“I was surprised to see her name there,” says Zack Stalberg, who, as president of watchdog group the Committee of Seventy, makes it his business to keep tabs on such things.
Other politicos raised their eyebrows as well: I didn’t realize she was on that board until I read it in the paper; I can count the number of times I’ve seen her out; I have no sense of her in the least.
Except, in a city where nepotism and patronage are seen as permanent, inevitable parts of the transfer of power, Deb Brady made perfect sense. Of course she’s there. Of course a former Eagles cheerleader has this PHA board post and another at Independence Blue Cross. Of course she was a director at the Redevelopment Authority for years and now scores a $100,000 annual paycheck as executive director of a company with a government contract.
No one knew much about Deb Brady, but what did anyone need to know? One fact seemed to explain everything: She was Bob Brady’s wife.
DEB BRADY REMEMBERS the exact moment she learned how to be a congressman’s wife.
It was 1998; they were barely married a year; Bob had just been elected to helm the First Congressional District of Pennsylvania and was in Washington for the day. Back home, a “Women for Bob Brady” group was throwing a luncheon in his honor. Bob asked Deb to go in his place.
She didn’t think twice. The Bradys were new to all of this — marriage, power couple-ing, all the events — and they tried to make an appearance at everything. If Bob couldn’t be there, Deb was the next best thing.
At the lunch, Deb walked up to the podium, looking as petite and gorgeous as she did back in her Liberty Belle days during the early ’80s. Her auburn hair hung long, her skin was slightly tanned, and those eyes — those sky-blue eyes — beamed with pride for her Bobby.
But, immediately, the ladies fired at her: What’s Bob going to do about health care? What’s Bob going to do about the Middle East? What’s Bob going to do?
“When I was getting those questions shot at me, I knew real quick: Zip it,” she says. And she zipped it. In fact, Bob’s longtime friend Jonathan Saidel, who was city controller and had come to the event, whisked her off-stage, scolding, “Ladies, ladies, she’s not the Congressman.”
It was an unusual position for Deb to be in. Prior to that day, she’d never hesitated to talk to anyone about anything. She’d been a loudmouthed cheerleader ever since she was little Debra Savarese at St. Callistus School in West Philly, eventually landing a spot on the Eagles squad in 1981. She volunteered for political campaigns all her life — Nick Pucciarelli for State Rep, Al Gaudiosi for Mayor, even Bob Brady for City Council. She’d even worked her way up from a summer job at the Redevelopment Authority to running one of its departments by speaking up for herself: “Look, I’ve been here for years. I know the job.” She’s Italian, for God’s sake.