Oddities of Pa. Society weekend

Former Gov. Tom Corbett won't speak on Wolf until Jan. 18.

NEW YORK - The 117th Pennsylvania Society gala over the weekend was odd.

Odd beyond the basic oddness of thousands of Pennsylvanians trekking lemming-like each December to preen and be seen in the Big Apple in praise of home-state politics.

An event long known for its annual sameness this year broke its own mold - no doubt because this year there isn't much to praise.

State budget mess? Kathleen Kane? Supreme Court mess? Porngate? The Legislature? The Wolf administration? The state GOP raising money off an increasingly controversial, crude and nativistic Donald Trump?

All this drew lots of grousing.

And New York was odd. Spring-like weather. People dining al fresco. Coat-check workers stiffed: One at the Waldorf said she lost $300 a night.

The politics was odd, and marked by negativity.

There was no governor because Tom Wolf doesn't yet have a budget. He, top administration officials and almost all state lawmakers stayed home: bad optics.

Don't want to be seen, tuxedoed or gowned, at the 21 Club or similar venues sucking down free booze while your schools and social services struggle to stay open.

Among the few exceptions to the stay-home strategy were Republican Senate Leader Jake Corman, Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, Democratic Sen. Daylin Leach and Republican Sen. Scott Wagner.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell (along with wife, Midge; and, yes, they're still married) was the society's Gold Medal honoree, but even he seemed somewhat down.

Sporting running shoes with formal attire because of a troublesome staph infection, he semi-rebuffed my congrats for being tapped for "distinguished achievement."

He brushed the medal off as no big deal - something offered, he said, "if you're a governor and you live long enough."

Not exactly a celebratory sentiment.

The shadowy mood was bipartisan.

Former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge didn't seem in the holiday spirit.

Increasingly active as a surrogate for the foundering presidential effort of Jeb Bush, Ridge was pretty riled about Trump.

When I caught up with Ridge in the lobby of the Metropolitan Club off Central Park, he said he'd never vote for Trump and was especially strident regarding Trump's apparent mocking of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has a disability that limits use of his joints.

Ridge chairs the nonprofit National Organization on Disability.

He said of Trump: "He's a pig."

Then there was former Gov. Tom (see?-I'm-not-the-only-one-who-can't-get-stuff-done-in-Harrisburg) Corbett.

Corbett said he's under a self-imposed order until Jan. 18 - one year after leaving office - not to say anything about his successor or doings in Harrisburg.

But then he did. He said that when running for governor he'd campaigned on a biennial budget, which he claimed would end the budget shenanigans of the moment.

(Or just move them to a two-year cycle.)

Finally, this year's event offered many folks a first up-close look at John Fetterman, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

Hard to miss him. And fair to say he's an oddity in Pa. politics.

At 6-9 in size 14 boots, 375 pounds, bald, goateed and tattooed, he stood out even in New York. Wearing a black, short-sleeve Dickies work shirt and dark jeans, he definitely stood out in the Waldorf lobby.

He's a third-term mayor of Braddock, a steel-valley borough outside Pittsburgh with a population around 2,100 and a poverty rate around 40 percent.

He's worked in Big Brothers Big Sisters as well as AmeriCorps, has an MBA from the University of Connecticut and a master's in public policy from Harvard.

He running for Senate, he says, because "I bumped up against the limits my office can accomplish."

He'll bump up against former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak and former lots-of-things Katie McGinty to see who faces incumbent Republican Pat Toomey next fall.

So, to sum up: odd Society weekend; Pa. politics still a mess; prospects for an interesting Senate race exist; 118th gala only a year away.

Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

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