I don't have many regrets about working here at the Daily News for nearly 19 years, but I do have this one: I arrived a few years too late to work with the legendary Chuck Stone, who died earlier today at the age of 89. His nearly two-decade run at the paper, from 1972-91, happened to coincide with the mist tumultuous era in modern Philadelphia history. Had there not been a Chuck Stone, the city would have had to invent one.
Through the years that Stone chronicled the "charming and churlish" Rizzo's administration, he frequently castigated the "law-and-order evangelist" for having built a police force known for its brutality, especially toward black prisoners. Stone also blamed the "embarrassingly unlettered dolt in City Hall" for polarizing the city along racial lines and complained loudly because no blacks held key positions in Rizzo's power structure.
But by the 1980s, African Americans had been elected to many of Philadelphia's key political positions. Although Stone celebrated this new demonstration of black clout in government, he eventually argued acidulously that U.S. Congressman William H. Gray, III and some other local black leaders were "as inept and almost as corrupt as their white counterparts." In particular Stone waged war against Wilson Goode. He actually wrote the first major media endorsement of Goode's mayoral candidacy, but barely five months into Goode's first term, Stone initiated a series of blistering attacks that would continue for eight years. In column after column he condemned Goode for failing to address Philadelphia's substantive problems.
Stone especially censured Goode's ill-fated decision in May of 1985 to authorize police to drop a bomb onto a rowhouse inhabited by MOVE, a violent, radical, back-to-nature group. The bomb ignited a fire that killed 11 blacks and left 250 people homeless. Later, the mayor failed to express to investigators what Stone felt was adequate contrition over the fact that five of the people killed were children, and the columnist blasted Goode as a "charcoal-broiled caricature of [former U.S. president] Richard Nixon lying through his teeth."
In addition to such razor-edged invectives aimed at politicians, Stone's columns were known especially for their scalding denunciations of racism and discrimination and for their persistent preaching to blacks about their need for self-improvement. Usually lively, often humorous, and always compellingly unpredictable, his columns helped make him a popular, high-profile figure among Philadelphians.
There is a bit of rose-colored nostalgia about journalists and journalism sometimes -- the truth is that the folks writing for the Daily News today would generally hold their own against any generation. But Stone was truly one of a kind -- as the song says, they don't write 'em like that anymore.