I’ve always known about Bob Brady. If you grew up in Philadelphia over the last 40 years, and if you weren’t situated under a slab of granite (or as we say, grann-idd), you were familiar with that gravelly voice, those sparkling eyes promising mischief, that distinct acca-cent that dripped of Mummers and Schmidt’s, and a personality that equaled Frank Rizzo’s in legend and durability.
I only met him twice, but my office on South Broad Street is just a few blocks from his own.
The first time we crossed paths was at a Sicilian celebration at the Kimmel Center. I remember looking over and seeing Brady smiling and bobbing his head to some great folk music and then schmoozing with the Italians who’d gathered for the casual Philadelphia greeting that starts with a back slap and ends with a promise of “I’ll call yiz.” He came up to me and said, “I read your stuff, it’s good.” And with that, he disappeared into a crowd of 100 of his closest personal friends.
The second time I met him was more personal and meaningful. Last year at the end of January, when Donald Trump announced his first abortive attempt to enforce a travel ban, I was sitting at the Llanerch Diner trying to figure out how to react. Should I write a column? Talk about it on my radio show? Go down to the airport to protest?
And then I looked up, and who would walk in but Bob Brady and his beautiful wife, settling into the booth immortalized in Silver Linings Playbook, the one where Jennifer Lawrence sends cereal flying over Bradley Cooper’s head. Brady and the missus seemed tame by comparison, and so I took the opportunity to go over, reintroduce myself, and tell the congressman that despite my conservative leanings, I was a big fan. I was about to become a bigger one.
After the pleasantries, Brady told me he’d just come from the airport to see what he could do to make sure that people from certain Muslim-majority countries were not getting barred from the United States without due process. Instead of getting on TV and mouthing platitudes about how “we are a nation of immigrants” or the noxious opposite, “we need to close the borders,” this quintessential Philadelphia deal-maker was trying to do just that and, in the process, avert a human catastrophe.
Apparently, all of that moral heavy lifting made him hungry, so he headed to my favorite diner for some of the best food in town. I thanked him for his efforts, and then went to the cashier and told her the tab was on me. Months later, during a telephone conversation, the congressman told me he was angry I’d never let him reciprocate.
But the fact is, Bob Brady has spent the last few decades “reciprocating.” I’m not supposed to say that, because he is the most high-profile Democrat in a city of high-profile Democrats, and I’m the lady who regularly gives suburban readers the vapors with her bigoted (i.e. conservative) views. I am frick to his frack, Abbott to his Costello, uprising to his Attica. And yet there is something about Bob Brady that reminds me why I was once a Democrat.
To be a Democrat when I was young and hanging out in West Philly with my grandmother meant sitting at a kitchen table with Stella Dora and coffee, under a nice framed picture of the Catholic President. To be a Democrat when I was a teenager meant listening to my father talk about his days down south dodging the Klan and fighting for underdogs. To be a Democrat when I was in college, surrounded by feminists who had a sense of humor (and fashion), meant debating the relative value of raising children or raising hell.
It did not mean forcing people to stop using the pronouns him and her because that might offend the confused. It did not mean using the #MeToo movement to push women who might otherwise be unqualified except for their sense of grievance into running for public office. It did not mean dividing us by color and gender and sexual orientation, and it certainly did not mean demonizing anyone who voted for an unpopular president or who thought that life begins before a woman says it does.
Bob Brady is a vestige of the days when Democrats were aligned with the disenfranchised, the beat cop, the trash guy, the burly Irish bricklayer, and the Italian grandma in a house dress. He’s a creature of the back rooms, compromises, and the halfway measures that make no one happy but get results.
He’s not perfect. He’s a Philadelphian. And he’ll be missed.
See you at the Llanerch, congressman.