NEW YORK — Pennsylvania Society reaches its crescendo Friday night. The dinner for which the entire weekend exists may not happen until Saturday, but that doesn’t matter. Nobody comes for the steak and mashed potatoes. They come for the networking and free booze, and the flutes are overflowing and the conversations Friday night.
By midnight you could see the after-effects in the Waldorf lobby. Half-drunk wine glasses from the parties raging above rested on tables. An older man had nodded off in a chair. A younger woman said she just got her second wind and headed toward the elevator.
That is Pennsylvania Society, and it’ll be the last time the Waldorf lobby looks like this, at least for a while. As has been discussed before, the Waldorf is closing for a couple of years because the Chinese investors who own it want to convert most of the hotel into upscale condos. In the interim, the Pennsylvania Society is moving to the New York Hilton Midtown. This not pleasing news for Governor Tom Wolf, former Governor Ed Rendell and others who would rather see the event move to Pennsylvania.
Anyway, here are a few final notes, scenes and observations from a Pennsylvania Society that won’t quite be the same going forward.
Republicans show who’s challenging Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey
Nobody has officially declared his intent to run for higher office except State Senator Scott Wagner (for governor), but the events fueled speculation. You generally don’t throw the parties at PA Society unless you’re running for a more powerful position or have already attained that powerful position.
These were the Republicans who headlined major events: PA House Speaker Mike Turzai, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, Congressman Pat Meehan and Congressman Charlie Dent, whose political stature increased after publicly standing up to Donald Trump this year. Congressman Mike Kelly, a rumored candidate for governor, was reportedly at Pennsylvania Society but did not host an event.
Wagner’s event may have left the biggest impression, though not necessarily for the right reason. He booked the Lexington Brass at Hotel 48LEX. It’s a typical hotel bar, i.e. not large, and you couldn’t move without spilling a drink and elbowing somebody in the face.
The best way to describe the scene comes from two men shocked by how crowded it was when they entered. One of them said, “It’s a smart play to have an event in such a small place so it seems like a ton of people are here.”
Governor Wolf’s absence
Wolf didn’t come to Pennsylvania Society. Again. Last year, he skipped it because he and state legislators had not passed the budget. This year? He never really made it clear but rather than travel up to New York he spent his Saturday volunteering and attending a ball for millennials here in Philly.
One reason he’d rather avoid Pennsylvania Society is well-known. He’d prefer the festivities be in Pennsylvania. But so would Rendell, who attended.
Pennsylvania Society is what it is: an opportunity to connect face-to-face with fellow pols in a laidback atmosphere and schmooze with influential supporters who can help win elections. For Democrats that is particularly vital after the bloodletting of November. Wolf is the most important Democrat in the state. Many other powerful Democrats came: Congressman Dwight Evans, Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack, Mayor Jim Kenney, Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald and Rendell. Wolf’s absence was felt, and some people on the Democratic side questioned it.
Ed Rendell, still king of Pennsylvania politics
Yes, perhaps everybody knows this, but it’s still a sight to behold when Rendell walks through the Waldorf lobby. Kenney and other well-known pols get swamped in the Waldorf, but it’s by people wearing suits, the donors and influential businesspersons who already know them or want to get to know them.
When Rendell enters the lobby he gets swamped by everybody, seemingly people who are not around for PA Society festivities. On Friday night, Rendell couldn’t walk more than a couple feet without somebody greeting him. And it wasn’t just people in suits who are clearly politically-involved. It was people in hooded sweatshirts. Rendell talks to all of them, too.