NEW YORK — Jim Kenney says he has attended nearly every Pennsylvania Society since the early 90s, last year being perhaps the lone exception. He first went in his days as a Councilman on the recommendation of then-Mayor Ed Rendell, who wanted to inject more blue into what had mostly been a red event.
This year, with the Democrats’ power diminished at the state and national levels, Kenney saw attendance by him and members of his party in a similar fashion, as a necessity to keep the Democrats strong.
“I think it’s important to rekindle those connections, especially in an environment where there’s a lot of vitriol in the national election and in the statewide US Senate election,” he told Billy Penn. “We need to kind of reset ourselves again.”
The same was said by many Democrats throughout the state who made the trek to New York City for Pennsylvania Society. John Fetterman, the Braddock, Pa. Mayor well-known for his uniform of a black t-shirt and jeans who regularly says he’s not a fan of ritzy events, was milling about in the Waldorf Astoria lobby late Friday night. He said he wanted to reconnect with Democrats after the “rough end” to the year.
A little over a month ago, Democrats were preparing for success. They all thought Hillary Clinton would be president-elect. They thought Katie McGinty had a good shot of toppling Pat Toomey and becoming Pennsylvania’s next Senator. Instead Pennsylvania is deeper in red than it has been in decades, and top Republicans like State Senator Scott Wagner and Congressman Pat Meehan hosted events at Pennsylvania Society that could fuel possible runs for governor and U.S. Senate, respectively, and take away more power from the Democrats.
Though Pennsylvania Society has always had more of a Republican tilt, the difference is more pronounced this year. Wagner and Meehan joined other big-name Republicans like House Speaker Mike Turzai and State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (who partied at Jay Z’s club). The only major Friday events headlined by Democrats were Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack’s dessert reception, a reception thrown by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and the Metropolitan Caucus, where Kenney briefly spoke. Governor Tom Wolf decided to skip Pennsylvania Society altogether; his absence has been a topic of discussion.
Other Democrats wanted to be here even more because of their precarious situation. When they spoke publicly they recited a message of unity. Kenney talked about it multiple times in his address to the Metropolitan Caucus.
“No one knows what’s coming and we’re all going to react the way we react,” he said. “And I think it’s very important that we stay together.”
An hour later, Peduto and Fitzgerald shared a stage with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Peduto talked about how cities throughout the country and world had to connect. De Blasio said cities needed to be the core economy for everyone.
“We have to stick together,” he said.
The reason for all the recitations of unity wasn’t hidden, particularly by Kenney. He strayed from the script of his speech and talked about the election. Kenney, who insulted Trump on Twitter before the election, hinted he wanted the Democrats to work together with him, too.
“We owe that president respect,” Kenney said.