O’Brien is headed for City Hall

After more than three dec­ades in Har­ris­burg, Den­nis O’Bri­en will be a city coun­cil­man in Janu­ary.

“Hey, Denny! Wel­come home!” loc­al com­mit­tee­man Ed Joscelyne shouted dur­ing a happy post-elec­tion gath­er­ing for state Rep. Den­nis O’Bri­en.

That drew a lot of laughs and ap­plause from a crowd of well wish­ers at the Rose­wood Cater­ers on Frank­ford Av­en­ue on elec­tion night Nov. 8, and a big grin from O’Bri­en. After more than three dec­ades of rep­res­ent­ing his North­east Philly dis­trict in Har­ris­burg, O’Bri­en (R-169th dist.) fi­nally won’t have to leave the city to go to work.

He’ll be start­ing a new job as a city coun­cil­man at-large in Janu­ary. He won’t be the only new­bie in City Hall; he’ll be join­ing five oth­er mem­bers in a fresh­man class that will make up more than one-third of City Coun­cil.

“I be­lieve this is an op­por­tun­ity for in­clu­sion and col­lab­or­a­tion,” he said, “It’s a his­tor­ic mo­ment in Phil­adelphia.”

He sees him­self work­ing closely with Demo­crats Jan­nie Black­well (D-3rd dist.) and with Bobby Hen­on, elec­ted last week to re­place Joan Kra­jew­ski (D-6th dist.), who is re­tir­ing.

O’Bri­en’s fo­cus will be on tax and edu­ca­tion re­form, he said last week. He en­vi­sions in­volving the city’s col­leges and uni­versit­ies in ad­dress­ing the school sys­tem’s aca­dem­ics, and he wants to work on se­cur­ing the sys­tem’s fin­ances and on mak­ing the schools safer.

Just over 198,000 of the city’s re­gistered voters — not quite 20 per­cent — turned out last week. On elec­tion night, O’Bri­en said he re­garded voter turnout as mod­er­ate, but it was big for him in the North­east.

Ac­cord­ing to the city’s on­line elec­tion res­ults site, the former state House speak­er got more than half of his al­most 48,000 votes in the North­east’s 14 wards. His biggest score was in the 66th Ward — his home ward — where he got more than 5,500 votes, a num­ber no oth­er Coun­cil can­did­ate topped. Even May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter, who was re-elec­ted, was 2,100 votes shy of O’Bri­en’s count in the 66th.

O’Bri­en was the top Re­pub­lic­an in the race for the sev­en at-large seats on City Coun­cil. The GOP and the Demo­crats each run five can­did­ates. Demo­crats, who have a huge ma­jor­ity in voter re­gis­tra­tion, took the first five slots, leav­ing two for the Re­pub­lic­ans.

The win­ner of the second and fi­nal seat re­served for Re­pub­lic­ans was not de­term­ined un­til Tues­day  af­ter­noon — a full week after the elec­tion — when Al Tauben­ber­ger con­ceded to Dav­id Oh.

Few­er than 200 votes had di­vided  Oh and Tauben­ber­ger for sev­er­al days, so ab­sent­ee and pro­vi­sion­al bal­lots had to be coun­ted be­fore a win­ner could be de­clared.

Oh, who got about 42 per­cent of his sup­port in the North­east, ended elec­tion night ahead of Tauben­ber­ger, the Great­er North­east Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce pres­id­ent and 2007 GOP may­or­al can­did­ate. 

Had Tauben­ber­ger pre­vailed, he, O’Bri­en and dis­trict Coun­cil mem­bers Bri­an O’Neill (R-10th dist.) and Hen­on would have giv­en the 17-mem­ber body four North­east-based rep­res­ent­at­ives.

That bloc is four mem­bers lar­ger when mem­bers whose dis­tricts in­clude North­east ter­rit­ory are ad­ded: Mark Squilla’s 1st dis­trict comes in­to the lower North­east east of Frank­ford; Dar­rell Clarke’s 5th dis­trict in­cludes North­wood; Mária Quiñones-Sanc­hez’s 7th dis­trict in­cludes Frank­ford; and Mari­on Tasco’s 9th dis­trict reaches in­to Lawndale and Cres­centville.

Tasco wants to be Coun­cil pres­id­ent. Oh likely will sup­port her; Tauben­ber­ger would not have voted for Tasco, who was re-elec­ted with no op­pos­i­tion last week, be­cause she is en­rolled in DROP and will col­lect $478,057 in re­tire­ment money in Janu­ary but re­main on the job and con­tin­ue to col­lect her full salary.

O’Bri­en will back Clarke for pres­id­ent. Clarke re­portedly has the nine votes ne­ces­sary to be elec­ted to lead Coun­cil.

O’Bri­en’s move to City Hall comes as the 169th, the state House dis­trict O’Bri­en rep­res­en­ted for about 35 years, will soon move out of Phil­adelphia to York County.

Every 10 years, the le­gis­lature re­draws bound­ar­ies to re­flect pop­u­la­tion shifts. It wasn’t com­pletely sur­pris­ing that the state’s Re­pub­lic­ans, who con­trol the le­gis­lature and the gov­ernor’s of­fice, de­cided to wipe out the dis­trict of a Re­pub­lic­an who served as House speak­er for a Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity.

“I’m glad that I have a job,” O’Bri­en said as he thanked sup­port­ers last week. “I prom­ise you I will make you proud as a coun­cil­man.” ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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