The Boy Who Would Be Mayor

Since sixth grade, Andrew Hohns has had only one goal: to govern the city he calls home.

By Liz Spikol
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 28, 2001

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It's a bright summer day on the diamond at the Palumbo Recreation center at 10th and Fitzwater. The center's Slow-Arc Pitch Softball League is hosting a game between two local bars, Doobies at 22nd and Lombard and Dirty Frank's at 13th and Pine. Today, the two are competing for the unofficial title of Worst Team in the League. The game could go either way.

Sitting on the bleachers, squinting through the sunlight to see them hit (and miss) you can't help noticing the tall, rangy guy on the Frank's team who's on his way over. Wearing his own classic-Gap variation on the Dirty Frank's softball uniform (all white T-shirt with a small Dirty Frank's logo over the left breast pocket; red Exeter shorts; dusty cleats), this guy is further distinguished by an almost blinding charisma.

Sitting down, he says with utter confidence, "I'm Andrew Hohns," as if "Andrew Hohns" is some kind of brand-name product. Then, before he sits on the squeaky metal bleacher next to the half-empty bottles of Gatorade, he looks you right in the eye and firmly shakes your hand.

This determined introduction seems a little stiff for a bar-league softball game, but that's what makes you notice: He's not like the other guys out here. And he's certainly not like the other kids his age--which, you're astonished to learn, is just 22.

Within 10 minutes, Andrew Hohns tells you he'll be mayor of Philadelphia. Within 25 minutes, you believe him.

Why would a 22-year-old--who's only been drinking in bars for a year, who only just graduated from Wharton, who just got his first "real" job with a "real" salary--want to settle now on such a definite future? Moreover, why is that future--being mayor of Philadelphia--so appealing to a 22-year-old? And most important, what makes that 22-year-old certain he can pull it off ?

Andrew Hohns has been longing for that future--banking on it, actually--since he was around 11 years old. It's out of a love for the city, he'll say, but you have to wonder what's really going on. Isn't there some kind of agenda here, some Machiavellian plot to use the mayoralty as a stepping stone to bigger things? Surely, a young man as bright as this one--who studies Latin and reads Greek, who speaks French, who's equally familiar with Pericles' famed funeral oration as he is with the economy of the Laffer Curve--could leave Philadelphia tomorrow and start a successful political career anywhere.

But that's not what Andrew Hohns wants. He says this right up front, at the Palumbo Recreation Center, and uses the rec center and the softball game itself to explain why this is the place he wants to be: This man--a boy, really--is in love; he's in love with the city. He'll have other love affairs, certainly, and he does have a girlfriend. But his first love, his passion above all else, is the city.

He'll tell you this while sitting next to you on the bleachers, his face and body turned toward you. The unexpected intensity he brings to each conversation can be unnerving. His blue eyes cry out for that cliched description--"piercing"--and not just because they contrast so markedly with his black hair.

Though it takes some time to realize it, the truth is he's actually listening. He's listening to what you have to say because it interests him. And it's not entirely unselfish--whatever you're saying could be useful someday, if not now, then in the future.

He's fascinated by you, but don't be too flattered. He's fascinated by everyone.

Before he hops gracefully off the bleachers and high-fives his teammates as he goes out onto the field, Andrew Hohns turns and waves: "I'll talk to you soon," he says. And sure enough, he will.

Andrew Hohns was born in Philadelphia and lived here until he was two. His parents divorced and he and his mother moved in with her parents in Bridgeton, N.J., for three years. Then they moved back to Philadelphia and into the Rittenhouse Claridge, on Rittenhouse Square.

Andrew's father is a Wharton graduate who became an executive in the printing industry. He worked for 15 years at a local firm, then, under former President George Bush, was appointed Deputy Public Printer of the United States. In 1992, Bush lost the White House and Andrew's father was out of a job. Now, his father is chief operating officer of a business in Florida that makes one out of every eight cassettes manufactured in the United States.

Andrew's mother, Nancy L. Hohns, is vice president of the P.R. group at Gillespie, an advertising firm in Princeton, N.J. Ask her about her son and you'll get less of the proud-mother stuff than you'd expect.

Of course she loves her son, she says, but more than that, she respects him. He has always had a game plan for himself, and like those who meet him on the bleachers, or on the bus, in the park or in a bar, Andrew's mother takes him seriously. She's familiar with her son's patterns--the way he does his homework and collects information to set a plan in motion.

His intense listening is part of that process, she says. His quest is to become more knowledgeable, more richly informed, more purposeful.

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