Taking the oath of office is nothing new to Dennis O’Brien.
O’Brien served 16 full terms and half of a 17th in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He was speaker during the 2007-08 term.
Still, it was special to him on Monday morning when he took the oath of office to become a member of Philadelphia City Council during a ceremony at the Academy of Music.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I want to bring my years of experience in Harrisburg here.”
O’Brien, 59, of Millbrook, formerly represented the 169th Legislative District. He resigned last week.
The seat was moved to York County as part of the redistricting process, and a special election will be held there to replace O’Brien. It’ll probably take place on April 24, the date of the primary.
O’Brien’s district office at 9811 Academy Road has closed. For state matters, former constituents should contact their future representative. Divisions in the old 169th have been divided among Reps. Brendan Boyle, Kevin Boyle, Mike McGeehan, John Sabatina Jr. and John Taylor.
To contact the new councilman, call 215-686-3440 (41). The fax number is 215-686-1929.
The main office is located in Room 582 City Hall, the former office of ex-Councilman Frank Rizzo. In an unusual setup, O’Brien also has an office in Room 586, with Councilwoman Marian Tasco’s office in between.
Council consists of 17 members, and O’Brien is one of seven who serve at large. In the November general election, the five Democratic incumbents were easy winners, while O’Brien was by far the leading Republican vote-getter. David Oh edged Al Taubenberger for the other GOP at-large seat.
In Council, O’Brien — who wore an autism awareness pin during the swearing-in ceremony — will chair the new Committee on Disabilities and Individuals with Special Needs.
The staff has moved from Academy Road to City Hall.
“I had the best staff of any legislative office,” O’Brien said. “There will be a void because we’re not there.”
One initiative that will not go away is O’Brien’s annual run/walk at Northeast Philadelphia Airport that raises money for the youth sports groups in his former House district.
By switching jobs, O’Brien goes from the majority to minority.
Democrats control Council, 14-3. Councilman Brian O’Neill (R-10th dist.) will be the minority leader, while Oh will be minority whip.
“They decided the way it’s going to be,” said O’Brien, who is not close with O’Neill. “I’m not interested in a leadership position. I didn’t seek it, so I’m not disappointed.”
The Council swearing-in ceremony took place exactly five years after O’Brien was unexpectedly elected speaker, with almost all of the votes coming from Democratic House members.
“There were probably people in the audience who were wondering if I was going to become Council president,” he joked.
Instead, as expected, Councilman Darrell Clarke assumed the presidency. O’Brien, who seconded the nomination of Clarke and escorted him to the rostrum, believes he has a good relationship with the new president and Mayor Michael Nutter.
Philadelphia is an older, economically challenged city, in O’Brien’s view. Yet, the city boasts great hospitals and colleges.
In Harrisburg, O’Brien focused on issues such as criminal justice, health care and people with disabilities, and he plans to continue his work in those areas. He also cites the public education system as in need of help.
Another former House member, Kenyatta Johnson, is also new to Council, and O’Brien thinks the two of them will be able to lobby their former colleagues for help for Philadelphia.
Council needs to become a more serious-minded body, according to O’Brien, to gain respect from the state and federal governments.
“It’s important that we do that early and often,” he said. “People will change their view of Council, and it will make it harder for them to say no.” ••EndFragment