I was saddened to learn this weekend of the death of Happy Fernandez, unapologetic liberal warrior on the Philadelphia City Council and the first -- and amazingly to this date still the only -- high-profile women to seek the the office of mayor. My friend Dave Davies covered her entire career in politics:
I remember standing in a city hall corridor in 1987 when Happy Fernandez first announced her candidacy for City Council. She'd made enough of name for herself as an education and community activist that the city's leading political reporters showed up for the event, but they looked on with patronizing smiles. Nice lady, but she'd never make it.
They underestimated her.
Indeed. When I started covering politics for the Daily News in 1996, Happy was one of the first people I contacted, and she became a valuable source. In an era of Philadelphia politics that was dominated by the four-dimensional chess tactics of Ed Rendell and Vince Fumo, she was eager to share what she'd learned -- and why things were or (more typically) weren't getting done. Two years later when I reported that the insider pick for mayor, Marty Weinberg, had appeared to be living in an upscale suburb, which would disqualify him from the race, most of the establishment wanted the story to go away. Only Happy Fernandez had the gumption to take the matter to court, and while Weinberg stayed on the ballot, he was wounded, and narrowly lost. Her own trailblazing candidacy that year, 1999, didn't take off, but her bold move against Weinberg probably saved Philadelphia from a ruinous era of rule under the Fumo machine.
I spoke with her intermitantly after she left politics to run the Moore College of Art -- the last time was in 2010, when I talked to her about why Pennsylvania continues to lag the rest of the nation in electing female candidates. It was a reminder that while Happy Fernandez got a lot done during her time, she leaves us with much more to do.