and 0 goals surrendered by Marty Biron as the Flyers shut out the Kings, 2-0.
Call me a Phanatic: A look at the ups and downs of being a Philadelphia sports fan.Don’t panic, Phillies fans. That’s why the call them exhibition games. Besides, Jamie Moyer pitched two scoreless innings.
I Don’t Get It: The incident involving kids keep coming. Yesterday a 12-year-old was gunned down as he sat in his car with his mother on a Philly street. He’s now in critical condition. Police believe the gunman is not a lot older.
Today’s Upper: With all the talk about people losing their homes, it’s nice to see someone actually getting into a home. That’s what happened yesterday in Chester as Ruby Benson became the 200th person helped into a home by the Chester Homebuyer Assistance Program.
Quote Box: “People that know me know that this was not an easy decision for me to make.”
-- Newtown Supervisor Jack DiPompeo, on his switch from the GOP to the Democratic Party.

The other side of the story

There are two sides to every story. It’s one of the basic tenets of journalism.

That’s why yesterday I was desperately hoping we would hear back from Mark Duncan.

He’s the assistant principal at Academy Park High School in Sharon Hill. And today he finds himself in the news. That’s because Duncan, 50, has been criminally charged from an incident that happened in the school last Friday.

At most schools, the title of assistant principal means you’re the disciplinarian. The tough guy, as it were. It’s your job to keep students in line. It’s a tough job, one that very often does not win you a lot of friends.

That disciplinarian role appears to be what Duncan was doing when he became involved in a verbal argument with a student.

According to the affidavit for his arrest, Duncan said this to the student: “Go ahead, turn around, do something, I’ll kill you.” The statement was overheard by students, aides and school police officers.

Duncan now finds himself charged with terroristic threats, harassment by annoyance and disorderly conduct. He was arraigned in front of Magisterial District Judge Edward J. Gannon. He’s free on $10,000 unsecured bail.

Unfortunately, Duncan, who lives in Collegeville, did not return phone calls yesterday. No one at the school is saying much, citing employee confidentiality and referring to it as a “personnel matter.”

That’s too bad. Because something tells me there is another side to this story that we have not heard. That happens a lot in criminal cases. We get the paperwork that lays out the case used to file charges. We often don’t get any other version. A lot of people don’t believe that is especially fair. It is a legitimate argument.

We reported the charges as they were filed. But I’m wondering what else happened here? Was this just a slip of the tongue during a heated argument? It’s pretty strong language, but something tells me Duncan did not mean it literally. What precipitated the altercation between Duncan and the student? Did the student do anything to provoke Duncan? Is there any kind of history between the two of them.

One thing that stands out to me in the affidavit is that the comment was heard not just by students, but also by aides and school police officers. Did any of them provide any context for what was said?

The students we talked to at Academy Park yesterday for the most part seemed surprised by the charges filed against Duncan. Some admitted he was a bit of a disciplinarian, but that he also was known for treating students “as if we were his own kids.”

This morning Duncan stands charged with treating at least one of them criminally.

Eventually, that elusive “other side” of the story. I, for one, can’t wait to hear it.

Kid stuff

What do these stories have in common?

* An 11-year-old is charged with setting fire to a shed behind row homes in Chester Township. The blaze quickly spreads to two houses, consuming one and severely damaging another. Police say the youth is no stranger to them. He’s been linked to several burglaries.

* In western Pennsylvania, an 11-year-old is charged with walking into his father’s bedroom, where the man’s pregnant fiancee is sleeping on the bed. The youth allegedly calmly walks up behind her, places a shotgun inches from her head, and pulls the trigger, killing her.

He then calmly puts the rifle back in his room, does away with the spent casing, and walks down the street to the school bus. He’s now under arrest, and authorities are trying to determine exactly where to house him. They don’t have a prison uniform that fits him.

* In Philadelphia yesterday afternoon, a 12-year-old is sitting in his car with his mother when another teen walks up and begins shooting. The boy is hit in the chest and hand. Police say he was the target of the shooting. The suspected shooter is not believed to be much older.

Three cases, three children who for one reason or another are involved in some seriously adult behavior. Criminal behavior.

I just don’t get it.

Return of the pinstripes

Relax, Phillies fans. You don’t win a World Series championship in February.

Apparently you don’t defend one then either.

This probably wasn’t quite what the Phils had in mind when they took the field yesterday for the first time since they piled on top of one another on the chilly turf at Citizens Bank Park last October.

In the words of Chase Utley, the defending world champions played like “bleep.”

But that’s the thing about these Grapefruit League encounters. The final score is often not the key to what happened. The scoreboard says the Phils got waxed by the Pirates, 8-2.

But there are several things Phillies die-hards should like about yesterday’s game. Starting pitcher Jamie Moyer pitched well, giving up just one hit in two innings. Moyer struck out two and walked two. He was followed to the hill by Joe Blanton. He gave up a run on two hits.

So far, so good. Both Moyer and Blanton figure to be in the Phils starting lineup.

Unfortunately, after they left the game is when things took a turn for the worse. Joe Bisenius got shelled. Steve Nestor didn’t fare much better.

Look at it this way. Anyone else just happy to turn on the radio yesterday afternoon and hear the sounds of baseball?

Spring can’t be far away.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Curse of the Lenten pledge

Today is Ash Wednesday, the traditional start of the Lenten season.

There is a longtime tradition of giving something up for Lent. The move today is in a different direction, making an effort to “do” something rather than doing without.

What can I tell you, I’m old-fashioned. For that reason for the next 40 days beer will not pass my lips. I have been doing this for years now.

It brings up the classic Lloyd Bridges character in the hilarious movie, “Airplane.”

“I guess I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue.”

Yes, I picked a tough week to give up beer. It’s been a rough week for those of us in the newspaper racket. There are likely more tough days to come. We will shoulder on, doing what we do, creating newspapers, Web sites, and yes, even blogs, to deliver to our readers every day.

But for some odd reason I felt the need to expand my Lenten sacrifice this year. Therefore, something else will not pass my lips for the next six weeks. At least that is my hope.

No, not coffee. I’m a little off kilter; I’m not insane. Beer I can do without, coffee I’m not so sure. I honestly don’t think I could do it.

I’m talking – literally – about something else.


You’re shocked, I know.

Look, I don’t routinely pepper my public offerings with profanity. But I do have a troublesome habit of unleasing a blue streak in private. It’s a nasty little habit. And it’s one I am looking to change, starting today. By the way, feel free to join me in this endeavor. One of my pet peeves is how coarse we have become as a society. Removing cursing from the equation can only help lessen our too-often all-too-base nature.

I do not minimize the task in front of me. I work at a newspaper, remember. The newsroom can be a fairly salty place. I have not, in the past, been completely immune from expelling a few X-rated tirades.

Like when the technology I loathe so much swallows a nearly completed story. Or when I notice the glaring typo that too often shows up in our pages.

In those instances, my reaction can best be summed up thusly:


There, I feel much better. The next 40 days should be a piece of cake.

The Daily Numbers - Feb. 25

The Daily Numbers: 11, age of suspect charged with setting shed fire that spread to two row homes in Chester Township.
3 previous arrests for burglary filed against the juvenile.
10 residents chased from their home by an early morning fire in Darby Borough.
44 million dollars from a total of $193 million in federal stimulus funds that SEPTA plans to spend on projects here in Delaware County.
1 of 5 teens in the subway beating of Sean Conroy that led to his death on a Center City subway platform who has pleaded guilty.
720 million dollar wish list drawn up by County Council for their share of the federal stimulus package.
140 dollars more in taxes facing property owners in the Chichester School District under the school board’s proposed budget.
22 ATM thefts charged to a North Philadelphia man, who police say expertly took the machines apart and stole the money inside.
44, age of Philly man charged in the beating death of a 71-year-old neighbor.
30 jobs that will be cut at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as they struggle with a $5 million budget shortfall.
2.5 million dollars, the dollar value federal prosecutors put on the goods and services fraud they claim was perpetrated on Pennsylvania taxpayers by former powerful state Sen. Vince Fumo.
30 students at the Cumberland Christian School in South Jersey sickened with flu-like symptoms. The school is shut down while the kids recover.
21, age of one-time Miss North Wildwood who is charged with passing bogus $50 bills. Her mom and another man also face charges.
37, age of wrestling ref charged in connection with thefts from people attending a wrestling meet at North Penn High School. The ref’s cousin is believed to have ripped off the items, while the ref is charged with conspiracy.
11, age of boy in western Pennsylvania charged with fatally shooting the pregnant fiancee of his father. For now he is being housed at a juvenile detention center while officials try to figure out how best to handle where he should be detained.
7 people shot along a Mardi Gras parade route in New Orleans.
19 months, how long President Barack Obama believes it will take for U.S. troops to be out of Iraq. He wants all troops withdrawn by August 2010.
2:02, time this afternoon when Tiger Woods returns to the PGA Tour.
2 innings each for Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton as the Phils kick off their Grapefruit League schedule today on the road against the Pirates.
11 point win for Penn Wood over Conestoga last night in the PIAA District 1 AAAA boys semifinal. They now play Norristown Friday night for the title.
59 points for the Chester Clippers last night as they downed Central Bucks South.
5 game goal-less streak snapped by Jeff Carter last night as the Flyers posted a 4-2 win over the Caps.
Call me a Phanatic: A look at the ups and downs of being a Philadelphia sports fan.The Phils start defense of their World Series title today as they kick off their Grapefruit League schedule. Jamie Moyer will be on the mound.
I Don’t Get It: They charged an 11-year old in that arson fire in Chester Township. In western Pa., they arrested another 11-year-old in the fatal shooting of his father’s pregnant fiancee. I don’t get it.
Today’s Upper: A Philadelphia police officer wounded in the line of duty had a seat of honor next to First Lady Michelle Obama last night for the president’s speech. Well done, Officer Richard Decoatsworth.
Quote Box: “Tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.
-- President Barack Obama addressing Congress and the nation last night.


This week the state of Pennsylvania took a giant leap – to steal a phrase from Neil Armstong – out of the dark ages.

The Wegmans supermarket chain won court approval to sell beer in the cafes inside some of their stores. You’d also be able to buy two six-packs to go in the supermarket.

It’s a crack in the dinosaur methods this state uses to dispense alcohol. I won’t go into the details here, about how you have to go one place to buy a case of beer, another if you only want to buy a six-pack, and still another if your desire is for a bottle of wine of alcohol.

I’m still in favor of blowing up the entire system and converting the whole thing to private enterprise.

Imagine being able, as people in so many states can, of grabbing a bottle of your favorite wine or spirit while doing your weekly grocery shopping.

Or picking up a quick six-pack when you stop at the convenience store.

Not in this state. But maybe that’s beginning to change. It’s about time.

It can’t happen fast enough for me. Of course, I won’t be buying beer for the next 40 days anyhow.

Here’s a Lenten pledge for state officials. Why not give up the silly way we deal with alcohol and come out of the dark ages?

Roar of the Tiger

Forget what the calendar says, spring starts today.

For two reasons.

First, the Phillies open their Grapefruit League schedule this afternoon with a road game in Bradenton with the Pirates. First pitch by Jamie Moyer is set for 1 p.m. Joe Blanton also will take the hill. Both will pitch two innings.

Don’t look for Chase Utley. He’s still on rehabbing his hip. Jason Donald will start in his place at second.

But spring actually will start today at 2:02 p.m. That is when the most mesmerizing person in the sports universe returns.

Tiger will once again be on the prowl.

I refer, of course, to Tiger Woods. He is Babe Ruth, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Jim Brown and Joe Montana all wrapped into one.

Very simply, Woods is the No. 1 athlete on the planet. I know, he’s a golfer, you might snidely retort.

Woods is not a golfer; he is the golfer. He is the most compelling athlete of his generation, maybe of all time. He is fast threatening Muhammad Ali in claims to the title of “The Greatest.”

Woods has not hit a golf ball in competition since last June, when he won the U.S. Open in a playoff against Rocco Mediate on one leg. Woods then underwent surgery on his knee.

This is a question for those who are not die-hard golf nuts, like me. Can you tell me one thing that has happened on the PGA Tour since Woods’ exit? I thought so.

The pro golf tour, already battered by a reeling economy, has been double cursed because of Woods’ absence. That will change today.

Woods will make his return in the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. In this format, he is pitted against one player in match play, competing for one hole at a time, as opposed to most weekends when tour golfers go at it in stroke play, with the winner decided on the total number of strokes.

I will make this prediction right now: Woods will win this event. It is what he does. No other athlete rises to the spotlight – and the pressure – the way Woods does.

And here’s another prediction: The TV numbers on Sunday will be the highest since Woods won the Open last summer.

Last week another tour superstar, Phil Mickelson, won what used to be called the L.A. Open. It was a nice boost for the tour. Mickelson had been playing lousy so far this year. It was good; it was not Tiger.

No one – in any sport – commands attention the way Woods does. Even if you’re a channel flipper, you can admit it. If you’re channel surfing on a Sunday afternoon and see Woods’ steely visage, you stop. And you likely stick around for awhile. So do kids. So do women. Woods has that kind of charisma.

Last Sunday I watched Mickelson riding the lead in L.A., first trying to give the tournament away, then rallying with a couple of late birdies for the win. It was pretty dramatic. But it was not Tiger.

That changes today.

Tiger’s back. Watch him roar.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Daily Numbers - Feb. 24

The Daily Numbers: 11, age of suspect police believe set fire to a shed behind row homes in Chester Township. Flames roared through two homes.
13 people who had to flee flames after the deliberately set blaze in Chester Township.
6 months, age of infant police say was left alone in a Springfield motel. The mother is now facing charges.
1.7 million dollars, value of winning lottery ticket sold at Drexel House Deli recently. Now that’s what we call an economic stimulus.
15 billion dollar contract to build a new helicopter for the military. Boeing is among three firms bidding for the work, which they thought they had already won before the feds ordered the project rebid.
400 new jobs that could be created at Boeing’s Ridley plant if they land the deal.
200 million dollar capital campaign unveiled yesterday by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
32, age of National Guard member from Quakertown, a member of the 56th Stryker Brigade, who was killed in Iraq.
7 million bucks raised by students at Penn State University in their annual dance marathon, which they refer to simply as “Thon.”
2,000 complaints received by the state attorney general’s office in New Jersey stemming from the way Ticketmaster sold ducats for upcoming Bruce Springsteen concerts. Ticketmaster now has decided to change those methods.
71, age of man beaten to death by his neighbor in the Frankford section of Philadelphia last night.
28 SEPTA projects targeted for repairs with $190 million in federal stimulus funds for the transit agency.
91 frozen lobsters police say a man tried to steal from an Atlantic City casino. They’re worth $190,000.
1.99 a gallon and holding steady, average price for gasoline in the Philly region.
2 bucks per drink fee for non-alcoholic beverages that is being dropped by US Airways.
15 percent dip in earnings reported by Campbell Soup Co. Talk about your soup lines.
47 feet, the length of the desperation heave by Devin Harris of the Nets to beat the Sixers last night.
2.5 minutes, how long it took officials to review the tape before they ruled that the shot was good.
4 straight losses for the Sixers, despite 21 points for Andre Iguodala. They’re now 1 game under .500.
5 days in jail for former Sixers Charles Barkley after his DUI arreston Phoenix.
Call me a Phanatic: A look at the ups and downs of being a Philadelphia sports fan.Write this one down. Forget all the talk about getting him more offensive weapons. Donovan McNabb wants a new deal and more money from the Eagles. Didn’t a guy named T.O. once want the same thing?
I Don’t Get It: Go ahead, admit it. The first thing you think of now when you hear of a fire is the problems in Coatesville.
Today’s Upper: Kudos to the Sixers and Flyers, who announced they will not raise ticket prices next year.
Quote Box: “We tried to evacuate all the buildings because we just didn’t know how far it was going to go.”
-- Chester Township Fire co., Assistant Fire Chief Harry Dillman, on yesterday’s arson fire.

Salute to a citizen soldier

Last fall we spent a lot of time detailing the preparation of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team as they prepared for a deployment in Iraq.

It is dangerous duty.

Yesterday, we learned all too well just how dangerous.

The Pentagon confirmed that a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard unit had been killed in action in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Mark Baum, from Quakertown, Bucks County, was killed by small arms fire as he responded to word of an improvised explosive device explosion in Mushada, Iraq.

Baum was 32 years old. He was married and had three small kids. He was a Bucks County corrections officer. But he still felt the need to serve his country. That’s why he signed up for National Guard duty. It was that sense of service that led him to Iraq.

Baum’s death was the first fatality for the 56th Stryker Brigade, which arrived in Iraq last month for a nine-month deployment.

We talked to several Delaware County men who are members of the Stryker Brigade, which is based in Phoenixville.

Lt. Mark O’Hanlon, the leader of the 700-man unit, is from Nether Providence. Like Baum, he also left another life behind, one that includes a wife and kids.

Last summer, when we interviewed O’Hanlon about the dangers he and his men would face in Iraq, he made some prescient comments.

“There is a lot of concern about IEDs,” he said. “That is the No. 1 mechanism for the enemy to injure or kill my soldiers.”

Today those words haunt.

Do not forget the men of the 56th Stryker Brigade and the dangerous mission in which they are involved.

Today we offer a salute to Staff Sgt. Mark Baum, a true citizen soldier who gave his life protecting the rights and lifestyle so many of us take for granted.

The McNabb soap opera

The Donovan McNabb saga continues unabated.

Remember the much anticipated meeting that had everyone in Eagle-ville holding their breath, wondering when exactly McNabb and the Eagles’ brass were going to sit down?

It may have already happened.

This despite comments from Andy Reid, who sat down at the NFL Combine with two reporters and certainly gave every indication that no such meeting had yet taken place.

Last night ESPN chimed in with a report that McNabb and his agent Fletcher Smith in fact went face-to-face with Reid and Eagles Presdient Joe Banner last week.

Which if true says a lot about Reid, what he thinks of the media, and the fans who read what is reported in newspapers. The same goes for Smith, who also flatly denied any such talks with the Eagles had yet occurred, maintaining, however, that he was looking forward to the meeting.

Now no one is talking. They don’t have to. All is not well in Eagle-ville. Especially the part about No. 5 and his future as the team’s starting quarterback.

There is a new wrinkle in all this. McNabb apparently now is pushing for “more weapons” in his offensive arsenal.

I’m not buying. McNabb is 32. He is under contract for two more years.

The QB wants a new deal, and he wants more money. The last time he signed on the dotted line with the Eagles, he hit the jackpot, collecting $120 million.

The Eagles now have to mull over the future of the franchise, how much longer they want to stick with McNabb, and when – or maybe if – the Kevin Kolb era will begin. They may not be all that thrilled about the prospect of a lengthy extension with McNabb.

Now McNabb is saying he might not be all that enthused about reporting to camp if the Eagles don’t significantly improve the offense that surrounds him.

Would McNabb really hold out?

This team needs McNabb – or an equivalent – as its starting quarterback next year. Kevin Kolb has shown nothing to indicate he is ready to step in as the starter. At least not yet.

So here the Eagles and McNabb sit. Maybe this will all blow over. Then again it just might blow up.

And one other odd element about this entire scenario. Wasn’t there a wide receiver in this town just a couple of years ago that wanted to rework his deal? The team got its back up and watched as an entire season imploded. Caught in the crossfire back then was a quarterback named Donovan McNabb, who declined to get involved and support his top weapon, a guy named Terrell Owens.

Wonder if Donovan is expecting his teammates to stand behind him as he and the Eagles stare down the barrel of a sequel?

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Daily Numbers - Feb. 23

The Daily Numbers: 100 years old for the NAACP. The Media branch of the civil rights organization is planning a special series of events this Saturday to celebrate their centennial.
7 school buses damaged in the latest arson fire to hit the Coatesville region, where there have now been 25 deliberately set fires since Jan. 1.
2 suspects under arrest in 10 fires in the region. Obviously someone else is setting fires in Coatesville.
1 female president in the 145-year history of Swarthmore College. That would be new chief Rebecca Chopp, who was named to head the liberal arts school over the weekend. She was formerly president of Colgate University.
2 dead in Philly after a domestic dispute. Police say an 11-year-old girl tried to save her mom, who was being attacked by her boyfriend. The man and woman are dead, the girl is in critical condition.
10 shots fired at a woman as she sat in a car in the parking lot of a fast-food outlet in the Nicetown-Tioga section of Philly Saturday night. The woman, who was 5 months pregnant, died.
10 vehicles that had their tires slashed overnight Saturday in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia.
3.6 percent hike in electric usage reported by Peco Energy Co. in January.
1 percent less, what people are driving these days, according to AAA. Those numbers were for 2007. The nation drove 835 million miles fewer last year.
2 cent dip in gas prices at the pump in the Philly region. Average price is $1.99. Last year we were paying $3.17.
11, age of young suspect charged with killing his father’s pregnant fiancee in western Pa.
3.3 million dollars in salary for the head of the Penn Medical School, putting him fourth in the nation’s among private colleges.
8 Oscars for “Slumdog Millionaire” last night, making it the big winner for the night.
4 straight losses for the Saint Joe’s Hawks, who fell to UMass Sunday.
7,000 fans who jammed the Wachovia Center yesterday for the annual Flyers Wive Fight for Lives Carnival to raise funds in the fight against cancer. The charity drive has raised more than $21 million.
Call me a Phanatic: A look at the ups and downs of being a Philadelphia sports fan.Is it just me, or does it seem as if Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb have differing views on whether they need some kind of sit-down to clear the air? McNabb wants one, and a new deal. Reid doesn’t sound like it’s exactly a priority.
I Don’t Get It: They arrested two people in the wave of arson fires plaguing the Coatesville area. But there was another fire set Sunday morning that damaged 7 school buses. I don’t get it.
Today’s Upper: We’d like to add our salute to Marine Cpl. Stephen McGinnnis, who was welcomed home to Springfield Sunday by family and friends after a tour in Iraq.
Quote Box: “We’re very happy to have him home.”
-- Jim McGinnis, talking about his son Stephen McGinnnis’ homecoming after a stint in Iraq.

Tales of the Great Depression

When I was a kid, my mother used to regale us with tales from the Great Depression.

From our comfortable middle-class setting, it was hard to believe she was talking about the same country.

Her father was out of work as the country pitched into an economic morass in the early 1930s. She would tell us – calmly but resolutely – that they did not always know where their next meal was coming from.

For Christmas one year she got an orange – and was happy to get it.

Things were that tough.

But she always made a point that has stayed with me all these years. She said that while living through the Great Depression was no treat, the reality of it was that it was not that big a drop-off from what their lives had been before the economy nosedived. As a family they had often struggled.

She always worried about what might happen if things took a similar turn today. She wasn’t convinced that today, with our advance lifestyle, we could accept a simpler, tougher existence.

We’re finding that out now. Back then, people did not have all that much to begin with, so when hard times hit, they simply shrugged and went about living through the tough times.

Today, we are pampered, used to the comforts of our lives. The fall is much farther than it was in 1929.

We live comfortable lives. We’re not all that used to scraping by. We’re beginning to see that is not always guaranteed.

My mom’s words echo in my head these days, and I recalled them on Sunday as I read the similar remembrances of Great Depression survivors in the Sunday Times.

Marge Hoon sounded just like my mother. She talked about how her father found work with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.

“That’s the only way we had any income,” she said.

She also said something that could have come right out of my mother’s mouth.

It was a differerent era, a different time, indeed different people. No one bought things they could not afford. Today’s housing crisis, spurred in large part by mortgages given to people who clearly could not afford them, simply would never have been considered then.

“People were not buying the houses like they are now and getting themselves in debt,” Hoon commented.


Mildred Johnson talked of how they grew a lot of their own food and take in some money by selling what they did not use.

They were a different breed. I wonder now if we could hold up today under similar conditions.

And I fear we just might get the chance to find out.

And the winner is ...

My Oscar streak remains intact.

No, I didn’t pick all the winners.

Instead, for the umpteenth year in a row, I had not seen a single movie that was nominated for Best Picture at last night’s Academy Awards.

A confession, here. I don’t go out to the movies all that much.

Even still, I actually thought I had a shot at breaking my record this year. About a month ago, I saw “Gran Torino,” the Clint Eastwood flick about racial prejudice. I’m a big Clint fan.

“Gran Torino” was good, not great. It didn’t get nominated. I haven’t seen any of the others. My desire to see “Doubt,” fueled in large part by several people telling me that if you went to parochial grade school you really have to see it, remains unfulfilled.

The big winner last night was “Slumdog Millionaire.” I can’t tell you I’m going to run out to the movies this weekend to see it.

Sean Penn beat out my favorite, Mickey Rourke, for best actor. Kate Winslet took best actress.

I guess the emotional highlight of the evening was the award for best supporting actor going to the late Heath Ledger for his role as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” That one I’d seen, as a rental.

Ledger was very good, but I’ll admit that I did something that happens all too often to me as I watch a movie at home.

I fell asleep.

I’ll add last night’s winners to my Netflix list. Maybe I’ll even be able to stay away through them.

The Andy & Donovan Show

Andy Reid, meet Donovan McNabb.

Do these guys know each other? Reid gave an interview over the weekend in which he said he talks to his longtime starting QB all the time and that they are on the same page.

“He knows where he stands,” the coach said of his signal-caller. Reid was in Indianapolis for the NFL’s annual combine. McNabb was not there.

Our Eagles beat reporter, Bob Grotz, reported last week that the much ballyhooed – and hotly anticipated – meeting between McNabb and team leaders might take place there. McNabb even said he was willing to go to Indy.

Didn’t happen. And Reid says it’s no big deal.

I’m not sure McNabb feels the same way. Clearly, McNabb has had issues with the team ever since he was unceremoniously pulled from the game at halftime during a particularly galling loss in Baltimore during the regular season.

He has been telling anyone who would listen that he wanted to sit down with management after the season to get a few things off his chest and see where he stands. Oh, and one other little thing. He wouldn’t mind a new deal and some more money.

Reid didn’t sound like someone who was rushing to pick up the phone.

“I talk to this guy every day, and in the offseason, quite a bit,” Reid told the Philadelphia Daily News. “I spend more time with him than I spend with my wife.”

Just so long as they’re not headed to divorce court.

It’s still expected that at some point McNabb will get his sit-down with team brass. Whether or not he gets that new deal he wants is another matter.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Daily Numbers - Feb. 20

The Daily Numbers: 2 suspects charged in the wave of fires that have had residents in Coatesville living in fear.
9 fires believed to have been the work of Roger Leon Barlow Jr., of Downingtown.
24 fires that have been set in the city and surrounding towns since Jan. 1.
9 million dollar bail for Barlow in the fires that caused at least $3.5 million in damages.
3 fire marshals who could be laid off at Sunoco’s Marcus Hook refinery if a new contract cannot be reached by March 1. It would mean there would no longer be 24-hour, 7-day-a-week coverage on-site.
2 bucks a gallon, where average gas prices in the region are sitting at once again. Prices have been rising for the past month.
20,000 dollars raised at 610-WIP Sportsradio’s annual Wing Bowl presented to the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police.
78,000 dollars in charges made on bogus credit cards made after a teen worker at a Montco restaurant “skimmed” the info off customers’ cards after they paid their bill. The 19-year-old is believed to have victimized 50 card holders.
35 criminal charges filed against a man in connection with three sexual assaults at Lock Haven University. Philly cops are investigating to see if he’s linked to attacks in Center City and University City.
6 people now in custody in the home invasion murder of an Asian businessman in Montco. The alleged ringleader in the attack that took the life of Robert Chae turned himself in yesterday.
5.8 million dollars, how much taxpayer money has been spent so far by the state Legislature stemming from the investigation into staff bonuses.
3,300 jobs eliminted by Comcast Corp. last year, this as the company reported earnings were off by 31 percent in the 4th quarter.
250 dollar payments, part of the economic stimulus package, due to about 3 million elderly and disabled Pennsylvania residents.
14, age of student connected to a sex scandal in which a 7th-grade teacher has been charged in Hawley, Pa.
50,000 single-game tickets sold by the Phillies yesterday, the first day they were on sale. That puts sales for the season at 2.4 million before they play a single exhibition game in Florida.
.292 batting average and 33 home runs last year for Chase Utley, even as he battled through hip problems. Utley says he is on target to be in the starting lineup despite off-season surgery on the cranky hip.
5 points for Mike Richards last night as the Flyers rolled over the Sabres, 6-3.
3 straight wins for the Flyers.
6 short-handed goals this year for the orange and black, tops in the NHL this year.
501 consecutive games played for Sixers star Andre Miller. That could be in jeopardy Saturday. He hurt his right calf, but is still hoping to play.
Call me a Phanatic: A look at the ups and downs of being a Philadelphia sports fan.It’s 24 degrees out this morning. And for Phillies fans, spring fever is in full bloom. The team reports they sold 50,000 single-game tickets yesterday, the first day of sales.
I Don’t Get It: There must be a powerful allure – or maybe the better word is sickness – to setting fires. I don’t get it.
Today’s Upper: A thumb’s up to the folks at WIP and the guys who dreamed up Wing Bowl. Yesterday they delivered a check for $20,000 for the FOP Survivors Fund, the proceeds of this year’s wing-eating extravaganza.
Quote Box: “I think he just got with the wrong crowd. The wrong crowd led him up the wrong path.”
-- Roger Barlow, of Downingtown, father of Coatesville arson spree suspect Roger Barlow Jr.

Putting out the fire in Coatesville

They got two things they have been waiting for a very long time in Coatesville last night.

An arrest in the wave of arsons that had many residents living in fear.

And a good night’s sleep. Or at least a better night’s sleep.

Officials yesterday afternoon announced the arrest of a 19-year-old Downingtown man in the wave of domestic terror – in the form of a series of arson fires – that had residents afraid to go to sleep at night.

Roger Leon Barlow, 19, is believed to be responsible for nine of the fires, including the conflagration that roared through a block of row homes, destroying 15 homes, displacing scores of residents, and pushing the already-tense city over the edge into a siege mentality.

Last night a second man was charged in an attempted fire at a local restaurant.

Barlow is from Downingtown, just a stone’s throw down Lincoln Highway from Coatesville. Mark Gilliam, 20, is from West Bradford, just outside Downingtown. Here’s another troubling thought: He’s a volunteer firefighter.

The city’s problems are not over. There are a couple of questions that come to mind. One of them would be why? Why does someone do such a thing. Chester County District Attorney Joe Carroll yesterday referred to Barlow as a pyromaniac who liked to watch things burn.

But there is a more important issue that hangs over this case like the smoke that swirled around these fires.

Barlow is charged in nine of the fires. There have been 24 arsons in the city and surrounding towns since the start of the year.

Maybe Barlow or Gilliam eventually will be charged in even more fires. If not, who set them? A couple of suspects were charged in the arsons that plagued the region last year, but the fires did not stop.

Maybe they will now.

And maybe, just maybe, residents can sleep at night.

Requiem for a cop

It is now a familiar, hauntingly sad sight.

Almost beyond belief, they are gathering again this morning at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter & Paul in Philadelphia to offer a final salute to a fallen police officer.

Officer John Pawlowski will be laid to rest, sent to his final resting place by a sea of blue. Law enforcement representatives from across the region will join with their brethren in Philadelphia in a final farwell.

It’s not something you ever get used to, even if the scene has now been repeated again and again in the city. Pawlowski is the seventh officer killed in the line of duty since 2006.

There is a powerful sense of grief and sadness involved in these occasions. But there is something else as well.


The man who thought nothing of gunning down the young cop everyone knew as “Johnny Boy” never thought twice about it. He had been asked to show his hands, which he had stuffed in the pocket of his coat, after officers arrived to a call for a street disturbance. Instead he fired right through the coat, striking Pawlowski just above his bulletproof vest.

The suspect was no stranger to police. He had a long record. That gives him something in common with suspects in other recent fatal encounters with police.

Someone needs to provide an answer to why these thugs continue to be put back on the street.

Maybe solving that judicial question would be the most appropriate legacy for Officer John Pawlowski.

More turbulence

The furor over that controversial airport redesign plan at Philly International that has resulted in more flights being sent over the heart of Delaware County will be ratcheted up a bit today.

U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-7, this afternoon will be joined by his cohort from across the river, Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., to announce the findings of a study done by Rowan University. They asked the school to look at some alternatives to help cut the delays at Philadelphia International Airport.

It’s those delays that are at the center of this issue. Everyone agrees that the airport is crucial to the region’s economic fitness. Nobody wants delays. It’s just that people and officials in Delaware County don’t much care for seeing more and more planes diverted over heavily populated sections of the county as a way of fixing the problem.

More than that, Sestak and others claim the FAA’s “fix” doesn’t really help all that much.

A phalanx of citizens and officials have lined up to complain bitterly both about the FAA’s decision and the way they implemented the program. Delaware County Council has gone to court against the FAA’s plan.

Sestak offered a sneak peek at the Rowan findings, which he and Andrews will unveil this afternoon. They believe the findings point to several more practical – and less expensive – options, such as diverting 10 percent of flights to Atlantic City.

Stay tuned. Sounds like more turbulence is in the air surrounding Philly International.

A wing and 20,000 prayers

It is easy to poke fun of our own annual pre-Super Bowl gala of gluttony called Wing Bowl.

New Orleans can have Mardi Gras. The Friday before Super Bowl Sunday belongs to us. The scene at the Wachovia Center rivals anything on Bourbon Street for skin and revelry.

Fat men wolfing down chicken wings while being egged on by buxom Wingettes and cheered by a raucous crowd? Now that’s pure Philly.

But aside from the party, there is a serious side to all this. Yesterday the morning crew from 610-WIP Sportsradio presented a check for $20,000 from this year’s Wing Bowl to the Fraternal Order of Police for the FOP Survivors Fund.

The timing could not have been more profound. The city and region is again mourning the loss of still another Philadelphia police officer, the sixth cop killed in the line of duty in the last 16 months.

Officer John Pawlowski will be buried today.

We need diversions like Wing Bowl and sports talk radio to take our minds off the madness that seems to envelop us. That they can do that while also making a positive contribution to a much-needed effort just makes it that much better.

Nice job, guys. See you again next year. Save us a couple of wings.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Daily Numbers - Feb. 19

The Daily Numbers: 1,200 people who showed up at Springfield Country Club yesterday for a job fair.
221,000 dollars in state liquid fuel funding that was misappropriated in Ridley Park. The borough now has to reimburse the state and will not get any more funding until it’s paid.
100,000 dollars being forfeited by Nicholas “Nicky the Hat” Cimino in the gambling operation dubbed by investigators “Delco Nostra.” He pleaded guilty yesterday and was sentenced to 11.5 to 23 months in jail.
17 to 34 years in prison for an Upper Darby man who entered a plea in two murders.
11 million dollars in grants given the green light yesterday by the Delaware River Port Authority. All this despite the protest of business leaders and pols who say they should not be doling out the money in that fashion.
2 Philly schools that will be closed as part of recommendations from the School Reform Commission.
624,000 dollars in police overtime, the latest challenge facing the city of Coatesville, in the wake of a wave of arson fires. They’re also looking at $41,000 in firefighter overtime.
4 years to the day that Richard Petrone and Danielle Imbo walked out of a Philly nightspot and disappeared. They have not been seen since.
50,000 dollar reward posted for new information in the couple’s disappearance.
1 of 2 Chester County men guilty in a brutal assault on an employee of Geno’s Steaks in South Philly. The 2nd defendant was acquitted of all charges.
40 percent increase in annual slot machine revenue being predicted by state officials as 4 more casinos are due to open their doors.
2 stabbings reported in 2 different Philly nightclubs overnight. One happened in the parking lot of Club Fusion, the other was at a lounge in the 100 block of Chestnut Street.
12 people injured when a SEPTA bus and SUV collided early this morning in the West Oak Lane section of Philly.
7 million spent on lawyers by SEPTA.
125 million dollar jackpot up for grabs Saturday night in the Powerball lottery drawing.
3 finalists picked last night in “American Idol.”
2 straight losses for the Sixers, who fell to the Nuggets last night.
10 point halftime lead for the Sixers, which they blew in the second half and lost by 12, a 22-point swing.
3 straight losses for the reeling Saint Joe’s Hawks, who fell to Saint Louis last night.
Call me a Phanatic: A look at the ups and downs of being a Philadelphia sports fan.Single-game tickets for the Phillies season go on sale this morning. Spring can’t be far behind.
I Don’t Get It: For some reason people think chimpanzees can be house pets. As we’ve seen in Connecticut this week, that can sometimes have tragic results.
Today’s Upper: A huge thumb’s up for those who put together yesterday’s job fair at Springfield Country Club. More than 1,200 people showed up.
Quote Box: “It’s hard. There’s nothing out there.”
-- Kathy Kyle, of Secane, at yesterday’s job fair.

Sign of the times

Want to get a feel for just how bad our economic morass really is? Just glance at the front page of today’s newspaper.

Better yet, you could have been at Springfield Country Club yesterday.

Delaware County Council held a job fair there. That’s not that unusual. Different organizations hold these affairs all the time. It’s a time to network, maybe look for other opportunities.

Yesterday it provided something else. A lifeline.

More than 1,200 people showed up. They were all looking for one thing: a job.

People started arriving at 8:15 a.m. The doors were not supposed to open until 9. You’d think they were selling Phillies tickets.

Maybe Jeff Vermeulen, president at the Delaware County Chamber of Comerce, one of the organizations that teamed with County Council to put the event together, summed it up best.

“It’s like Wal-Mart on Black Friday,” the business boss said.

Only these people were buying; they were selling. Themselves. To any prospective employer who would listen.

It’s something a lot of people take for granted. A job. A place to go when you get up. Purpose to your daily life and a paycheck to show for it.

No one is taking it for granted anymore.

Especially the 1,200 people who showed up at Springfield Country Club yesterday.

The bizarre case of Richard Petrone and Danielle Imbo

How, exactly, do two people disappear off the face of the Earth. And their truck along with them?

That’s what investigators continue to try to figure out in the bizarre disappearance of Richard Petrone and his girlfriend, Daniele Imbo.

It was four years ago tonight when the couple left a nightspot on South Street in Philadelphia after a night out. They told the couple they were with they were heading to Imbo’s home in Mount Laurel, N.J.

They have not been seen since. Nor has Petrone’s pickup truck. Not a trace. No use of their cell phones. No activity on their credit cards or bank accounts. Just gone. Vanished.

With the anniversary here again, their family and investigators are again asking for the public’s help. The FBI said last year they were investigating the possibility that the couple might have been the victims of a murder-for-hire plot.

How exactly do two people and a pickup truck simply disappear? That’s the question that has hounded police and family members, those who knew and loved Petrone and Imbo, for four years.

So far there are no answers, only more questions.

Vince Fumo laid low

It has not been a good couple of months for the man who once was wielded as much power as anyone in Pennsylvania.

Former Sen. Vince Fumo, the so-called “Vince of Darkness,” has been laid low.

But likely nothing hurt quite like yesterday.

Fumo, on trial in federal court on corruption charges, engaged in a bitter back and forth with a federal prosecutor. Fumo at one point alleged FBI agents were harassing the elderly mother of one of his key aides. It brought a heated objection.

Likewise, Fumo also was angered and objected to characterizations of his actions by the feds.

But his nadir was yet to come. After Fumo finished his grueling testimony, his one-time mentor and lawyer, the legendary Richard Sprague, took the stand.

Fumo has often referred to Sprague as a father figure.

The former senator had banked much of his defense on corruption charges, including obstruction of justice charges tied to wiping e-mails off his computers, by saying he had gotten the go-ahead for such actions from his lawyers, including Sprague.

That gamble went south yesterday, when Sprague testified he offered no such advice. More than that, he also denied ever advising Fumo that he did not have to save e-mails if he had not specifically been subpoenaed, as Fumo had claimed. A second Fumo attorney, Robert Scandone, testified much the same thing.

It’s a huge loss for Fumo. But it’s more than that. Sprague testified he and Fumo had a “father-son relationship.” But he also said something else. He said he and the senator were no longer friends.

Dark days for the “Vince of Darkness.”

Get your Phillies tickets

It is the winter of our discontent, Philly sports fans. But there is still hope.

The Sixers last night blew a 10-point halftime lead, lost by 12 and may have lost the one player they simply cannot do without – Andre Miller – in the process. The point guard who runs the Sixers’ ship tweaked a hamstring, left the game and did not return. He is to undergo an MRI this morning.

The Flyers have what, about another 1,000 meaningless games before they start the playoffs?

Donovan McNabb and the Eagles are still trying to figure out when they are going to sit down and hammer out their, ahem, differences.

What’s a Philly sports fan to do? Head for Citizens Bank Park. True, the Phillies season does not start for another month and a half. But single-game tickets for the defending world champs go on sale this morning at 9 a.m. That’s why people are already standing in line at the ballpark.

Tickets will be available online at, or by phone at 215-463-1000. But there’s nothing like a visit to the ballpark to get the juices flowing, and put all this winter misery behind us.

Crank up those credit cards, folks. Visit later today and pick up tomorrow’s print edition for coverage of all the hearty Delco fans who made the trip to the ballpark to score those coveted ducats.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Daily Numbers - Feb. 18

The Daily Numbers: 1 Democrat who will seek a seat on County Council in November. There are 2 seats up for grabs.
0 candidates put up by Dems for the county row offices of controller, recorder of deeds and sheriff.
40 businesses who will be present at a job fair at Springfield Country Club today. They are expecting a huge turnout as the economy continues to shed jobs amid the financial meltdown.
750 dollars in back taxes owed by Chester Magisterial District Judge Dawn Vann, according to county records.
7.2 million dollar loan guarantee being eyed by County Council for the Delaware County Solid Waste Authority.
5 dollar fee per week per household being considered by Philadelphia, to avoid cutting back on collections.
60,000 dollars in tools and other consumer goods given to former Sen. Vince Fumo by a non-profit he founded. He calls them gifts.
2 day furlough of state workers being considered by New Jersey as they continue to battle budget woes. It’s part of $473 million in cuts being proposed by Gov. Jon Corzine.
30 billion dollar more in federal aid being sought by GM, while they cut another 47,000 jobs.
3 women charged with ripping off credit cards and then using them to go on a $6,000 shopping spree in Delaware.
19, age of man in Allentown charged with engaging in sex acts with a 1-year-old girl.
28 billion dollar loss for Pennsylvania’s two public sector pension plans, adding to the state’s financial woes.
1.4 million cut in the bonus for PNC Bank execs. They’re only sharing $7 million this year.
9.7 percent revenue hike for Pilot Freight in Middletown.
4 game winning streak for the Sixers snapped as they opened the second half of the season with a bad loss in Indiana last night.
20 points and 9 assists for Andre Iguodala to lead the Sixers.
18 points for Tyler Bernardini, including 9 of 11 from the free throw line, as Penn topped Princeton, 62-55, in OT last night.
Call me a Phanatic: A look at the ups and downs of being a Philadelphia sports fan.Just when you were getting excited about the Sixers, they go out to Indiana last night and fail to show up against a bad Pacers team. Not good.
I Don’t Get It: President Barack Obama yesterday put his signature on a $787 economic stimulus plan. What are most of us getting? For married couples, an $800 tax credit, about $13 a week.
Today’s Upper: Huge thumb’s up to the minor league baseball teams in Trenton and Lakewood, N.J. They announced that this year kids will eat for free, getting a voucher for a hot dog, soda and chips. Love it.
Quote Box: “Change is coming to Delaware County. It may come through 49 small places, through borough and town halls first, but it will get to that courthouse.
-- County Dem boss Cliff Wilson, at Tuesday night’s party nominating meeting.

The battle for the county courthouse

Much has been made in recent years of the gains made by county Democrats.

A glance at the county registration rolls reveals a good reason why. The demographics of the county are changing. The Democrats’ numbers are swelling; Republicans are adding to their rolls, but not nearly at the same rate.

The bottom line on the shift is that the local GOP’s once overwhelming 3-1 registration dominance is almost gone.

It means more and more towns are swinging Democratic. It means Joe Sestak can show powerful 20-year incumbent Curt Weldon the door, aided in no small part by a federal investigation.

But through all this turmoil, one GOP fortress has remained impenetrable. That would be the Media Courthouse, where the Delaware County Council remains all-Republican, as it has ever since the Home Rule Charter was adopted back in the early ’70s.

Republicans routinely sweep council races, as well as elections for the county row offices, such as controller, recorder of deeds and sheriff.

Don’t look for that to change any time soon. There are two council seats that will be up for grabs in November. The Republicans have incumbent Councilman Jack Whelan on the ballot. He will be joined by a very familiar name. That would be longtime Upper Darby state Rep. Mario Civera.

The switch of addresses by Civera – from Harrisburg to Media - is an interesting one. Democrats might argue it’s a sign the Republicans are worried, that they believed they needed a big gun to hold on to their dominance in the county courthouse. Or you can simply say that maybe Civera, who has served in the state House two decades, saw the shift taking part in his district, where the demographic is tilting Democratic, and decided he could be more effective on the local level.

Then there is the announcement last week by County Council that they would do something their critics have been demanding for a long time. They will hold a meeting at night next week in Collingdale. A lot of Democrats seeking a seat at the council table have asked them to do just that on the way to being vanquished at the polls.

A glance at the Dems’ nominating meeting Tuesday night isn’t likely to put chills into the GOP. The Democrats have only one candidate seeking the two council seats. That would be Keith Collins of Ridley Park. Nancy Rhoads Koons of Wayne will face off against Linda Cartisano for the newly created seat on the Court of Common Please bench. But the Dems at this point will not field candidates for the row offices.

Forget storming the courthouse, this sounds more like raising the white flag.

It’s clear the Democrats’ strategy is to work at the municipal level before taking on the GOP in the courthouse. Dem Chairman Cliff Wilson said as much.

He said Democrats would “build from the bottom up,” and bring down the Republican Party “like Joshua bringing down the walls of Jericho.

“Change is coming to Delaware County,” Wilson continued. “It may come through 49 small places, through borough and town halls first, but it will get to that courthouse.”

To that end, Democrats should be heartened by something else that happened yesterday.

Two Republicans in Newtown Township are bailing on the party and will seek re-election as Democrats.

Township Supervisor Jack DiPompeo will seek re-election. He will be joined on the ballot by former Supervisor John Custer. In the process DiPompeo is making history; he’s the only Democrat to hold elective office in the history of the township, according to the party.

Democrats have had little luck in banging their head against the walls of the county courthouse. But they continue to make inroads at the municipal level.

Wilson points out his belief that if the trends continue, registered Democrats in the county soon will outnumber Republicans.

Suddenly, in Delaware County, wary is the head that wears the crown. At least in the county courthouse.

Funny money

Everyone feeling properly stimulated today?

Neither am I.

President Barack Obama affixed his signature yesterday to the $787 billion economic stimulus package.

But if you’re looking for a check to arrive in the mail, don’t hold your breath.

This package is big on creating jobs and pumping up a lot of flagging institutions and municipalities. It will push money into education, infrastructure and energy research. There is some very important health care aid that will directly affect those who recently lost their jobs.

But if you’re looking for it to put cash in your pocket, you’re going to be disappointed.

Individuals are in line for a $400 tax break; $800 for married couples.

This isn’t trickle-down; it’s build-up. The hope is that pumping money into all these projects will spur job growth, something the country direly needs. For instance, Obama envisions 400,000 people working to repair the nation’s roads and bridges. Only about a third of the stimulus can be found in tax cuts. The overwhelming majority of it is spending.

What President Obama is betting is that we can spend our way out of this recession.

Wall Street did not seem terribly impressed. Neither were auto makers. They announced yesterday they were headed back to the trough, with GM and Chrysler seeking an additional $14 billion in federal bailout funds. Oh, and along the way they are going to jettison 47,000 more jobs. That’s a lot of people who will be working on infrastructure.

I continue to be astounded by the numbers that are so casually bandied about in these talks.

And one other thing, which comes from an odd source. I’m not totally unconvinced that Jon Stewart, the funny guy from “Comedy Central,” isn’t on to something.

He recently quipped that instead of all these intricate stimulus packages, the government would be better off simply giving the money directly to every adult American taxpayer. It would be an $835 billion plan, roughly what Obama is doing, when you break it down it comes to about $10,00 per person. With their newfound loot, taxpayers would pay off their credit debt. Studies indicate one in 20 Americans now carries $8,000 in debt. For those without such heavy debt load, they could pay off a mortgage, make a down payment on a house, or on shopping sprees. Sounds stimulating to me.

Suddenly it doesn’t seem so funny.

Baseball gets a kick in the asterisk

It’s spring, and a young man’s fancy turns toward … steroids.

After all, it would not officially be spring training without a member of the Yankees standing in front of the media and ’fessing up about his use of illegal substances.

First there was slugger Jason Giambi. He was followed to the microphones by Andy Pettite.

But yesterday the scene was taken to a new level. That’s because the man many believe to be the best player in the game was the one falling on his shield.

Alex Rodriguez, whose familiar A-Rod moniker has added a vowel from Pat and Vanna, turning it into a derisive A-Roid, admitted his past indiscretions when it comes to illegal substances.

Rodriguez said he was a naïve kid who made a “stupid mistake” when he allowed his cousin to inject him with performance-enhancing drugs.

But Rodriguez was not alone. Not in front of the cameras, but off to the side, a gallery of Bronx Bombers sat stone-faced in a show of support for one of their own. Chief among them was Yankees captain Derek Jeter. He was joined by Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Jorge Posada.

Give A-Rod credit for this: While some refer to him as A-Fraud, he wasn’t looking to dodge any bullets yesterday. He was the only one in front of the microphones.

The problem for baseball is that he was not the only one on the list of players that are believed to have tested positive back before baseball actually instituted a testing program and banned steroids and a list of other performance-enhancing drugs.

The question now is how much damage has been done, and what do you do with the pumped-up statistics from what now can realistically be called the Steroid Era?

And can anyone justify why Rodriguez undoubtedly will be in the Yankees starting lineup on opening day, while Phils reliever J.C. Romero, who tested positive for a banned substance that he picked up at a GNC and claims he was told would not cause him any problems, will sit out the first 50 games of the Phils season.

The real answer to this question is this: There is a shadow over the game, and the numbers that play such a pivotal role in its legacy.

But will fans stay away? Unlikely. The world champion Phillies will put single-game tickets on sale tomorrow morning. They’ll likely be snapped up in minutes. What, you were thinking fans will stay away to protest Romero’s use of a banned substance?

Likewise, don’t hold your breath waiting for Yankees to suddenly boycott the pinstripes and ignore the brand, spanking new stadium they just built.

We will complain about the game. Then continue to tune in, buy tickets, wear our gear, check the list of giveaway days.

We’ll also continue to debate the value of pumped-up statistics and whether the guilty or those believed to be guilty deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame. That’s what fans do.

The game will continue. People will arrive in Clearwater in droves next week for spring training. Citizens Bank Park will be jammed on opening day. The Phils almost assuredly will set a new attendance mark this year.

A-Rod will pick up his asterisk, along with his glove, and trot back out to his spot at third base.

And we’ll wait for the next player to join him in the Hall of Shame.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Daily Numbers - Feb. 17

The Daily Numbers: 1,000 people who packed a Mass last night to honor slain Philadelphia Officer John Pawlowski.
7 Philadelphia officers who have now died in the line of duty since 2006.
5 years after the body of Joy Hayward was found in a Chester hotel, there has yet to be an arrest in her murder.
50 years in business being celebrated by Venuti’s Hardware in Aston. Well done.
3,000 dollar donation to the Darby Fire Co. No. 1 made by Colwyn Borough Council, as controversy surrounding the borough’s own fire company continues to smolder.
1 body found inside a pizza shop in Telford, Montgomery County. Police believe the shop owner was murdered.
29, age of soldier from Collegeville killed in action in Afghanistan.
363 slot machines that will be added to the state’s expanded gambling operations come Memorial Day when the Sands Casino Resort opens in Bethlehem.
3 University of Pennsylvania students who are improving after being treated for meningitis. More than 3,000 students received antibiotics as a precaution after the outbreak.
400,000 dollars believed ripped off by a woman who was the property manager for an apartment complex outside West Chester.
35, age of woman whose body was found floating in the bay at Sea Isle City, N.J. Police are not yet sure how she died.
11, age of boy brutally abused in New Castle, Del. A man and woman are charged with “disciplining” the boy by holding him in the tub under cold water for 40 minutes.
4 Beneficial Bank branches that will be closed. No jobs will be lost in the process. None of the branches is in Delaware County.
0 raises for Comcast execs, the giant cable company announced.
3 million dollar bonus for the CEO at PNC Bank. They are in the form of stock. Other execs also are getting bonuses. The bank got $7.7 billion in bailout money from the feds.
1 cent hike in price of gas over the weekend. Average in Philly region is now $1.99. A year ago it was $3.01 a gallon.
.293, what the Phils new starting left-fielder, Raul Ibanez, hit last year. He replaces Pat Burrell.
4, as in No. 4 Pitt toppling No. 1 UConn last night.
Call me a Phanatic: A look at the ups and downs of being a Philadelphia sports fan.It’s going to look awfully odd seeing Pat Burrell in something other than red pinstripes. The longtime Phillie reported to camp with the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday.
I Don’t Get It: Another Philadelphia police officer is gunned down. And once again, the suspect is no stranger to the law. I don’t get it.
Today’s Upper: Thumb’s up to NBA great Richard “Rip” Hamilton. The Coatesville native is once again showing he remembers where he came from, offering the help of his Rip City Foundation to those displaced by the wave of arsons in the city.
Quote Box: “He was a good kid. They had a tight-kjnif familiy. This hurts all of us.”
-- Rob Raby, longtime friend of slain Philadelphia police officer John Pawlowski.

War on police

It is hard to fathom what is happening on the streets of Philadelphia.

But it’s not hard enough to envision what will happen Friday inside the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Unfortunately we have seen the sad scenario all too often.

The long blue line will gather once again on Friday to bury one of their own.

Officer John Pawlowski was gunned down Friday night after arriving at a call for a street disturbance.

He was met with gunfire from a suspect who had concealed the gun in the pocket of his coat. He didn’t even bother to draw his weapon; he just opened fire.

Officers had asked him several times to show them his hands. Instead he showed them exactly what he thought of the uniform and the badge.

It’s a recurring theme.

Pawlowski is the sixth Philadelphia officer killed in the line of duty in the last 16 months.

It is dangerous work. Cops know that when they put on the uniform.

But today they battle something else. They battle the knowledge that there are those in society who do not blink when confronted with the men and women charged with enforcing law and order on our streets.

The suspect charged in Pawlowski’s killing had been involved in an argument with a hack cabbie during what police describe as a holdup. When his victim indicated he was calling police, the suspect replied he would shoot both him and the responding officer.

He soon made good on his threat, and did just that.

While Philadelphia prepares to say goodbye to another officer and gentleman, a newylwed with a pregnant wife at home, police in other areas must be wondering what happened to the respect once offered to the badge.

Early Sunday morning police in Chester chased down a suspect after they witnessed him blowing through a stop sign. The suspect crashed his car. Instead of surrendering, he pointed a gun at responding officers. When he refused to drop his weapon, officers fired several shots at him, wounding him in the process.

They were not alone in putting their lives in danger on these increasingly mean streets.

Friday night, just a few hours before Pawlowski was fatally shot, another Philly officer was in the line of fire, and again the undercurrent here seems to be complete disregard for the badge.

Allan Thomas, of Yeadon, was stopped on 48th Street near Walnut in West Philly. Officers smelled marijuana when they approached the car. Thomas was asked to get out of his vehicle. Instead, according to police, he attacked the officer, punching and kicking them. He got back in his car and gunned it. He dragged two officers about 15 feet.

Thomas, who has 17 arrests on his record, remains on the loose.

Something has to change. Before we lose one more officer.

More gas pains

Maybe it’s just me, but has anyone else noticed that gas prices are creeping back up again?

More importantly, can anyone tell me why? We are told that refiners are actually cutting production, whatever that means.

A few months ago, prices had dipped below $1.50 a gallon. Now suddenly we’re pushing back toward $2 a gallon again.

Here’s my theory. Yesterday was the Presidents Day holiday. It also marks the traditional weekend when people start heading to the shore to search out those essential summer rentals. Yes, we’re still shivering with temperatures in the 30s and they’re calling for snow showers Wednesday, but a lot of people have spring on their minds.

That’s probably reason enough for gas prices to start creeping up again. Why wait until Memorial Day?

People have given up a lot of things in our economic downturn. But so far it looks like maybe the shore is proving recession-proof. And the crowds down there over the weekend look like the same might just hold true this year as well.

Actually some experts believe the tough economic times actually are beneficial to beach business. The thought is that people are giving up longer trips and staying closer to home, meaning continued good times for the Jersey shore.

Look at it this way, yes, gas prices are creeping back up again. But this time a year ago we were paying $3 a gallon.

Then again, Memorial Day is still three months away. Plenty of time for prices at the pump to spike a bit more.

Anyone who thinks that gas prices will go down between now and summer raise their hands?

Thought so.

Oh, and one other thing: Don’t spend that economic stimulus money in one place. Can someone tell me exactly what the average citizen is going to get out of this thing?

More gas pains

Maybe it’s just me, but has anyone else noticed that gas prices are creeping back up again?

More importantly, can anyone tell me why? We are told that refiners are actually cutting production, whatever that means.

A few months ago, prices had dipped below $1.50 a gallon. Now suddenly we’re pushing back toward $2 a gallon again.

Here’s my theory. Yesterday was the Presidents Day holiday. It also marks the traditional weekend when people start heading to the shore to search out those essential summer rentals. Yes, we’re still shivering with temperatures in the 30s and they’re calling for snow showers Wednesday, but a lot of people have spring on their minds.

That’s probably reason enough for gas prices to start creeping up again. Why wait until Memorial Day?

People have given up a lot of things in our economic downturn. But so far it looks like maybe the shore is proving recession-proof. And the crowds down there over the weekend look like the same might just hold true this year as well.

Actually some experts believe the tough economic times actually are beneficial to beach business. The thought is that people are giving up longer trips and staying closer to home, meaning continued good times for the Jersey shore.

Look at it this way, yes, gas prices are creeping back up again. But this time a year ago we were paying $3 a gallon.

Then again, Memorial Day is still three months away. Plenty of time for prices at the pump to spike a bit more.

Anyone who thinks that gas prices will go down between now and summer raise their hands?

Thought so.

Oh, and one other thing: Don’t spend that economic stimulus money in one place. Can someone tell me exactly what the average citizen is going to get out of this thing?

A tale of two athletes

Call this one a tale of two players.

Alex Rodriguez will arrive at Yankees’ spring training today. He will be accorded the same greeting usually reserved for media day at the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, J.C. Romero will go about his business in Clearwater with the Phils pretty much in anonymity.

There’s another big difference. Rodriguez, who admitted that he used steroids during three years with the Texas Rangers, will almost assuredly be in the Yankees’ starting lineup on opening day.

Romero will not be available in his crucial set-up role out of the bullpen for the Phils when they open their defense of their World Series crown – and the Major League Baseball season - with a Sunday night prime-time game on April 5. In fact, he is out for the first 50 games of the season after he tested positive for a banned substance.

Romero bought the stuff at a local store, and says he made several inquiries as to whether it would put him in any jeopardy and was assured that it would not. He probably won’t make that mistake again. In the meantime, he can practice with the team in Florida this spring, he just can’t play once the regular season starts.

So who did something wrong, here? Rodriguez admits he used steroids. Romero admits he made a mistake. The difference is that Rodriguez’s transgression happened back before baseball was testing for steroids and other banned substances.

There doesn’t seem to be any penalty for Rodriguez, outside of being the focus of the media world for today.

In the meantime, Romero and the Phils have to be scratching their heads wondering exactly how this is supposed to be fair.

The truth is that it isn’t fair. Life usually isn’t. But anyone who can now look at the 50-game automatic suspension slapped on Romero and wonder about the justice of it would seem to have a good argument.

Baseball should take another look at these two cases. They can’t really do anything to Rodriguez. But they can still deliver something akin to justice in the case of Romero.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Daily Numbers - Feb. 12

The Daily Numbers: 1743, when the Darby Free Library was first established, making it likely the oldest public library in the nation. It’s now hurting financially, and the public is coming forward with donations to keep it open.
11 public libraries in Philadelphia that also appear as if they will remain open after first being targeted for closure in budget cuts by Mayor Michael Nutter.
68 degrees yesterday afternoon, a record high. We might be hit with wind gusts of the same number today. Grab your hat, it’s going to be a windy one.
1 freshman member of the Chester High basketball team injured when he was shot in the back in the city yesterday.
3 people being busted in a series of cell-phone thefts from stores in the region. They’re believed to have ripped off $4,000 in phones.
19,000 dollars police say was ripped off from a children’s playground fund by the treasurer of a school PTA group in Claymont.
0 tips the Upper Darby police have received so far in the brazen daylight attack on a nun in the parking lot of St. Alice’s Church. If you have information, call them at 610-734-7677.
100 workers, what the union says Sunoco is looking to eliminate in new contract talks. The union is talking strike as the March 1 deadline approaches.
15 arson fires reported in Coatesville last year. City officials now say they may have underreported that number.
500,000 dollars in state aid going to the city in its fight against a wave of arson fires that has put the city under siege.
7 of 10 Pa. voters who disapprove of Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposal to allow counties to raise the sales tax by 1 percent. But 67 percent are OK with hiking the tax on a pack of cigarettes by a dime, and 62 percent approve of his call to legalize video poker.
3, age of boy who fell down a well in Williamstown, N.J. He was rescued and rushed to the hospital.
1 person killed when flames roared through a house in Cinnaminson, N.J., overnight.
15 people charged in a house-stealing scheme in Philadelphia in which they raked in $400,000.
200 birthdays being celebrated at the University of Pennsylvania to honor Charles Darwin.
1 lawyer shot and killed execution-style as he walked into his office in a shopping center in Bucks County yesterday morning.
750 dollar bonus offered to some GE workers to quit smoking. Fifteen percent were still tobacco-free a year later.
47,000 people without power in the Pittsburgh are because of high winds. Those winds are now headed here, with gusts expected around 50-60 mph.
78.6 million dollar contract for Lockheed Martin Corp. for upgrades to the Aegis naval defense system.
51 percent decline in revenue reported by local home builder Toll Brothers Inc.
20 miles, how far a man was dragged in New York City after he was run over by an SUV, then stuck underneath a van. He was dragged 20 miles over 50 minutes. He did not survive.
1 cent increase in price of gas, now going for an average of $1.97 in the Philly region.
18 points for Andre Iguodala as the Sixers rolled to another win last night, beating the Memphis Grizzlies, 91-87.
4 straight wins heading into the All-Star break for the Sixers.
Call me a Phanatic: A look at the ups and downs of being a Philadelphia sports fan.A sight to warm the hearts of Phillies fans: Chase Utley taking ground balls yesterday in the Florida sunshine. He says he’s on track to be in the lineup on opening day as he continues to rehab from off-season hip surgery.
I Don’t Get It: A group of bankers yesterday appeared before a House panel in D.C. to testify about what they did with all that taxpayer bailout money. “We understand the taxpayers are angry,” said Kenneth Lewis of Bank of America. Somehow I doubt he has any clue just how angry people are.
Today’s Upper: Thumb’s up to all those coming forward to make donations to save the Darby Public Library, the oldest library in the United States.
Quote Box: “Hopefully, there’s not a lot of other crazy people who would want to do this, although there is someone in Coatesville.”
-- April Hemsher, whose house was set on fire during spree of seven arsons in Drexel Hill.

Swimming in sensationalism

There is not a day that goes by that an angry reader does not accuse me of sensationalizing a story.

“You only put that on your front page to sell newspapers,” is the usual rant.

I won’t lie; there is some truth to it.

One aspect of my job. I repeat one – not the only one, not the most important one - but a very real one is that I want to sell as many newspapers as I can.

I think it’s something the editors at Sports Illustrated can relate to. Fifty-one weeks of the year, the magazine focuses on the world of sports.

But one week every year, usually after the Super Bowl, in the doldrums of February, traditionally a slow spot for sports before the March Madness of college hoops, before baseball teams report to spring training, as pro hoops and hockey are continuing their never-ending march toward the important games in the playoffs, the magazine takes a different tack.

The call it the Swimsuit Issue.

While much of the country is dealing with bitter cold and snow, Sports Illustrated delivers an issue jammed with the world’s most beautiful women wearing the skimpiest bikinis they can find. And sometimes not even bikinis. On the cover this year is Israeli stunner Bar Refaeli, who can often be found on the arm of Leonardo DiCaprio.

On the cover shot, it certainly appears as if Refaeli is trying to pull down her bikini bottom. And yes, that certainly looks like a tan line she is exposing, along with very nearly everything else she has to offer. You’re shocked, I know.

Routinely the issue sparks outrage from those offended by the images, along with a wave of letters from readers vowing to cancel their subscriptions.

It also sparks something else, aside from the male libido, of course.

Sales. Really big sales. The Swimsuit Issue is traditionally SI’s biggest seller of the year.

I bring that up because this year there is a local tie-in to the famous Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

They did a promotion with the NBA this year and did a spread including members of some teams’ cheerleaders in some specially designed suits.

So there on Page 158 you can find Melanie Fitzpatrick. She’s from the Folsom section of Ridley Township. She’s a nursing student at Saint Joe’s and a four-year member of the Sixers Dance Team.

After getting a tip from her mom, I had a reporter track down Fitzpatrick for an interview. Her story appeared in Wednesday’s newspaper, along with a photo of her from the magazine.

We also placed that story on our Web site, along with the photo. And we linked from the story to the rest of the spread on the Sports Illustrated Web site.

One of the things I love about the online world is that we are able to tell pretty quickly which stories on our site are drawing the most interest.

Which story do you think was the most visited on Wednesday? In the 24-hour period after we posted the story, the Fitzpatrick interview recorded more than 4,800 “hits.”

We also teased the story off our front page. It was not our lead story.

Maybe it should have been. But then I no doubt would have been inundated with calls from irate readers saying we were simply trying to cash in on the racy nature of the photos.

It’s kind of like the National Inquirer. Nobody reads it, right? But it is routinely among the best-selling newspapers or magazines in the world, and a lot of people who claim they would never look at “that rag” seem pretty well-versed as to what’s in it.

I will continue my daily balance of what to put on the front page, balancing the stories I think are important and those that I think will sell.

It goes with the job. So do the swimsuits.