Joan Krajewski, tough-talking longtime councilwoman, dies at 79

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BACK WHEN Jim Kenney was a freshman city councilman, he introduced a resolution honoring someone from Joan Krajewski's district without consulting her.

That was the first and last time he did that.

"She took me to the woodshed in 1992," Kenney said.

Krajewski, a tough-talking brawler, hard worker, straight shooter and unwavering voice for the people in her district, died early yesterday morning. She was 79.

Friends say Krajewski, the bold woman with a raspy voice who had been an avid smoker for decades, was on oxygen recently and suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A Port Richmond native, Krajewski was elected in 1979 to represent the Northeast's 6th District, a post she held for 32 years.

"In many people's minds, she was the definition of a really good district councilperson. She knew every inch of her district," said former Mayor John Street. "I liked her from the beginning, because she was real people, vintage Philadelphia, old school. She believed in neighborhoods, her community and that government existed to serve people in neighborhoods."

She fought absentee landlords, sponsored "right-to-know" legislation and pushed efforts to address the city's overcrowded prisons. When she retired in 2011, she said she was most proud of the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP), which she created to deal with quality of life issues in her district during Street's tenure.

"Her feisty nature and sharp political acumen made her equal parts legendary and approachable as a political leader in the Northeast," said Councilman Bobby Henon, who took office last year to represent Krajewski's former district. "She was an unyielding voice for her constituents - a model for public service that many have tried to emulate."

Council President Darrell Clarke described her as "a great champion of Northeast Philadelphia," a friend and an "unfailingly supportive colleague" who was also "tough as nails."

"Joanie" as her City Hall friends call her, spent plenty of time meeting with constituents at her "satellite offices," which included the Dining Car on Frankford Avenue, the Mayfair Diner and the Aramingo Diner.

"It was the hardest day of work," Patty-Pat Kozlowski, who worked for Krajewski for 10 years, said as she recalled a day when the two grabbed breakfast at the Dining Car. "That was her office. Some politicians think they're above everybody and don't want to be bothered. Not Joan."

Krajewski, one of nine children, was educated in parochial schools. She got her start in politics as a Republican committeewoman who organized "Republicans for Frank Rizzo." But when Rizzo, then a police commissioner, ran for mayor as a Democrat, she switched parties so she could vote for him.

Rizzo selected her to be leader of the 65th ward and later rewarded her with a job as an investigator in the Revenue Department. And for a moment, she was union president of District Council 33.

As a city councilwoman, she fought for respect and never once bit her tongue.

"She'd say what she thought. You could like it. You could not like it, but you always knew she was honest," said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. "She said what she meant, and she meant what she said."

Mayor Nutter met Krajewski in the early '80s through then-Councilman John Anderson.

"I came to know her as straightforward and honest, sometimes brutally so, and a real friend who gave me help and guidance," Nutter said. "She was a person whose word you could really trust."

Krajewski was instrumental in the election of the first African-American Council president, Joseph "Joe" Coleman, in 1980, who replaced George X. Schwartz after the Abscam scandal, an FBI sting that targeted public corruption. She received a lot of heat at the time for backing Coleman over Councilman Alvin Pearlman.

In a speech on the Council floor that year, she condemned "the hate element . . . in this city and this Council."

She went onto become the first woman to hold a seat on Council leadership as majority leader, and she eventually became chairwoman of Council's Committee on Appropriations.

"Joan had to have that stone face when she came to office," said Kozlowski, her former staffer. "It was a boys club. In order to get things done, she had to play hard ball."

One thing about Krajewski is that she never shied away from the spotlight.

She made headlines in 1980 after she came to blows with then-City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione inside Masters Restaurant on Bustleton and Robbins Avenues.

After words were exchanged at their respective tables, the two took the discussion to the ladies room, where the fistfight occurred.

"She raised her cane at me," Krajewski told the Daily News then. "You better believe I hit her back."

But what many enjoyed most about Krajewski was her infectious sense of humor. Not to mention that she took the time to enjoy life - even if it coincided with city business.

In 1987, she and Council colleague Ann Land were pegged the "Boom Boom Sisters" by former Inquirer columnist Steve Lopez after he heard the two were out playing the slot machines while attending a National League of Cities convention in Las Vegas. She thought the nickname was funny.

"We went to Vegas on a League of Cities, or some convention or another, and when you're in Vegas, it's pretty hard not to play a slot machine," Krajewski told WHYY in 2010 following Land's death.

"She was a rare breed," said former Mayor Wilson Goode Sr. "And although people have been elected since her time, there was no one like Joan K."

She is survived by three sons.

A viewing will be held at Givnish Funeral Home, 10975 Academy Road, on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. and Wednesday from 8 to 9:30 a.m. The funeral will follow at 10 a.m. at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church, 3252 Chesterfield Road.

 


On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout