Ex-con still plays politics in S. Phila.

Posted: May 11, 2003

You can take the boy out of South Philadelphia, but you can't take South Philly out of the boy.

Back in the '60s, '70s and '80s, Leland Beloff was a Pennsylvania state representative, a Philadelphia city councilman, and a Democratic power broker from that political hotbed.

But then, like so many of his fellow pols from that time and place, Beloff did a little prison time, and while he was away for five years, his wife moved the family to the Main Line.

So now Beloff - who as a city councilman was convicted in 1987 of conspiring with the mob to extort $1 million from a developer - lives in Gladwyne.

He also runs a family-founded retirement and assisted-living facility in Springfield, Delaware County.

Living in the suburbs, working in the suburbs - the old stomping grounds are just an old memory, right?

You've got to be kidding.

Beloff - who says his conviction was "a bum rap" - is still a player in South Philadelphia politics. "It's in the blood," Beloff, 61, said the other day.

That's for sure. Back in 1998, there was a hot contest for Democratic leader of South Philly's Ward 39-B.

One candidate was backed by Beloff. The other was backed by former U.S. Rep. Michael "Ozzie" Myers, one of several local politicians who went to prison as a result of the Abscam case - a sting featuring a bribe-offering federal agent posing as the representative of an Arab sheik.

Because they were backing different horses in Ward 39-B (and previously had run against each other), one might think Beloff and Myers were political enemies. That's unless you knew that Myers' candidate - who eventually lost by a single vote - was his own brother.

The year after the Ward 39-B contest, Beloff said he and Myers again were allies.

Classic South Philly politics. And it definitely is in the blood.

Beloff's father, Emanuel W. Beloff, was a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge. Pictures of his father are prominently displayed at Harlee Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation Center on West Sproul Road, near the Springfield Mall.

Beloff also is very proud of Harlee Manor. During an interview with an aging baby boomer reporter who's still (he hopes) a few years away from being a potential resident, Beloff led a top-to-bottom tour in which he pointed out every user-friendly feature.

It was Beloff's mother, Jean Rosenwald Beloff, who ran Harlee Manor (named for Beloff and his brother, Hardie) until her death in 1999.

"She took care of everything," Beloff said. "Now I have to work for a living - at my age!"

But that doesn't mean he's had to give up politics. "I still have a hand in it," Beloff said. "I enjoy it a lot."

And, he said, there will always be the "old neighborhood pull" of South Philly. "I fully intended to spend my whole life there."

He certainly was a political fixture there, representing the area in the state legislature from 1966 to 1970 and from 1976 to 1984 and in City Council from 1984 until "the problem."

It was the problem that forced him to relocate to the Federal Correction Institution at Loretto, Pa., west of Altoona.

Loretto is a low-security facility, but Beloff said it's no resort.

Prison is prison: "A totally foreign situation from any other that anyone might imagine. There is no way to describe it, when you leave your wife and children at the door and they lock it behind you."

For five years, Beloff said, "I minded my own business. Time passed. It didn't pass fast but it passed. . . . When I got out, I was going to put it all behind me, which I've done."

But there was yet another shock waiting for him: Moving from South Philly to the Main Line was like "going from one planet to another," Beloff said.

Being the deft politician he is (he began as a Republican but became a Democrat after that party became the power in Philadelphia), Beloff once again adapted to the new situation.

Now, when he's holding fund-raisers for South Philly elections, he sometimes has them at a restaurant near his home.

You've got to wonder if the Main Line or South Philadelphia will ever be the same.

Inquirer researchers Denise Boal, Frank Donahue and Ed Voves contributed to this article.

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