Working the Crowds at the Pennsylvania Society

Political Commentary by Dave Davies

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Gov. Edward Rendell at the Waldorf Astoria before receiving the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement from the Pennsylvania Society Saturday, Dec. 13, 2003, in New York.

    There's nothing quite like the roar of the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria hotel at midnight on Pennsylvania Society weekend.

    The term refers to the tradition of a few hundred Pennsylvania politicians, lawyers, political consultants, lobbyists, and assorted hangers-on descending on midtown Manhattan for three days of parties, receptions, fundraisers, and general schmoozing.

    I've been going for 10 years or so, because if you're a political reporter, Pa. Society offers what you might call a target-rich environment. I don't get stories, usually – just tips, rumors, insight, and introductions to folks I should get to know.

    So, I don't have news to report, but if you're interested in a smattering of the experience, read on.

    Making nice before making war

    Prowling the events, you regularly see rival candidates exchanging friendly handshakes and pleasantries, who in a few months will be trashing each other in ads. You couldn't turn a corner without running into a Democratic candidate for governor. I introduced myself to one, former state environmental secretary Katie McGinty, and was pleased to learn she's a regular WHYY listener.

    What's up Doc?

    The biggest single bash every Friday night of the weekend at the Waldorf is thrown by electricians' Local 98, which rents a big room, hires a big band, serves from a big bar, and gets big crowds. Everything Local 98 does is big.

    Its leader and powerhouse political force, John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty plants himself outside and spends two hours doing pivoting handshakes with friends, rivals, enemies, schmoozers, supplicants, and lowly journalistic parasites like me. Merry Christmas, Doc.

    Doc is never short of ideas. A few years back when he was considering a mayoral run, Local 98 staff had supplied hot dog vendors around Penn Station with "Doc for Mayor" sweatshirts. They put 'em on. The slogan looks a little less elegant as the ketchup and mustard collects on it, but still.

    And everybody looks to see what the party favors will be at the Local 98 party.

    This year it was chocolates, a Bobby Henon Christmas ornament, AND a free copy of uber detective and now Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood's book, 'Tough Cop: Mike Chitwood vs. the 'Scumbags.'

    The bonus: Chitwood himself was there to sign your copy.

    Wise man speaks

    I ran into Comcast Executive Vice President and political sage David L. Cohen in the lobby of the Waldorf, and when he was asked who would win the Democratic gubernatorial primary, he said he had no idea, then offered a question of his own: What will the winner have left when the primary is over?

    He meant money, campaign funds. His point was that the pack of Democratic candidates will go at each other with everything they have until the May 20th primary, then have to start from scratch raising money to take on Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who could have much as $40 million to run his campaign.

    Cohen recalled that after Ed Rendell beat Bob Casey in the 2002 gubernatorial primary, his campaign was broke.

    "If (GOP candidate) Mike Fisher had immediately spent $200,000 on TV defining Ed Rendell, this might have been a very different election," he said.

    Important footnote: Cohen, who's raised about a zillion dollars for Democrats over the years, is now helping Corbett.