The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, March 13, 2003  

Neil Stein Overtaken by Upstart Melanie Hopkins

Neil Stein, last month named "Philadelphia's Own Leona Helmsley" by The Rittenhouse Review, was back in the news this week: Three of Stein's four restaurants -- Striped Bass, Avenue B, and Rouge -- have filed for bankruptcy protection.

Stein still hasn't paid his $2 million tax bill -- he's "working out a deal with the city" -- but the restaurants will remain open for business as usual. More important, Stein gets to keep his liquor licenses, a not insignificant development in a city where prospective diners visiting an unfamiliar restaurant must call ahead to find out whether the establishment is or is not "BYOB."

And while not all is forgiven, at least here at the Review, Stein is being granted another reprieve of sorts: Barring any unforeseen future transgressions, Stein henceforth will no long carry the title, "Philadelphia's Own Leona Helmsley."

That honor now belongs to scrappy upstart and scheming parvenu, Melanie Hopkins.

Hopkins's claim on the title has nothing to do with her taxes -- not yet, anyway -- and everything to do with the fact the she is, hands down, the Queen of Mean in the City of Brotherly Love.

She even looks like Leona Helmsley!

Hopkins, identified in court papers as the "paramour" of Philadelphia City Councilman W. Thacher Longstreth (R-At Large), 82 and stricken with Parkinson's disease, at least as portrayed in the local media, is a grade-A, world-class, well, we don't print words like that at the Review.

As the story has unfolded thus far, Longstreth is currently in a Naples, Fla., hospital, a court-ordered ward of the state, as police in Florida and Pennsylvania investigate allegations he was physically abused by Hopkins, who is also Longstreth's chief of staff.

Hopkins, 62, has denied abusing Longstreth. "I never, ever hit Thacher Longstreth, or anybody else for that matter. I love him very much," the Philadelphia Inquirer quotes Hopkins as saying.

It's a sad story, a very sad story in fact, but one that urban tabloid reporters -- and readers, like me -- live for.

To offer just a sampling of the alleged misdeeds for which Hopkins has earned her new title, a few excerpts from today's report by Barbara Laker and Paul D. Davies in the Philadelphia Daily News ("Melanie Called a 'Female Rasputin'"):

City Councilman Thacher Longstreth, who slipped and fell, lay crumpled on the restaurant floor with a broken hip. Friends rushed to help the frail, sickly man, a shadow of his former self, inside a Rittenhouse [Square] steakhouse that day in April 2001. One of them called 911.

In walked Melanie Hopkins, his fiancée and chief of staff. She yelled at him to get up, one of Longstreth's friends said. They told Hopkins he was hurt. "Oh, he's all right. He falls all the time," Hopkins said, according to a close Longstreth friend. Another friend confirmed the incident. Hopkins then allegedly chewed out the person who called 911.

Surgeons later replaced his hip with an artificial device at Pennsylvania Hospital.

There's more:

One time during dinner at a restaurant in the Rittenhouse Hotel, Hopkins yelled at him for not using his walker properly, a friend recalled….

At a Union League function late last year, friends saw her snap at him to sit up straight in his wheelchair. Hopkins, a grandmother of four, later dragged him out of the chair, a friend said….

[D]uring a multiple sclerosis fund-raiser at the Crystal Tea Room in the Wanamaker Building[,] Longstreth showed up with Hopkins. His wife, Nancy, who suffers from the disease, was seated across the room at a separate table. Nancy Longstreth asked a friend to have her husband stop by her table. As the friend approached, Hopkins jumped up. "That woman is not going to ruin our evening. We're entertaining clients," she shouted, according to a close friend who was there.

Appropriately, Hopkins apparently makes liberal use of the same kind of salty language employed by Helmsley. Mark McDonald and Ramona Smith, reporting on an interview with Hortense Jackson, the home health aide who claims to have witnessed Hopkins abusing Longstreth, write ("Thacher Lives in Fear"):

The night Longstreth said he feared for his life, Hopkins had been "cursing and yelling" because a reporter had visited Longstreth "and the story didn't go as Melanie planned," Jackson said. Hopkins had cooked dinner for Longstreth, Jackson said. When the plate was ready, Jackson recalled, Hopkins said to her, "You'd better get this food and give it to the mother----er because I'm not going to give it to him."

And, just this week, displeased to see a reporter at her home, the following scene played out:

Yesterday, Hopkins reacted angrily when a Daily News reporter arrived at her Naples condominium….Complaining bitterly about her portrayal in the media, Hopkins said: "You can't be gentle and kind. You just write s---. Get out of here!" As she screamed at the reporter, she was changing a grandchild's wet clothing and complaining to her ex-husband, Dick Hopkins, who is also staying at the condo, that he hadn't been properly baby-sitting the child.

Congratulations, Melanie Hopkins, you are Philadelphia's Own Leona Helmsley!

(Other Daily News reports on the situation include: "News Not Surprising," by Dave Davies, March 13, and "Hospital: Thach Abused," by McDonald, March 12.)

(Coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer has been more restrained and includes: "Hopkins'[s] Influence on Longstreth Long a Subject of Controversy," by Clea Benson; "Longstreth Abused, Nurses Say," by Benson and Anthony S. Twyman, March 13; and "Council Takes Action Against Longstreth Aide," by Benson and Leonard N. Fleming, March 13.)

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