Longtime Pa. lobbyist Stephen Wojdak dies

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Stephen Wojdak (left) was a former ally of Vincent J. Fumo (center), who recalled him fondly despite a later falling-out. (File photo)

Stephen R. Wojdak, 76, a former state legislator from Philadelphia who became one of the most influential lobbyists in Pennsylvania, died Tuesday in Boston.

Mr. Wojdak had been vacationing on Martha's Vineyard with his family when he suffered breathing problems and was hospitalized last week, said Kevin Feeley, a family spokesman.

A 1992 Philadelphia Daily News article called Mr. Wojdak the "King of Clout." He also was known as the "51st senator" because of his widely acknowledged influence.

The impeccably attired Mr. Wojdak was president and chief executive officer of S.R. Wojdak & Associates, which he founded in 1977 following his four terms as a state representative.

Former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo said he was very close to Mr. Wojdak from their time serving in Harrisburg together and even years later, although not recently.

"I am deeply saddened, even though we had a falling-out around the time when I got in trouble," said Fumo, who served time in federal prison for corruption charges.

"He was a lot of fun," Fumo said. "Just about every major big deal in Philadelphia, he was a part of, as was I. We kind of fed off each other."

Former Gov. Ed Rendell recalled that his friendship with Mr. Wojdak grew out of a situation that could have made the men enemies.

In the 1970s, as a deputy special prosecutor investigating corruption in Philadelphia, Rendell had Mr. Wojdak indicted on charges of trying to secure a payoff to get a student into dental school. Those charges were dismissed and the two went on to become "great friends," Rendell said.

"Steve was capable of forgiving. He didn't hold grudges," Rendell said. "He understood we were doing our job. He might not have agreed with what we did, but he understood it wasn't anything personal."

Rendell said that when he was governor and the two disagreed on a political issue, Mr. Wojdak was quick to acknowledge when Rendell was in a precarious spot. He knew how to empathize, Rendell said, which made him unstoppable in his work.

"You appreciate someone who understands the conflicts you have and difficulties you have in getting things done," Rendell said. "So you're more inclined to help them out. That's why he was such an effective lobbyist."

Elected to the House in 1968, Mr. Wojdak served as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which plays a key role in deciding state spending.

State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) said few people might remember that it was Mr. Wojdak, as a state representative, who turned the Appropriations Committee into the highly professional, powerful force that it is today.

"He is the one who built that committee," said Evans, himself a former appropriations chairman. "He brought the best and brightest talents to work there. And when he left the legislature, he used that same philosophy to build his government relations firm."

As a lobbyist, Mr. Wojdak was instrumental in securing permanent annual funding for SEPTA, as well as state financing to build the Convention Center and the sports stadiums in South Philadelphia.

He routinely was named in lists of Harrisburg's top power brokers.

Legislators who dealt with him in the Capitol recalled Mr. Wojdak as an understated but persistent and highly professional advocate for his clients.

"He had a certain way of carrying himself," said Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), who until last year was majority leader. "His bearing, his manner of speech, his style of communication, it was very purposeful and very deliberate. I would say it was understated. . . . There was no surprise. No drama."

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) put it this way: "He was not out there pounding his chest. He was hardworking and thoughtful."

Costa added: "He knew what strings to pull, what horns to play, and what notes to sound to get things done on behalf of his clients. No one ever questioned his integrity."

Over the decades, Mr. Wojdak was a confidant and adviser to numerous mayors and governors.

Philadelphia's current Democratic mayoral nominee, Jim Kenney, said he met Mr. Wojdak in 1978 when he was working for Fumo. Mr. Wojdak quickly became a mentor.

"He is responsible for me running for office," Kenney said, adding that at the time Mr. Wojdak was the only one really pushing him to run for City Council. "He kept talking about [winning] scenarios. . . . I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."

Kenney described Mr. Wojdak as an "old-school" lobbyist who never burned bridges and was able to maintain relationships even with those whom he went against on behalf of a client.

Comcast Corp.'s executive vice president, David L. Cohen, said that when he became chief of staff during Rendell's tenure as mayor, Mr. Wojdak was like a teacher and always gracious with his time.

When he heard his friend had died, Cohen said, he searched his name online and scrolled through the highlights of a remarkable career. "It's 'Steve Wojdak, super lobbyist,' and, 'Steve Wojdak representing this and this,' " he said.

But Cohen, who also vacations on Martha's Vineyard and often spent time there with Mr. Wojdak and his family, said he would remember the lobbyist most as a loyal father.

The "most pleasant memories, the most searing memories," he said, were of himself, Mr. Wojdak, their wives, and their children sitting around after a meal, updating one another on their lives and sharing stories.

"That's the memory right now that's so hard," Cohen said. " . . . And it's where you really got to see the real Steve Wojdak. Nurturing."

In Philadelphia, Mr. Wojdak served on the Board of Directors of City Trusts, which oversees Girard College and Wills Eye Health System. John Egan, a lobbyist and former president of that board, said Mr. Wojdak's best skill was in bringing "intelligence and calm" to tough situations. He also had a "great sense of humor," Egan said.

Mr. Wojdak was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

In the 1992 Daily News article, he was described as "a former three-pack-a-day smoker who hasn't touched a cigarette in more than a decade."

Mr. Wojdak was an avid Philadelphia sports fan, regularly attending games at Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum, the article said, adding that he spent a day or two each month "cooking at a shelter for the homeless, but won't talk about it."

He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; children Krista, Jessica, Stacy, Madelyn, and Nicholas; and five grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.


bmoran@phillynews.com 215-854-5983 @RobertMoran215

Inquirer staff writers Angela Couloumbis and Tricia L. Nadolny contributed to this article.