It was a South Philly version of the elephant in the room: the convicted mobster at the community zoning meeting.
Dressed in a blue Adidas track suit and sitting near the back of the school auditorium, Philip Narducci, 50, had bulked up in the last two and a half decades in federal prison.
Narducci did not speak at the Dec. 4 meeting that about 90 residents of the Girard Estate neighborhood attended.
But his presence has nonetheless been felt as his sister, Susan Baldino, attempts to open a pawnshop and check-cashing business next to the family's Philip's Steaks on West Passyunk Avenue. Narducci's racketeering conviction disqualifies him from running the kind of business his sister has proposed.
Narducci finished his sentence earlier this year and, after 25 years behind bars, is back in his old neighborhood, where his past has haunted an otherwise pedestrian neighborhood dispute.
Girard Estate has changed in the decades since Narducci was convicted in 1988, the year before he was also convicted of one of the city's most notorious mob killings, the 1985 hit on bookmaker Frank "Frankie Flowers" D'Alfonso. Narducci's murder conviction was later overturned, but the previous mob charges stuck.
The neighborhood of historic Craftsman houses and wide sidewalks has had an influx of younger professionals, lawyers and executives with backpacks. It is mostly those newcomers who have opposed the pawnshop, using grassroots organizing tactics that they hope - somewhat nervously - will beat out old neighborhood ties and backroom deals.
That's not always easy when it's Narducci calling on the cellphone.
Dealing with an issue that brought them face to face with a convicted mobster out of a distant past has been surreal and a bit unsettling for some residents, a very much "only in South Philly" thing.
"I believe in second chances," said one resident who did not want to be identified. "I can't imagine he wants to get back into that. But what's his first order of business, to open a check-cashing and pawnshop? Go do it somewhere else, not in a historic neighborhood."
As a felon, Narducci would be prohibited from owning or working at such a business, which First Police District Capt. Lou Campione acknowledged can be a magnet for stolen goods and requires extra policing.
But that has not stopped Narducci from making calls to lobby the president of the Girard Estate Neighbors Association, Vincent Ricchiuti.
Narducci also attended a "stakeholders meeting" about the proposed pawnshop, arranged by neighborhood fixture Jody Della Barba and held in the local ward office at the request of State Rep. Maria Donatucci and City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. (Della Barba later said Councilman Johnson had not requested the meeting and the email she had sent was in error.)
A follow-up meeting in which Narducci was listed as one of 12 people invited was canceled, according to an e-mail.
The zoning variance application was withdrawn on Thursday, said Maura Kennedy of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections.
"It's because of the efforts of people organizing that presented real obstacles to the applicant," said Norah Salmon, 41, a grant writer who moved to Girard Estate from Ohio. (Girard Estate, a planned community developed in the early 1900s on the former estate of merchant and financier Stephen Girard, is bounded by Passyunk and Oregon Avenues and 24th and 17th Streets. In Rocky II, Rocky Balboa uses his winnings to buy a house on Lambert Street in the neighborhood.)
"Transparency, transparency, transparency," said Gaetano Piccirilli, 33, a lawyer who grew up in the neighborhood. He voted Wednesday night to oppose the pawn shop variance during a much smaller meeting of the Girard Estate Neighborhood Association (GENA) zoning committee. "We've been under the thumb of a lot of inactivity and lack of motivation. We're surrounded on three sides by blight."
Neither Narducci nor Baldino attended that meeting. A bit of menace was in the air, though, as the meeting, held in a bank community room, took place just hours after what police called the city's first mob hit in a decade.
GENA members stood firm, saying they would continue gathering names for petitions, posting detailed minutes of meetings, and running their registered community association by the book.
"This neighborhood has been starving for transparency," said Dan Bartoli, a city public defender who moved from Mount Airy 10 months ago with his wife, Toki Rehder, who cochairs the zoning committee. "We'll have to see. We hope they'll move on."
Carmen Benedetto, Baldino's attorney, said at the Dec. 4 meeting that Baldino would be the one to run the business. It was her name on the application. The vacant building was formerly a deli. Benedetto declined to talk to a reporter.
GENA members do not think the withdrawal of the zoning application ends the matter. The pawnshop would require a variance because the site is too close to a school, the Girard Academic Music Program, and to another check-cashing business.
"The pawnshop is still on the table," member John Christinzio said. "They will see if they can wear you down."
Della Barba, who runs another civic group in the neighborhood where she has lived for 55 years - she was Frank Rizzo's secretary - said not everyone opposed the plan. Pawnshops have even become trendy, she said.
"We go by what the community wants," she said. "I was in the hair dresser. Not a single person was against it. They all thought it was much ado about nothing."
Of Narducci she said: "He was a young kid when he went away. He's a grown man now. He's a quiet person, someone going to church, turning his life around. There's more bad things going on now than then, 16-year-olds shooting people for $10."
Narducci was one of several people at first convicted, then acquitted, of a role in the killing of D'Alfonso. He was freed early from his 40-year racketeering sentence for good behavior.
His father, Frank "Chickie" Narducci, was killed in 1982 on orders of mob boss Nicodemo Scarfo. His mother, Adeline, died in 2009 while he and brother Frank Jr. were still in prison. He and his sister live in Packer Park.
Since his release, which the Bureau of Prisons lists as May, but which was a few months earlier, according to reports, Narducci has been involved with the Encore nightclub, another family business, where he began nostalgia nights. (Narducci declined to speak with a reporter at the meeting.)
Neighbors say they wish Narducci well and do not want to get in the way of his running any business that would benefit the neighborhood - or at least one he's legally permitted to be involved with.
Salmon said of Narducci, with whom she's never spoken, "Anyone getting out of jail should be able to establish themselves with a viable business. He can do whatever he wants to, it's nothing personal. But if it's going to be in our neighborhood, he's going to get resistance."
Some old-timers support GENA's efforts. "These guys have been wonderful," Paula Terreri, 57, said.
"We've been trying to not make it about who he is," Toki Rehder said. "For a lot of new residents, it doesn't matter. The older residents, they know the family. The real victory is we came together and had a transparent process."