And then there was one

    Can you imagine a day when people in Philadelphia politics spoke with admiration of the Republican party’s ability to recruit good candidates and run smart campaigns?

    I used to hear that when I was learning the ropes of Philadelphia politics in the 1980’s, because there was a crop of smart, young Republican legislators in Northeast Philadelphia that were getting some attention.

    A number of Democrats looked at the crew and wondered why their party was putting up dim-witted hacks for office instead of finding candidates like the GOP team.

    It’s a sweeping generalization, of course, but one that bore some truth.

    The young Republicans were a formidable crew.

    Two would become speakers of the State House of Representatives. Ed Rendell would try to recruit one to switch parties and run for mayor.

    Their names: George Kenney, Dennis O’Brien, Chris Wogan, John Perzel, Fran Weston and John Taylor (Besides them, there was a South Philadelphia State Rep., Connie McHugh, and a State Senator, Hank Salvatore).

    This comes to mind now because when O’Brien left the legislature and took a seat in City Council last Monday, that left Taylor as the only Republican member of the city’s delegation in Harrisburg.

    I called Taylor last week and asked him to reminisce a bit.

    “We were a pretty strong force, because we had the majority leader (Perzel) and the rest of us were (committee) chairmen,” Taylor said. “That put significant legislative power in Philadelphia’s hands, and the Southeast (part of the state) was a lot stronger at the time.”

    What happened? Demographics are part of the story. The Northeast is a lot less white than it used to be, and thus friendlier country for Democrats.

    Wogan left to become a judge, and his seat was eliminated in redistricting. Weston left and became a city L&I commissioner in the Rendell administration. Kenney was finding his district increasingly competitive, and when he retired his seat went to a smart, aggressive young Democrat, Brendan Boyle.

    Perzel was nailed with corruption charges and lost his seat to Brendan Boyle’s brother, Kevin. And last year, O’Brien decided to get off the turnpike and run for Council.

    That leaves Taylor, the one Rendell once tried to get to run for mayor, as a city Republican delegation of one.

    “It’s certainly different,” Taylor said, “but I’ve worked pretty closely with our Democratic colleagues in the city and our Republican colleagues in the suburbs.”

    As for the party’s future, he thinks a less ideologically conservative party would help.

    “I think if we get a national ticket that’s a little more moderate, that is a little more in tune with how the city feels we’ll be better off,” he said.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.