A Q&A with author and political pundit Michael Smerconish

This week in North Philly Notes, Michael Smerconish talks about how he came to politics, his opinions, and his new book,  Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

How did you develop your role as a political commentator?
I was interested in Republican politics and benefitted from some unique experiences at an early age. I was an assistant GOP committeeman, elected alternate delegate to a national convention and state legislative candidate all before age 25. By the time I was 29, I was appointed to a sub-cabinet level position in the George H.W. Bush Administration. Those experiences put me on the radar of some Philadelphia local network television affiliates who then began to call upon me for election commentary.

How did your background in politics shape your opinions, and how did it influence your approach to writing about local and popular culture?
I’ve always enjoyed writing about both political and cultural topics. As I look at the breath of my work as a columnist, it is pretty evenly divided between the two. I’ve written about a variety of 9/11 related issues, war, political candidates, and the economy. I’ve also written about yard sales, holiday decorations, and family pets.

You are always looking for a “good story” to turn into a column. In this age of “click bait” journalism, what makes a “good story,” or motivates you to think critically and provide thoughtful analysis?
A good story to me has nothing to do with the Red State/Blue State divide. What I most enjoy are telling those stories that are Seinfeldian, a slice of life that may (or may not) highlight areas of different opinion but not along the partisan divide. The kind of issues we enjoy talking about and maybe laughing about without being at each other’s throats.

Clowns to the Left of Me_smCan you describe the criteria you used to whittle down the more than 1000 articles you published to the 100 in the book?
Like Justice Potter Stewart once said about pornography, “I knew it when I saw it.” By my count, I published 1,047 columns for the Daily News and Inquirer between 2001 and 2016, and although I was making some swaps until the final submission, for the most part I had an easy time picking what I wanted to re-visit. Some things I got right and wanted to crow about, some things I got wrong but wanted to own, and others just plain stood the test of time and were insightful.

What observations do you have about the Afterwords you wrote for each entry? In some cases, you apologize for things you wrote, and in others, you show how your thinking on a topic has evolved.
I think most of us evolve over time with regard to our thinking. What separates me from many is that my opinions are all chiseled in granite, er, newsprint. And so you can easily discern how I viewed literally more than 1,000 issues. As I re-read everything I have published, there were certainly areas where my views have changed and I wanted to explain why. But there were plenty of times when I looked at what I’ve written and concluded that the times have changed, not me.

You write about everyone from Fidel Castro to Bill Cosby. You write about paying more money for a Cat Stevens concert than you care to admit. Who impressed you the most—or the least?
While I have been immensely fortunate to interact with many household names, those aren’t often the encounters that created the most meaningful columns. Yes, I interviewed Barack Obama and wrote about him, and Bill Cosby, and had a funny encounter with Led Zeppelin and Pete Rose—but the columns I’m most proud of are those I wrote about an old college professor, a woman who worked for our family in a domestic capacity, and a guy I went to junior high school with who today is a tomato farmer. Real people with compelling stories.

Do you have a favorite column that you published?
I once wrote a Daily News column—with my thumbs on a Blackberry—while standing in a 2-hour viewing line as it snaked through South Philadelphia. I think the headline was “Requiem for an Era.” I’m very proud of that column.

You are donating your author proceeds for the book to the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center. Can you explain why this charity is so important to you?
CCTC exists to serve children who are victims of trauma. If you hear a heartbreaking story about something that has happened to children, chances are, CCTC is involved. My wife is on the board and I wanted to highlight their good work.

About the author:
Michael A. Smerconish
is a SiriusXM radio host, CNN television host, and Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper columnist. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Lehigh University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, he is of counsel to the law firm of Kline & Specter. He resides in the Philadelphia suburbs, where he and his wife have raised four children.

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Celebrating Independent Bookstore Day

This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press celebrates Independent Bookstore Day, Saturday, April 28.  Join the Party! Visit one of these participating area bookstores:

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What is Independent Bookstore Day?

Independent Bookstore Day is a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on the last Saturday in April.  Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different. But in addition to authors, live music, cupcakes, scavenger hunts, kids events, art tables, readings, barbecues, contests, and other fun stuff, there are exclusive books and literary items that you can only get on that day. Not before. Not after. Not online.

Why are we celebrating independent bookstores?

Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers. They are entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity. They are lively performance spaces and quiet places where aimless perusal is a day well spent.

In a world of tweets and algorithms and pageless digital downloads, bookstores are not a dying anachronism.  They are living, breathing organisms that continue to grow and expand. In fact, there are more of them this year than there were last year. And they are at your service.

Can the Row’s Relics be Rescued?

This week in North Philly Notes, Dotty Brown, author of Boathouse Row writes about working with history buffs on Boathouse Row to find ways to preserve and archive the clubs’  fascinating historical records. 

We have all this stuff. Where do you start? What do you do with it?”

Henry Hauptfuhrer, of the Bachelors Barge Club, was not talking about cleaning out his house. This was about how to preserve 150 years of Boathouse Row history, everything from oil paintings and silver trophies to old log books and financial records.

Last week a handful of rowers toured two 19thcentury upriver social clubs – the Button (belonging to the Bachelors Barge Club) and Castle Ringstetten (Undine Barge Club) – then traveled down to the Malta Boat Club to survey artifacts desperately in need of preservation.

The problem is ubiquitous on the Row, where important historical records – many dating back more than a century – are variously stored in plastic storage bins, closet-like rooms with no air conditioning, or in the attics of officers’ homes.

Over the years, some clubs have moved their most valuable papers to facilities such as the Independence Seaport Museum or the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where they are preserved, catalogued, and available to the public for review, sometimes even on the internet. But their space is limited (where to put all those trophies?), and archiving costs money which would have to be raised.

The quantity of stuff is so great, it could fill an entire museum – and many wish a Rowing Museum could be launched in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, a rump group made up of Henry Hauptfuhrer of Bachelors, Rick Stehlik and Chuck Patterson of the Malta Boat Club and Katie Biddle of Undine, who is trained in archival work, hope their effort will pick up speed along the Row. Expect announcements of meetings and suggestions for taking steps to prevent papers from mouldering and how to move on from there.

A memorable moment of our little gathering was the quiet presentation by Bachelor’s Henry Hauptfuhrer of a 96-year-old gold pocket watch to the Undine Barge Club.

“A friend who knew I rowed alerted me about the watch” which was for sale decades ago at a jewelry store in Wayne, Henry explained. “It was engraved, “Peoples Regatta, Philadelphia, July 4th 1922, Senior Single Shells, 14 Mile Dash, Won By:….”

“I knew this would be an important item from the glory days of Boathouse Row,” Henry said. “However, the winner’s name was missing and I had no luck over the years” learning who might have won it.

But Rick Stehlik, in perusing old clippings in Malta’s trove, found that the watch had been won by Thomas J. Rooney, a champion rower of the years around World War I. In 1916, rowing for Long Island’s Ravenswood Boat Club, he won the National Singles Championship and would have gone on to the 1916 Olympics, but the games were cancelled because of the war.

It’s not clear how he ended up rowing for Undine in 1922, but his name appears on the club’s 1922 Mileage Trophy, honoring the member who rowed the most miles that year.

The watch, now returned to Undine, comes with its own challenge – that of figuring out how to safeguard it. Along with safeguarding so much more.

Anyone interested in joining this adventure in archiving, please contact Rick at rstehlik1@verizon.net, Henry or Katie or me at bhrthebook@gmail.com

This column was re-posted from www.boathouserowthebook/blog   Follow Dotty on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BoathouseRowBook/ 

Books that bloom and flow

This week in North Philly Notes, in honor of the Philadelphia Flower Show, we celebrate our books that bloom and flow, in keeping with the flower show’s theme, “Wonders of Water.”

The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design by Lolly Tai

Children’s gardens are magical places where kids can interact with plants, see where food and fibers grow, and experience the role of birds, butterflies, and bees in nature. These gardens do more than just expose youngsters to outdoor environments, they also provide marvelous teaching opportunities for them to visit a small plot, care for vegetables and flowers, and interact in creative spaces designed to stimulate all five senses.
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In The Magic of Children’s Gardens, landscape architect Lolly Tai provides the primary goals, concepts and key considerations for designing outdoor spaces that are attractive to and suitable for children especially in urban environments. Tai presents inspiring ideas for creating children’s green spaces by examining nearly twenty case studies, including the Chicago Botanic Gardens and Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA.

The Magic of Children’s Gardens features hundreds of comprehensive drawings and gorgeous photographs of successful children’s outdoor environments, detailed explanations of the design process, and the criteria needed to create attractive and pleasing gardens for children to augment their physical, mental, and emotional development.
Exposing youth to well-planned outdoor environments promotes our next generation of environmental stewards. The Magic of Children’s Gardens offers practitioners a guide to designing these valued spaces.

A Guide to the Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region, text by Adam Levine, photographs by Rob Cardillo

Finall1851_reg.gify, for every resident and visitor to the region, a comprehensive guide to the gardens of eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware. Magnificently illustrated with nearly 200 full color photographs, A Guide to the Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region provides essential information on how to locate and enjoy the finest gardens the area has to offer.

As the horticultural epicenter of the United States, Philadelphia and the surrounding towns, suburbs, and countryside are blessed with more public gardens in a concentrated area than almost any other region in the world. Stretching from Trenton, New Jersey through Philadelphia and down to Newark, Delaware, this area (often called the Delaware Valley) offers more horticultural riches than a visitor can possibly see even in a couple of weeks of hectic garden hopping.

City in a Park: A History of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System by James McClelland and Lynn Miller

Fairmount Park is the municipal park system of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It consists of more than one hundred parks, squares, and green spaces totaling approximately 11,000 acres, and i2348_reg.gifs one of the largest landscaped urban park systems in the world. In City in a Park, James McClelland and Lynn Miller provide an affectionate and comprehensive history of this 200-year-old network of parks.

Originated in the nineteenth century as a civic effort to provide a clean water supply to Philadelphia, Fairmount Park also furnished public pleasure grounds for boat races and hiking, among other activities. Millions today travel to the city to view its eighteenth-century villas, attend boat races on the Schuylkill River, hike the Wissahickon Creek, visit the Philadelphia Zoo, hear concerts in summer, stroll the city’s historic squares and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and enjoy its enormous collection of public art. Green initiatives flower today; Philadelphia lives amidst its parks.

Filled with nearly 150 gorgeous full-color photographs, City in a Park chronicles the continuing efforts to create a twenty-first century version of what founder William Penn desired: a “greene countrie town.”

Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River by Beth Kephart

The Schuylkill River — the name in Dutch means “hidden creek” — courses many miles, turning through Philadelphia before it yields to the Delaware. “I am this wide. I am this deep. A tad voluptuous, but only in places,” writes Beth Kephart, capturing the voice of this natural resource in Flow.

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An award-winning author, Kephart’s elegant, impressionistic story of the Schuylkill navigates the beating heart of this magnificent water source. Readers are invited to flow through time-from the colonial era and Ben Franklin’s death through episodes of Yellow Fever and the Winter of 1872, when the river froze over-to the present day. Readers will feel the silt of the Schuylkill’s banks, swim with its perch and catfish, and cruise-or scull-downstream, from Reading to Valley Forge to the Water Works outside center city.

Flows lush narrative is peppered with lovely, black and white photographs and illustrations depicting the river’s history, its people, and its gorgeous vistas. Written with wisdom and with awe for one of the oldest friends of all Philadelphians, Flow is a perfect book for reading while the ice melts, and for slipping in your bag for your own visit to the Schuylkill.

Boathouse Row: Waves of Change in the Birthplace of American Rowing by Dotty Brown

The history of Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is both wide and deep. Dotty Brown, an avid rower and former editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, immersed herself in boathouse archives to provide a comprehensive history of rowing in Philadelphia. She takes readers behind the scenes to recount the era when rowing was the spectator sport of its time-and the subject of Thomas Eakins’ early artwork-through the heyday of the famed Kelly dynasty, and the fight for women to get the right to row. (Yes, it really was a fight, and it

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With more than 160 photographs, a third of them in full color, Boathouse Row chronicles the “waves of change” as various groups of different races, classes, and genders fought took generations to win.)for access to water and the sport. Chapters also discuss the architectural one-upmanship that defined Boathouse Row after Frank Furness designed the stunning and eclectic Undine Barge Club, and the regattas that continue to take place today on the Schuylkill River, including the forgotten forces that propelled high school rowing.
Beautifully written and illustrated, Boathouse Row will be a keepsake for rowers and spectators alike.

Fly, E-A-G-L-E-S, Fly

This week in North Philly Notes, we continue the celebration of the Eagles and Ray Didinger, author of The New Eagles Encyclopedia.

Ray Didinger, longtime and beloved sportswriter, was remarkably composed when he visited Temple University Press’ offices in the week leading up to Super Bowl LII. But after the Eagles beat the Patriots in the big game, Didinger, who bleeds green, broke down on camera. Check out this video from NBC Sports’ Post Game Live, which shows Didinger getting emotional.

There is another video, “Philadelphia…This is your moment!” which also features Didinger.

The New Eagles Encyclopedia_smDidinger’s reaction to the Eagles win was also covered in this column by Rob Tornoe that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on February 5.

 

By Rob Tornoe

NFL Hall of Fame writer and analyst Ray Didinger is generally known for his calm and level-headed analysis of the Eagles on NBC Sports Philadelphia and SportsRadio 94.1 WIP (unless your name is Chip Kelly).

But early Monday morning, after the Eagles stunning 41-33 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, the normally stoic Didinger got emotional when Eagles Postgame Livehost Michael Barkann introduced a guest on set — Didinger’s son, David.

David, who works for NFL Films, embraced his father live on air to celebrate the Eagles first Super Bowl win in an emotional moment that reflects the strong generational bond Birds fans have with their team.

“That scene is being repeated in Philadelphia thousands and thousands and thousands of times,” said former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell.

“It’s [for] everybody that didn’t have a chance that see this. My grandparents, my mom’s parents, my Uncle Kevin,” David Didinger noted as his father fought back tears. “I’ve waited 44 year and I swear I’d never thought I’d see this day.

Of course, Ray Didinger has waited longer for this moment than his son. The Eagles last championship came in 1960, when Didinger was just 13 years old. As he attempted to dry his eyes, he pointed out that he’s lived in the same house for 30 years, and during that time he’s had pigeons, hawks and even cats climbing on the garage.

On Saturday, Didinger’s wife told him when she woke up, there was an eagle sitting on the garage.

“I don’t believe in mysticism… She said to me ‘That’s either got to be the spirit of your father or your mother.’ And I truly believe that,” an emotional Didinger said. “To be able to share this with my son is beyond special.”

Last week, Didinger reflected on his family’s love of the Eagles, and tried to sum up what it would feel like if the Birds managed to knock off the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.

“My parents and my grandparents,” Didinger told Angelo Cataldi on the WIP Morning Show last week. “They’re all gone. But the last time they won this thing in 1960 we were all together in the east stands at Franklin Field watching it happen. If the confetti starts falling on Nick Foles on Sunday night, the first people I’m going to think about are my parents and grandparents. I think that’s true across the city.

“Family is so tied in to what people feel about this team, that everybody is going to feel exactly the same thing, ‘I wish grandpa was here. I was Uncle Bill was here. I wish they could all share in this,’ ” Didinger said. “Or, if they are still here, they’re all gonna share in it together.”

 

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate

This week in North Philly Notes, Rich Westcott, author of Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate, honors the legacy of the Negro League star and Hall of Fame catcher.

One of best players ever to perform in Negro League baseball was James Raleigh (Biz) Mackey. A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Mackey spent 27 years as a professional player, starring in Philadelphia as well as Indianapolis, Baltimore, and Newark.

In addition to his accomplishments on the field, Mackey was a successful Negro League manager. He was also Roy Campanella’s mentor, teaching the youngster how to be a catcher. And he played a major role in elevating the interest in baseball in Japan to its present level.

“As a player, as a manager, and as a personality, he was in a class by himself,” Hall of Famer Monte Irvin said.

Satchel Paige, Judy Johnson, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Oscar Charleston, and Cool Papa Bell, all are among the greats of the Negro leagues. All of them played an important part in the history of black baseball and the ultimate acceptance of black players into major league baseball. Mackey is a major part of that group.

WestcottRevised080717SMIt is generally acknowledged that Mackey was the greatest all-around catcher in Negro League history. Gibson was a better hitter, but Mackey was an outstanding hitter, too, and he could run, field, throw, handle pitchers, and run a game better than any other catcher who ever played in the Negro leagues.

Even though he never played major league baseball, Mackey is considered one of the greatest catchers of all time, ranking at the top with Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, and Campanella. Biz’s skills behind the plate were as highly regarded as any of those all-time greats.

Mackey was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, some 41 years after his death. Currently, he is one of only 18 catchers who have been inducted into the baseball shrine.

The son of sharecroppers, Mackey was born in 1897 and raised near San Antonio, Texas in the first African American settlement in that state.

Possessor of a friendly person who was liked by virtually all with whom he came into contact, Mackey played professionally from 1920 until making his last at-bat in 1947 at the age of 50. According to black baseball historians Larry Lester and Dick Clark, his lifetime batting average was .327.

Biz spent nine years playing in Philadelphia, including six with the Hilldale Daisies and three with the Philadelphia Stars. He led both teams to victories in the Negro League World Series—the Daisies in 1925 and the Stars in 1934. In those days, Philadelphia was one of the major cities in Negro league baseball and games, including some played at Baker Bowl and Shibe Park, were big attractions, not only to black fans but many times to white fans as well.

Mackey, who played in many different countries around the world during his career, was also a key member of the Indianapolis ABCs, the Baltimore Elite Giants, and the Newark Eagles. As manager, he led to the Giants in 1939 and the Eagles in 1946 to Negro League championships.

Overall, it was truly a glittering career for this all-time great Negro League player, manager, and innovator.

Temple University Press’s 2017 Best Sellers

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase our most popular books of the past year: The Top 10 best sellers of 2017!

  1. Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden Cityby Joseph E. B. Elliott, Nathaniel Popkin, and Peter Woodall. Revealing the physical and cultural intricacies of Philadelphia, from the intimate to the monumental.
  2. The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhoodby Tommy J. Curry. Introduces the conceptual foundations for Black Male Studies, going beyond gender theories that cast the Black Male as a pathological aspiring patriarch.
  3. The Forest and the Trees: Sociology as Life, Practice, and Promise, Third Editionby Allan G. Johnson. An updated exploration of sociology as a way of thinking.
  4.  Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America, by Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin. The life and times of the extraordinary Octavius Catto, and the first civil rights movement in America.
  5. The New Eagles Encyclopedia, Ray Didinger with Robert Lyons. The best-selling book on the Philadelphia Eagles, completely updated and expanded.
  6. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics, Revised and Expanded Edition, by George Lipsitz. A widely influential book—revised to reveal racial privilege at work in the 21st century.
  7. Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past, by Sam Wineburg, How do historians know what they know?
  8. We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change, by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, edited by Brenda Bell, John Gaventa, and John Peters. Two pioneers of education discuss their diverse experiences and ideas.
  9. Believing in Cleveland: Managing Decline in “The Best Location in the Nation,” by J. Mark Souther. Explores how civic and business leaders used image-making in an effort to reimagine and revive Cleveland in the decades after World War II.
  10. Phil Jasner “On the Case:” His Best Writing on the Sixers, the Dream Team, and Beyond, edited by Andy Jasner. Three decades of reporting by renowned Philadelphia Hall of Fame sportswriter Phil Jasner.

 

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