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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Like all mothers, she always knew her son was going to be something--but in her case, she was sure Andrew would make a contribution. And when he does, he's modest about it--sometimes in ways that astonish her.

What about the time--was he 13, 14?--when there was smoke coming from a neighbor's apartment. Andrew noticed the smoke and knocked on the door to make sure everything was all right.

It was almost a year later when Andrew's mother heard the story for the first time. The neighbor stopped her in the elevator, saying, "Is that nice young man your son? He almost saved my life." He did?

Andrew went to Friends Select School for K-8 and Masterman for high school, where he graduated with honors. He applied early decision to Wharton as an undergraduate because he was fascinated by the idea of going into business. In fact, he admired Ayn Rand's businessman-novel The Fountainhead so much, he was a semifinalist in a national essay contest about it.

By going to Wharton, Andrew says he learned all kinds of pragmatic ideas that will help him as mayor of Philadelphia. Still, the business curriculum was often academically uninspiring.

One summer, Madeline Fox of Joseph Fox Booksellers on Sansom Street, recommended Andrew read The Argonautika. He was so moved by it, he realized he had to learn the language in which it was originally written. He changed his course of study at Penn to the classics--Greek, Greek history, Roman history, Latin, etc.--immersing himself in the political thought of the ancients.

It's this wide base of knowledge that makes Andrew something of a Renaissance man. Or at least that's how his friend Jonathan sees it.

Jonathan Binstock, a former Philadelphian, is now curator of contemporary arts at the Corcoran Museum in Washington, D.C. He's eager to talk about Andrew, but wants to make it clear that he understands Andrew better than anybody.

Binstock met Andrew when they lived in the same building, where Andrew still lives, in Old City. They became fast friends. Binstock says Andrew was the first political person he'd met whom he liked.

Binstock is confident of Andrew's ability to succeed in the public sphere because Andrew's smart and well-meaning. Oh, and he also knows about 50 percent of the city's residents, so based on the sheer power of numbers, if Binstock's estimate is correct, he's got a good shot.

Asked why he thinks a 22-year-old would want to be mayor, Binstock explains that Andrew's a Philadelphian, born and raised. He loves the city--didn't he take Binstock to Quaker meetings here? Isn't it Andrew's love of the city that fostered in Binstock the same love of Philadelphia?

Okay, but there must be something behind that civic scrim. He can't be this good and nice and proud and devoted. Look at his apartment--so clean, spare and neat with such quality furniture. It's something like a movie set or a photo shoot for Vanity Fair: The Young Politician at Home.

No, no, no. You're not getting Andrew at all, Binstock says. "He got all that furniture because he got a great deal. And the reason he lives that way is that he is an aesthetic being. He speaks like a poet and speaks like a politician and makes them the same thing. He reads Greek and Latin and speaks French. He's an Old World-style Renaissance man who's 22. People who meet him think he's older. His natural age is 44. Wait, maybe 54. He's like an old professor; he could be tenured at a university."

He could be a professor, but he seems to want to be mayor. You worry that he's giving something up. You think he's making sacrifices to be the person he needs to be.

Binstock knows he's not because he knows that's natural to Andrew's character. "He's not making sacrifices, he's building bridges, and sometimes if you're going to do that, you have to be appealing to the person to the left and the person to the right. He's not sacrificing too much; he's discovering himself in the process."

If he utters it, he feels it, Brinstock says. He's there in the moment. He's living by the gut. His nature is inherently political.

"Have you ever heard Andrew recite T.S. Eliot?" asks Binstock with finality. "Nobody recites T.S. Eliot better than Andrew."

It's windy and getting dark. It's around 5 o'clock and people are hurrying against the crowds to get home.

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