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>> THEY CAN DANCE IF THEY WANT TO

When gentlemen with connections to an exclusive yet prostitution-infested and mobbed-up Atlanta strip joint came to town this past summer with dreams of hanging a Gold Club sign at 13th and Locust, some neighbors raised a major stink. "Not in our backyard, whoremongers," they (basically) yelled loudly and proudly. But there was nary a peep when the club's application to the state Liquor Control Board to open a 12,000 square-foot den of sin was withdrawn earlier this month. While Gold Club attorneys didn't return numerous calls to explain the move, City Councilman Frank DiCicco doesn't think they've given up yet. DiCicco once stood as a public opponent himself, taking his cue from civic group leaders. Now, though, he's not so sure. "I'm an opponent to the point that the community is against it," DiCicco says. "But I have to tell you, I've been out there and I haven't found one person opposed to it." The councilman--whose son, Christian, is an attorney for Signatures, a strip joint next to the proposed Gold Club--believes an outcry led to the withdrawal, but predicts Signatures owner Pat DeMone might ask for zoning-board permission to expand his business. (The current operation is about a twelfth the size of what the Gold Club would have been.) "We have a lot of liquor establishments in the district. Minus restaurants, these clubs are the least problematic," DiCicco says. Some civic associations are still grasping their anti-pasty platform, including one group that isn't even in the neighborhood. Vernon Anastasio, head of the Bella Vista United Civic Association, says his group quietly joined the anti-Gold Club movement months ago. Though Bella Vista--South Philly's northernmost tip--starts blocks away from 13th and Locust, Anastasio thinks the Gold Club, or an expanded Signatures, would encroach upon his neighborhood. "It would cause the tide of success to recede in Center City East and threaten the future of Bella Vista," he says. "Six, 10, 12 blocks away is nothing. One bad business could scare thousands of people away." Though they planned on enlisting DiCicco for help, the councilman says he's never heard from the Bella Vista folks. "I'm not sure what their cause could be," DiCicco says. "I don't know what the effect would be on them." Anastasio clings to his domino-theory concerns and vows the group will continue fighting--including voicing their worries before the Zoning Board, if need be. "A lot of folks might say we already have a small club there, so what's the difference," he says. "It's a silly argument. It's like saying you meet a cancer patient on the street, and since he has cancer, you should just beat him over the head with a stick." For his part, DiCicco says he'll lend opposition only if there's a legitimate beef. "If they can document any problems, I'll be screaming up and down the streets with them," he says. "But there's a gentleman's club there and their license isn't going to go away. A bar is a bar is a bar. I don't know what else I can tell them." (Brian Hickey)

>> AN OFFER HUTTON HAD BETTER REFUSE

In the waning days before Joey Merlino and six La Cosa Nostra compatriots learn their fate, the U.S. Attorney's Office has asked U.S. District Judge Herbert Hutton to stick the alleged Mafia boss behind bars for a couple dozen years, branding the 39-year-old a "confirmed enemy of civilized society." Merlino attorney Eddie Jacobs, who declared victory when his client beat a couple of murder raps this past summer, says he's not surprised by the government's attempt to persuade Hutton to ignore the 11- to 14-year sentence recommended under federal guidelines. "It's no secret that the federal prosecutors have never said anything good about Joey Merlino. I don't really expect them to start now," Jacobs says. "It's a little too late for them to make friends with us now." The request--forwarded to Hutton in an 84-page sentencing memorandum last week--won't much matter when Merlino arrives in court at 11 a.m. Monday. While some figured the request would turn the racketeering sentencing into a mini-trial, Jacobs thinks Hutton will see through any posturing. "He was there for the same months that the prosecution and defense were there," Jacobs says. "He'll impose the sentence that's correct under the law." Christopher Warren, who represented LCN mouthpiece Angelo "Fat Ange" Lutz during the trial, didn't much like the news either. He thinks the feds are asking for sentences they could have gotten "had they been able to convince the jury that their witnesses were telling the truth." The news also irked some family members who think the prosecution is still holding a big-time grudge. "We're just praying for fairness," says a relative of one defendant. "It's all we can ask for. I'm sure we'll all have a big fight on our hands." For its part, the U.S. Attorney's Office let the memo do the talking. It reads, in part, that Merlino "committed body and soul to the perverted values of La Cosa Nostra," a group "he did not join ... to become a decent person." The one thing universally agreed upon, though, is that appeals are likely--regardless of Hutton's decision. (B.H.)

>> GOOSEBUMPS AND TURBULENCE

The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) is running a commercial featuring airline workers parroting a speech by President George W. Bush, in which he urges Americans to get on with their lives in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. TIA spokesperson Cathy Keefe says she's received email responses saying the ad gave viewers goosebumps. She hopes the goosebumps will result in sales for an industry that's been hit hard by the attacks. "Between this year and next, the tourism industry is going to lose half a million jobs," she says. "The industry had to act quickly and dramatically to restore a vital segment of the economy." But there's a bright side, Keefe says. While all types of travel declined in the wake of the attacks, one segment rebounded fairly quickly. That segment, corporate travel, is an important part of Philadelphia's economy, since Rosenbluth International, a major corporate travel company, is headquartered here. "This year, we have the worst of all worlds," says CEO Hal Rosenbluth. "We have a slowing economy that's global in nature, the results of terrorism on travel and now you add emotion to the equation. I would say that 15 to 20 percent of the reduction on travel is as emotional as economic." Though Rosenbluth had to furlough some of its employees and cut the salaries of others, the company was able to bring some workers back fairly quickly. So in spite of the drop in travel, Rosenbluth predicts his company will see a profit this year. "I'm not surprised, to be honest," says Keefe, of TIA. "We had this horrible attack. But you have no choice but to travel for your business." (Solomon Jones)

>> SEPTA: SERIOUS ABOUT SPENDING CHANGE

As SEPTA goes about the business of finding a new general manager to replace Jack Leary, rail commuters continue to deal with the new realities of using public transportation. Not only does the threat of terrorist attacks loom, but street crime is still a concern. Though SEPTA's 250-member police force has been effective (subway passengers are 90 percent safer than people above ground, says SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney), the recent murder of Christine Lynn Eberle at a Camden PATCO station has renewed some commuters' fears. But safety isn't the issue that SEPTA's new general manager should most closely examine, says Matthew Mitchell of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers (DVARP). Better service should be the priority. "There are a lot of things that can be done to improve SEPTA that don't take a lot of money, and in fact can actually save SEPTA money," Mitchell says. "But it's easier for them to just wait around for expensive construction projects and high-tech fixes and then blame insufficient funding for mediocre service." SEPTA's $1.7 billion plan to build a Schuylkill Valley Metro exemplifies the need for a change in the agency's culture, says Mitchell. SEPTA's Maloney disagrees. "Unfortunately, our friends at DVARP are interested in building a cheaper system, faster, to serve their needs. Which is fine. But if you're going to build a system that's going to last for the next 150 years, you've got to make it state-of-the-art." Maloney says SEPTA isn't trying to reinvent the wheel to implement with the new Schuylkill Valley Metro system, or with the new general manager. "Our chairman, Pat Deon, announced that the search committee will first be looking at internal candidates," Maloney says. The strength of such a candidate, he says, would be continuity. (S.J.)

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