The yin & yang of Pennsylvania Society

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Sen. Scott Wagner: Would love to move convention, but ... MICHAEL PRONZATO / Staff Photographer

NEW YORK - I've long had mixed feelings about the Pennsylvania Society gathering held in Manhattan annually during the second weekend in December.

This past weekend, those feelings were intensified.

On one hand, it's hip to hang in New York in the holiday season, especially now that we can say "Merry Christmas" again.

On the other hand, there are ungodly crowds. There's frustrating traffic. There's high-cost everything.

Take, for example, a Manhattan cocktail at the fancy midtown Intercontinental Barclay, one of the venues on the long list of society weekend events.

It was $33.30 including 8.8 percent sales tax and 5.8 percent occupancy tax, especially galling since all I wanted was to drink the thing, not occupy it.

Then there's SantaCon, an annual annoyance during which thousands of half- or fully lit folks pub-crawl across town dressed as Santa.

Screaming Santas. Singing Santas. Puking Santas.

I did not take part. Maybe I should have.

Plus, it's cold, you can't get a cab, coat-check loses your gloves, and your tux doesn't fit right anymore.

I know, I know. You're thinking 'Then stay the hell home.'

Ah, but mixed feelings.

This is a weekend when pols, lobbyists, practitioners of and partakers in every aspect of Pennsylvania politics - and especially those considering higher office - are by choice on full display, available for evaluation.

For most, it's Groundhog Day: same people, same places, same parties each year.

But for those writing about politics, it's a fish-in-a-barrel kind of thing.

Here's a for-instance.

This was the last year, at least for a few, that many events, including the 118th black-tie gala dinner, the anchor of the weekend, were at the elegant, legendary Waldorf Astoria.

So with the Waldorf (which really is more than a salad) moving out of the picture (Chinese company bought it, making it mostly into condos, could take up to four years) there was lots of buzz about a tired topic: Bring Pennsylvania Society to Pennsylvania.

Maybe Philadelphia, or rotate between Pittsburgh and Philly. And stop forcing thousands of our well-off citizens to use millions of their hard-earned dollars to boost someone else's economy.

Gov. Wolf, for example, who eschewed this year's weekend as he did last year but didn't as a candidate, thinks the thing should be moved to the state.

So does former Gov. Ed Rendell.

So I track down Republican wannabe-governer Scott Wagner.

He's the history-maker (only Pennsylvanian to win a State Senate seat as a write-in candidate opposed by his own party) looking to run against Wolf in 2018.

I get him at a reception he's hosting "for 540 of my closest friends" at a bar called Brass near the Waldorf. He tells me "I'd love it" if Pennsylvania Society moved to Pennsylvania, but cities such as Philly don't have enough hotel rooms.

When I mention this to Rendell, he responds in a semi-surprised, high-volume way: "Is he an idiot? We just hosted the Democratic National Convention!"

Feeling compelled to keep this going, I run that by Wagner next day. He says there are only a few cities in America that can handle big waste-management conferences (he owns trash and trucking companies), and Philly isn't one.

For just a moment I'm taken with comparing and linking Pennsylvania Society to waste-management; as in, hmm, that's somehow fitting.

But my attention's jarred back when Wagner says something about beating up Rendell, putting him in a men's room "and waiting 15 minutes before calling 911."

I figure it's said in the spirit of the holidays.

And it's just this kind of bonhomie that Pennsylvania Society brings out in people.

But now it's moving from the Waldorf to the neither elegant, nor legendary New York Hilton Midtown.

So I'm betting others might have mixed feelings about next year's gathering.

baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer