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Philly's local heroes 2012

These people made Philly the great city that it is.

All week, Metro has been highlighting selections of the city's best -- from bars to salons to dance parties -- of 2012. Today we honor the year's best and brightest Philadelphians.

First responders

It's a given that the men and women who, in the name of public safety, run into burning buildings and toward gunfire instead of away are heroes in the truest sense of the word. But this year's deaths of five of Philadelphia's finest -- three police officers and two firefighters -- has driven that point even closer to home.

"It's been a horrible few years," Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 President John McNesby said in August. "We've lost a lot of officers to violence on the streets."

The police department suffered the loss of Officers Brian Lorenzo, 48, Marc Brady, 32, and Moses Walker, Jr., 40 -- all within a little over a month this summer.

In April, the fire department also lost two of its own: firefighters Daniel Sweeney and Lt. Robert Neary were killed when a wall collapsed as they were battling a warehouse blaze in Kensington.

"My life has changed forever," said Sweeney's father, Capt. David Sweeney, who himself retired from Philadelphia's fire force last year after 35 years of service. "The sense of loss is just very intense. It's affected my wife. She used to be a very positive, upbeat person and we cry every day, we mourn his death every day and we greatly miss him."



Mark Edelson


Craft brews flow more freely than Meek Mill in our fair city these days. From Yards to Dock Street to PBC, we have an abundance of hopped-up riches. With sincere apologies to San Francisco, it's really not fair right now.

But one local brewery is racking up awards and cashing in on success like none other: Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant. Meet Mark Edelson. He, along with Kevin Finn and Kevin Davies, founded Iron Hill back in 1994 in Newark, Del. Today, they are up to nine locations in the Delaware Valley, with plans for a 10th (Voorhees, early 2013) and an 11th (Ardmore, 2014) in the works.

Edelson, who serves as Iron Hill's director of brewing, saw the company scoop up two gold medals (Iron Hill Gold Ale, Russian Imperial Stout) at the 2012 World Beer Cup, better known as the Beer Olympics, before walking away with the coveted title of Best Small Brewpub in the World.

Edelson is on record saying that he wishes to open one new brewpub a year for the next couple years. And he won't compromise quality. Each location employs its own master brewer and uses homegrown ingredients in its specialty beers.

One brewer, Chris LaPierre of Iron Hill Maple Shade, trekked all the way to Belgium to collaborate with famed Belgian brewery Brasserie DuPont last March on Speciale Belge, a smoky ale that wowed crowds at Philly Beer Week. Can they top that in 2013? We wouldn't put it past them.



Michelle Shannon


Philadelphia's fashion star has been steadily on the rise, and we all have Michelle Shannon to thank. The style maven started off as manager of sales and marketing for The Gallery at Market East, then joined the Center City District, where she serves as vice president of marketing and communications.

Over the past three years, Shannon has dramatically changed the city's sartorial landscape. She co-chairs the Philadelphia Retail Marketing Alliance, which plays a huge role in scouting out and attracting new retailers to the city.

Shannon also helped launch the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy's Center City, a residency program that this spring drew accolades from industry bible Women's Wear Daily for its sponsorship and development of emerging local designers. In recognition of her efforts, Shannon was appointed in April as regional co-chair of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Zoe Strauss

If you were paying attention, you've known Zoe Strauss' name for years. If you weren't, you're still likely familiar with her work -- her exhibitions under I-95 were difficult to look away from, with their haunting, sparkling photographs of the city we think we know so well.

But 2012 was, by all accounts, Strauss' year. She traded her highway underpass for the Philadelphia Museum of Art's galleries with a 10-year retrospective of her work, which kicked off with a dance party for the ages DJed by ?uestlove. After that, it was off to the White House for a meeting with LGBT activists.

When you've got a year like that under your belt, even the end of the world doesn't seem so bad. "If the Mayans are right, that's OK with me," she tells us. "This year has been the craziest, most exhausting and best year of my life."



Gayle Isa


As the founder and director of the Asian Arts Initiative, Gayle Isa has a lot of roles to fill. The arts center hosts year-round performances by local and national artists as well as a full slate of community workshops and forums focused on positive change -- it's no small undertaking over there on Vine Street.

But she's also found time to be something of a cheerleader for Chinatown as it establishes itself as a premiere arts district. During a December packed with programming, Isa led a Chinatown arts crawl that include stops at neighbors VOX Populi, Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Marginal Utility, PRACTICE, The Fabric Workshop and Museum, The Action Mill and Underground Arts.

Something tells us we'll be spending some more time in her nook of the city in 2013.



Meryl Levitz


Meryl Levitz is Philly's most tireless cheerleader, and she does her job well. Since she took the helm of the then-newly-created Greater Philadelphia Marketing and Tourism Corporation in 1996, overnight visits to Philly have grown by more than 66 percent and annual domestic leisure visitors have skyrocketed from 10 million to 38 million, setting new records last year.

That's serious stuff, but Levitz also knows how -- and when -- to have fun. Under her leadership, the GPTMC has come up with two of the city's most well-known campaign slogans: "With Love, Philadelphia XOXO" and "Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay." The same irreverent spirit permeates the promotional nonprofit's voice-y website -- uwishunu.com -- and strong social media presence.

As if being responsible for some $8.7 billion in economic impact isn't enough, Levitz also finds time to serve on the Mayor's Cultural Advisory Council and the boards of the U.S. Travel Association, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and Independence Visitor Center.

Brian Sims

After Brian Sims unseated longtime state Rep. Babette Josephs in the Democratic primary and faced no Republican challengers for the 182nd District seat, the football stud-turned activist-attorney seemed poised to become the state’s first openly gay legislator.

“I know for certain that 20 years ago this was impossible. I don’t think 20 months ago this was possible,” he said in April. “Watching so many people stand up over the last year, Republicans and Democrats, Pennsylvanians have heard a lot about equality and democracy.”

But the day Sims formally assumed office, Republican state Rep. Mike Fleck took him up on his call for bipartisan support and outed himself in an interview with the Huntingdon Daily News.

“Coming out is hard enough, but doing it in the public eye is definitely something I never anticipated,” Fleck said. “I’m still the exact same person and I’m still a Republican.”

Regardless of which lawmaker was technically first, Metro salutes all those in the public eye who set invaluable examples by embracing their sexuality.

“This was a difficult decision, and I applaud Rep. Fleck for his honestly,” Sims said earlier this month in a column he penned for the Huffington Post. “My hope is that as the representative begins his life as an out, proud gay man, his Republican and my conservative Democratic colleagues will see firsthand that the protections that we seek for our communities are not ‘special rights’ but basic human rights.”

 
 
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