City Council's new era

Long­time state law­maker Den­nis O'Bri­en joins city's gov­ern­ing body.

(L to R) Phil­adelphia City Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Dar­rell L. Clarke is es­cor­ted to the po­di­um by City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on and City Coun­cil­man Denny O’Bri­en dur­ing a oath of of­fice dur­ing a ce­re­mony on Monday, Janu­ary 2 at the Academy of Mu­sic. Kev­in Cook / for the Times


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.” ••


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