For one night in the spring of 1996, Kobe Bryant and Brandy turned Philly into Hollywood. Brandy was a bonafide star. Bryant was about to become one. And they attended Lower Merion High School’s prom together. Also, we were in Wildwood for President Donald Trump’s rally last night; another city councilmember is bracing for an indictment; and millions of credit and debit card numbers that may have been stolen from the Wawa data breach are for sale in an underground market.
As a 17-year-old in the spring of 1996, Kobe Bryant had a celebrity crush. He was an All-American, had secured a $2 million Adidas contract, and was on his way to the NBA. But could he really pull it off? Could Kobe get Brandy — the platinum artist and then a 17-year-old sitcom star — to come to his suburban Philly high school prom?
Yes, Kobe Bryant did that. Reporters and photographers lined the streets to get a glimpse of them, creating a Hollywood moment for a city that had few of them. Then, the teens walked into the Bellevue like everyone else. My colleagues talked to his classmates, teachers, and others about the night that Kobe and Brandy went to the prom and what they feel now as they mourn his death on Sunday.
During an interview with my colleagues, Kenyatta Johnson and his lawyer said they expect the indictment to focus on the relationships among Johnson’s City Hall office, wife Dawn Chavous’ consulting firm, and a South Philly nonprofit founded by Kenny Gamble called Universal Companies. They maintain their innocence and expect to be indicted on federal charges soon. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has scheduled a news conference for this morning to announce “a major criminal indictment” in a public corruption case.
Johnson and his wife and lawyer predict that prosecutors will make the case that Universal gave Chavous a consulting job in exchange for the councilmember’s assistance in securing zoning changes for its proposed redevelopment of the Royal Theater on South Street in 2014.
More than a dozen sources familiar with the matter have described to The Inquirer a five-year-long FBI inquiry examining everything from Johnson’s involvement in bargain-rate sales of city-owned land to Chavous’ work as a consultant, campaign adviser, and advocate for charter schools. There has been particular interest in the areas where Chavous’ work and the councilmember’s overlap.
President Trump addressed thousands of supporters last night at a campaign rally down the Shore, where he spoke about, among other things, the impeachment trial going on in Washington. He also shared the stage with Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the local congressman who left the Democratic Party because of his stand on impeachment and pledged “undying support” to Trump at a White House meeting in December.
The scene in Wildwood was like a tailgate, a winter wake-up for a beach town that’s usually sleepy around this time of year. But it wasn’t all cheery. Supporters and protesters clashed, squawking at each other like “groups of warring seagulls dive-bombing for the same french fry,” my colleagues wrote.
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“If you swam out far enough into the brackish ocean, maybe you’d catch a faint glimpse of Atlantic City and the working-class American dream machine of Donald Trump’s casinos, of hitting the slots and scarfing a $35 New York strip steak. Now it was 2020, and the slayer of political correctness, a Broad Street Bully, the T-shirt prophecy, had finally come to Wildwood, a conquering hero.” — writes columnist Will Bunch about the Trump campaign rally in Wildwood last night.