A heavy hitter hangs up her cleats

    When I was writing for the Philadelphia Daily News, I always opened my morning copy of the Inquirer with some apprehension, because the one thing every newspaper reporter dreads is being beaten on a story by the competition.

    I got stung more times than I want to remember by Marcia Gelbart, who’s been the Inquirer’s city hall bureau chief for nearly seven years, and covered the convention center with distinction before that.

    She’s smart, aggressive, and fearless, blessed with political acuity and the instincts to move quickly on a breaking story. And she’s leaving.

    Friday is Marcia’s last day at the paper. She’s going to Comcast to be director of communications for the company’s community investment group.

    Marcia came to the Inquirer from Florida, but was in Washington before that. She was a founding staff member of The Hill in 1994 when Newt Gingrich and a bunch of Republicans in Congress were pushing the Contract for America.

    Marcia came to the Inquirer and caught my eye long before we were competing head-to-head. She did a bunch of terrific stories about labor costs and political fights at the convention center.

    When I called her today to reminisce, she said she remembers those days fondly. “The convention center is this giant building that’s chock full of politics on all levels,” she said.

    She went to city hall in 2004, and a lot of people remember the day in 2007 when then-Mayor John Streeet lit into Marcia in front of the city’s press corps for an offense she didn’t even commit.

    Marcia and fellow reporter Craig McCoy had written a story about Street making fundraising calls for a political committee that was attacking then-mayoral candidate Michael Nutter.

    Street didn’t respond to a request for comment, and a nightside editor at the Inquirer decided to dispatch a reporter to visit the mayor’s home, a pretty unusual move. When Street held a news conference at the Market East train station about something else the next day, he saw Marcia and let her have it.

    “He screamed at me,” Marcia recalled. “He thought it was me who’d gone to his house.” Marcia tried to tell him it was another reporter, but isn’t sure whether Street even heard her protests. He never forgave her.

    That said, the piece on Street’s fundraising calls was a fine story, and Marcia had the lead byline.

    Marcia told me she loved the competition among reporters, and regretted that it seemed there was less of it over time.

    “You go to a news conference now, and there’s maybe only three or four news outlets there,” she said. “That’s sad.”

    But she said she’s leaving the paper with no regrets.

    “I’ve enjoyed every day waking up and going to work as a reporter at the Inquirer,” she said.

    I wonder who they’re going to find to fill those shoes.

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