Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Positive Thought About John Perzel

Today, former Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel was sentenced for up to five years in state prison. The story is here: Pittsburgh Trib. He is quoted as saying: "I've embarrassed myself, my friends, my family and the people of Pennsylvania,". "They gave me a great honor. I disgraced them, and I am sorry."

John Perzel is right to be embarrassed and ashamed, but that's not what I'm writing about. I can't say that I was a close friend, because I wasn't, but I wasn't a stranger.

My brief stint in Philadelphia Republican politics began with significant volunteer work on the 1993 Special Election for the 2nd State Senate District. Our candidate was Bruce Marks, a former Arlen Specter staffer who had narrowly been defeated in 1990 by longtime Democrat Frank Lynch. The closer we got to election the more I had come to know George Bloom, the Republican Ward leader of mine, that being the 62nd Ward. I was put in charge of the 12th Division which was adjacent to my own. The special election literally became a scandal when the Democrats handed in over 2,000 completed absentee ballots the Sunday evening before the election. But that is a different story.

As time went on I became active in my own division, the 11th Division. John Perzel was my State Representative until 1992 but was redistricted out and I was stuck with a Democrat named Mike McGeeghan. Through an agreement with George Bloom, John Perzel agreed to provide services to all the committeemen in the nine divisions he no longer represented. I was one of those nine. John Perzel was literally the only Republican in the city of Philadelphia I could rely on if I needed something for my voters. I did not deal directly with him because he had a great staff led by Pat McKenna and Linda Kaymans, They were simply the best at what they did. They were at no time inclined to shut the door and I am eternally grateful. It's expressly difficult being an active Republican in Philadelphia, especially if you're a true believing conservative Republican who hates to lose. They made it easier.

George Bloom decided to retire in 1996 and move to Florida with his wife Cissy. I missed them because we would often spend Saturday mornings with a group of friends eating breakfast at "AMICI'S" Diner in Juniata, my favorite part of the city to campaign. He handpicked his successor and I was not pleased. In August of 1996 I took off from work at Corestates Bank so I could attend a meeting at the Republican Club with the knowledge that John would be there. Prior to leaving with George I approached John about moving up into the 64th Ward where he was of course the Ward Leader as well. We reached a verbal agreement and understood that a move would be made after the November election. Then the roof caved in. George's successor was given responsibility for organizing the 62nd Ward and he blew it. John won but lost the 62nd Ward.

It had become obvious to anyone with a brain that the anointed one had to go. As the Christmas holidays approached, I was invited and attended John Perzel's Christmas Party at the Knights of Columbus. I was cornered by Pat McKenna and told that I was along with a few others under consideration for Ward Leader and the anointed one was out.  I'm not easily surprised or taken aback but I was genuinely surprised. I walked home in a light snow I had so much energy.

The story of my not becoming Ward leader is also for another day. The problem is that after the other guy was nixed, everyone else resigned, not that they were worth much in the first place.Just being honest. I found myself as the only person left in the Ward. Quite literally, so it did not work out. Six months later I jumped at the opportunity to move to Tampa.

Like I said at the top, I can't claim a close bond or friendship but there was a great deal of respect at the least in the political sphere. John was first class. However poorly it has ended for him on this day I say out of respect that he always represented his constituents with class, he provided for the community like no other and he simply worked harder both in his service and in campaigning.

It is easy in politics to throw aside those who have become a liability and perhaps had I remained in Philadelphia I might've become jaded enough to pretend I never associated with him, but I'd like to think the opposite would prove to be the case. It's easy to be cynical and say his recent actions are representative of the whole career and maybe if it was a Democrat I'd say as such, but in most cases and I believe in John Perzel's case that would be an incorrect assessment.

I believe in loyalty, not to a fault but I believe in doing right by people who do right by you. John Perzel and Pat and Linda did right by me. Always. In fact I even used the office fax machine to fax my resume' to a friend in Florida so he could copy and distribute it in the hopes I would land a job quickly.

There is one other person that needs a mention and that's Cheryl (?) Perzel, John's wife. A first class lady if ever there was one. A week before the 1996 election, the Republican City Committee had their fundraiser. The newly anointed Ward Leader was there and just stood alone by himself. I managed to catch up to Cheryl at a stand up table near the bar and (I think) politely droned on about my dissatisfaction with the new "boss" and wondered if we would get all the resources for election day. The resources to get out the vote. She lent a sympathetic ear and tried to keep me positive. As it turns out she helped provide me with the necessary support I needed on election day even though John no longer represented me. That meant the world to me because as I said above it's not easy being a Republican in Philadelphia, it's downright manic. And 1996 was not a good year. Cheryl has for years now suffered from multiple sclerosis and I wish her all the best. I've never forgotten her consideration.

John Perzel has made his bed and must now lie in it. He knows that. In an unforgiving world of politics, it is easy to forgot the positives and deny forgiveness. But all of us in the end are judged in the balance of our lives. John Perzel may be a textbook case for term limits and another example of the temptations of power and its corrupting influence, but overall in my view he has been a net positive in his service and in what might be a bleak day for him and Cheryl and his family, I just thought someone should take a moment to reflect on his positive works for Mayfair and the City of Philadelphia at large. John Perzel did right by me. He did right by many. John and Cheryl made my last four years as a Republican Committeeman in Philadelphia an easier cross to bear. I won't forget that. I hope those who knew him don't forget it and I wish John Perzel and his family all the best in their struggles going forward.


Anonymous said...

John made a mistake and he will suffer the consequences for it. But John was one of the few real Republicans in this city.He cared about his constituents, his family, and Philadelphia.If there were a few more people like him he would have never been tempted to do what he did. I will always be grateful to John for wht he did for Philadelphia.His family will be in my prayers as well. While I am at it I feel the same way about Brian Preski and his family.Good luck John.

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