PA’s One-Percenters Party in NYC This Weekend

Why Occupy Philly should pitch tents at the Waldorf Astoria

If the Occupy Philly folks are looking for something to do this weekend, they should hop a bus to New York for the annual Pennsylvania Society weekend bacchanal.

Pitch some tents on Fifth Avenue or in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria. That’s where much of Pennsylvania’s one percent will be getting pampered this weekend, while the other 99 percent of the state is home trying to make ends meet. For the uninitiated, the Pennsylvania Society retreat is an annual schmooze-fest where the state’s business and political elite gather to celebrate another year of backscratching.

It’s mainly a weekend of networking, fundraising and future deal-making. But there’s also lots of liquor, lobbying and bootlicking. Many pols bring their spouses and children and do some holiday shopping or take in a Broadway show.

Most of the weekend is funded by law firms and other business interests. In fact, a good way to understand the Kremlinology of the state is to examine the organizations that are hosting parties and networking sessions. Start with the assortment of law firms that are hosting events, including Blank Rome, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Cozen O’Connor, Dilworth Paxon, Duane Morris and Saul Ewing. Then there are the banks, PNC and Wells Fargo, and higher-education institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania.

Of course, the Marcellus Shale Coalition is hosting a party at the W Hotel. Local 98, the electricians union headed by John Dougherty, is hosting a party featuring Jerry Blavat. For those who just can’t get enough free drinks, there’s a cocktail reception hosted by Waste Management. (Here’s a full listing of events.)

The centerpiece of the weekend is a black-tie dinner that costs $400 a person. This year’s honoree is Guion S. Bluford Jr., a Philadelphia native and Penn State graduate who was America’s first black astronaut.

Supporters argue that the weekend allows political and business leaders to meet and talk in a relaxed setting. It also enables folks from different parts of the state to get to know one another better. Perhaps. But what is most disturbing is this: A celebration of Pennsylvania’s so-called society is held in, of all places, New York.

I love New York, but that makes absolutely no sense. One of the reasons Pennsylvania legalized gambling was because so many residents were traveling to Atlantic City. The argument was that Pennsylvania casinos would keep tax dollars in the state. Of all events, that same argument should apply to the Pennsylvania Society. Why have hundreds of the most influential business and political leaders spending millions of dollars in another state?

Would it not be better to keep those tourist dollars in Pennsylvania and support local businesses? Why not rotate the event around to different parts of the state such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the Poconos, Gettysburg and Hershey? That would enable political and business leaders to get to better understand different parts of the state.

Granted, the Pennsylvania Society has been held in New York since its founding in 1899. At one time, it may have made sense to mingle with the financial powers in New York. But not anymore. Pennsylvania should keep the event at home and stop acting like the Keystone State is a backwater. Holding the event in New York basically says there is no place good enough in Pennsylvania for Pennsylvania’s Society.

If Pennsylvania Society won’t stay in the state, then it’s time to Occupy the Waldorf.