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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Well, Andrew said, John Street's up for reelection in three years ... Even now, this makes Job laugh. Can you believe this guy?

Admittedly more conservative, Troy is the wise old soul of the group, trying to explain sometimes why something can't be done. "I disagree with 90 percent of what Andrew says, but at least his idea's correct. It's the execution that may be debatable." The city has to bleed, Troy will tell you, to change. Sacrifices must be made.

Go to a meeting of the Group and you'll be jolted by the dynamics. You've never seen people interact this way, at least not if they're going to get anything done.

These people respect one another, they listen and take notes, they nod their heads approvingly and ask questions. They disagree, but with politesse and usually a joke. They laugh constantly and appreciate each other's idiosyncrasies.

Troy has 40 pairs of shoes, for instance. When Dave makes a slightly anachronistic comment about women, no one gets angry, though they make their disapproval known with a collective "oh ho ho ..."

They don't interrupt each other, and if they do cross-talk, someone will invariably stop to listen to the new conversation springing up--not out of frustration but simply to see if there are good ideas coming from that side.

And ideas, really, are what it's all about. The priority is making the city better. Andrew is the host, but that doesn't mean people defer to him. He talks a lot because his knowledge is prodigious, and his near-photographic memory allows the group to use him as they would a reference book. But no one here is a shrinking violet, and if someone seems to get short shrift, it will be addressed.

At one meeting, the conversation is directed toward John, the Masterman senior: What would he like to see more of in the city, from a teenager's perspective? Roller rinks? Bowling alleys? Mini-golf?

Plenty of jokes are made about what the kids are up to these days, when, in actuality, the kids are apparently up to setting an agenda for the city of Philadelphia. Finally, John tells them it's movie theaters that matter most--and they're off.

For the most part, they're remarkably savvy, looking at the questions of where and when from both cultural and fiscal standpoints. Their youth is not so noticeable when they talk about history or policy or economics or culture; it's noticeable when they talk about possibilities for the city. A movie theater on South Street, for example--wouldn't that be great?

Dave Simons, of course, knows exactly why there isn't a movie theater on South Street. Most of all, he knows that there used to be one--something that stuns the rest of the group.

There was? When? Where? TLA? No way!

It is also Simons who points out the importance of the Schmidt's Brewery as a historical landmark. With everyone else debating Bart Blatstein's plan for Second and Girard in a way that would make one assume the entire Schmidt's plot had been firebombed, Dave asks them, What if the city had treated the Bourse Building the same way, just gotten rid of it, like that? Ah, perspective.

On the other hand, what's the point of youth, if not innocence? "We don't have anyone to say no to us," Job says. "We don't have people telling us, That's already been tried. Forget it. We're so young that we haven't had people telling us, 'No, no, no,' for 20 years. So we don't care if an idea is completely off the wall, we'll throw it out there and see what people think."

One evening the group defers to Eva. What are some of the needs of women in Philadelphia? What can we do to make the city more hospitable to women?

She has a list. As she goes through her ideas, everyone listens then debates them. No one treats her any differently.

"Well, there's day care, for one thing," she says. "Corporate day care for people who work in Center City. The commute is hard and if you want to make the city more attractive to workers ... Maybe it could encourage people to move back into town. Imagine what would happen if there was a day care right in the building itself, the money that would be saved." Eva wonders one thing, though: What would these companies get for it?

One of Andrew's favorite phrases is "the corporate halo" to indicate the positive effect companies make when they do charity work or develop progressive work environments. But who should they contact to get started on developing this idea?

Center City District, maybe. They'd know, Troy says, which companies are already providing on-site day care for their employees. That's a good place to start.

Andrew's dog-eared copy of the Daily News article about SEPTA raising its fares is familiar territory for the group. They've all read it, of course. They all know what's going on, and they're appalled.

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