Northeast Times

Loss of a legend

A sad farewell: Long­time Coun­cil­wo­man Joan Kra­jew­ski, who battled chron­ic ob­struct­ive pul­mon­ary dis­ease, died last week. She was 79.

Bri­an O’Neill and Joan Kra­jew­ski were both elec­ted to City Coun­cil in 1979 and rep­res­en­ted most of the North­east for more than 30 years.

O’Neill, a Re­pub­lic­an, and Kra­jew­ski, a con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crat, were Port Rich­mond nat­ives who voted on the same side of al­most all is­sues for what they be­lieved to be best for the North­east and the city.

“We came in to­geth­er with ba­sic­ally the same roots,” O’Neill said. “We had a long run. We con­stantly laughed to­geth­er. Joanie loved to laugh. This girl brought Port Rich­mond street smarts to May­fair. She was tough as nails on the out­side and soft as putty on the in­side.”

Kra­jew­ski, who had a long battle with chron­ic ob­struct­ive pul­mon­ary dis­ease, died on Aug. 29. She was 79.

View­ings were held on Tues­day night and Wed­nes­day morn­ing at the Givn­ish Fu­ner­al Home on Academy Road. A fu­ner­al Mass was cel­eb­rated on Wed­nes­day at Christ the King Church.

Kra­jew­ski did not seek re-elec­tion to her 6th Coun­cil­man­ic Dis­trict seat in 2011. She had long lived on Shelmire Av­en­ue in May­fair be­fore mov­ing last year to Mor­rell Park.

O’Neill, who re­mains in of­fice, called her “my big sis­ter from Port Rich­mond.”

“She was a won­der­ful per­son to be around, and I was priv­ileged to work with her,” he said.

O’Neill de­scribed Kra­jew­ski as polit­ic­ally smart, adding that she loved her chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. He re­calls spend­ing time with her at area diners, where it seemed every­one wanted to talk with her.

“If you were a stranger, you would think she was the own­er,” he said. “She reveled in the diner at­mo­sphere.”

Marty Bed­narek un­suc­cess­fully tried to suc­ceed Kra­jew­ski. He’s pres­id­ent and CEO of Wash­ing­ton Sav­ings As­so­ci­ation, and she sat on the bank’s board.

Bed­narek, who calls Kra­jew­ski “my ment­or,” said she fo­cused her work on im­prov­ing neigh­bor­hoods. He ad­ded that her word was her bond.

“I don’t think there will ever be an­oth­er Joan Kra­jew­ski,” he said. “She’s an icon, one in a mil­lion. I’m go­ing to miss her.”

Don Bren­nan was a re­port­er at the former News Glean­er when he first in­ter­viewed Kra­jew­ski when she was a can­did­ate seek­ing to suc­ceed Joe Za­zyczny in the 1979 elec­tion. He be­came friends with her that day, and the friend­ship con­tin­ued as she served in Coun­cil and he spent 25 years as a news­pa­per ed­it­or.

Bren­nan de­scribed Kra­jew­ski as a com­pas­sion­ate per­son who of­ten handled con­stitu­ent is­sues by her­self. He said she was polit­ic­ally as­tute, not­ing that she fre­quently said, “Ya gotta know your play­ers.”

“She was one of a kind. There will nev­er be an­oth­er like her,” said Bren­nan, who en­joyed reg­u­lar cof­fee meet­ings with Kra­jew­ski at loc­al diners.

Kra­jew­ski worked for the city De­part­ment of Rev­en­ue and headed “Re­pub­lic­ans for Rizzo” when Frank L. Rizzo ran for may­or as a Demo­crat in 1971.

After win­ning her Coun­cil seat in 1979, she was eas­ily re-elec­ted sev­en times after her ini­tial vic­tory. In 2004, she en­rolled in the city De­ferred Re­tire­ment Op­tion Plan (DROP) and an­nounced she would not run again in 2007.

In 2005, she had sur­gery for re­mov­al of non­can­cer­ous polyps near her eso­phag­us. That led to oth­er com­plic­a­tions, and she was away from Coun­cil for four months.

Later, she fully re­covered and changed her mind about re­tir­ing. She was re-elec­ted to an eighth and fi­nal term in ’07. She also served many years as Demo­crat­ic lead­er of the 65th Ward.

In of­fice, she fought the city pris­on cap and and cre­ated the Com­munity Life Im­prove­ment Pro­gram (CLIP).

Over the years, she earned many hon­ors, in­clud­ing be­ing in the charter class of the North­east Phil­adelphia Hall of Fame. She’s in Phil­adelphia magazine’s “Best of Philly” Hall of Fame. She’s even in the Hall of Fame of the all-boys Fath­er Judge High School.

Kar­en D. Lash, pres­id­ent of the Friends of Holmes­burg Lib­rary, cred­ited Kra­jew­ski with help­ing lib­rar­ies and her dis­trict as a whole.

“Joan Kra­jew­ski will al­ways be re­membered for her tire­less com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing the qual­ity of life for the people of the 6th dis­trict,” she said. “As a lifelong res­id­ent, it was a pleas­ure to have had the op­por­tun­ity to know Joanie and to know her de­vo­tion and love for our com­munity. As a mem­ber of the Friends of Holmes­burg Lib­rary, we are grate­ful to Coun­cil­wo­man Kra­jew­ski for her con­stant and un­waver­ing sup­port of lib­rar­ies and for cham­pi­on­ing the fight along­side lib­rary pat­rons to en­sure we re­mained open to serve our com­munity. Thank you, Joanie, for im­pact­ing so many lives and for mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.”

Tony Rad­wanski, of East Tor­res­dale, said he and his wife, Kathy, lost a good friend. He knew her for 38 years, dat­ing to when he worked for the city con­trol­ler’s of­fice and she was in the rev­en­ue de­part­ment.

Rad­wanski re­calls a huge 1994 middle-of-the-night wa­ter main break that severely af­fected 50 homes near Rob­bins Av­en­ue and He­ger­man Street. Among those af­fected were his wife’s par­ents.

“I’ll nev­er for­get look­ing out their win­dow at about 6 a.m. and see­ing Joan climb­ing up a steep hill of muddy dirt to talk with the work­ers,” Rad­wanski said. “She im­me­di­ately sprung in­to ac­tion, es­tab­lish­ing a base of op­er­a­tions, and deal­ing with each af­fected fam­ily un­til their prob­lems were re­solved. That was truly spe­cial, but it was the way Joan al­ways ap­proached her job for ‘her people.’ ”

A num­ber of elec­ted of­fi­cials re­leased state­ments on learn­ing of Kra­jew­ski’s death.

Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on, who suc­ceeded her, said, “I’ve had the good for­tune of call­ing Joan a friend for more than two dec­ades. I’ll miss our late-night con­ver­sa­tions and her con­stant ad­vice. She taught me to keep a sense of hu­mor about this job. Her feisty nature and sharp polit­ic­al acu­men made her equal parts le­gendary and ap­proach­able as a polit­ic­al lead­er in the North­east. You’d be hard-pressed to find any­one at the Ara­mingo Diner, May­fair Diner or The Din­ing Car that doesn’t re­mem­ber Joan passing through at one time or an­oth­er.”

State Sen. Tina Tartagli­one said, “To the res­id­ents of North­east Phil­adelphia, Joan Kra­jew­ski was a tire­less ser­vant, ad­voc­ate and a le­gendary pub­lic of­fi­cial who left a leg­acy few Phil­adelphi­ans can match. To me, she was a dear friend and ment­or, my first boss and a role mod­el. She set the stand­ard for pub­lic ser­vice, took chal­lenges head-on and spoke from the heart. In an era of poll­sters and fo­cus groups, her blunt hon­esty and dir­ect ap­proach made her the em­bod­i­ment of pas­sion for which Phil­adelphi­ans are widely known. Al­though she has passed, her in­flu­ence lives on in the many pub­lic ser­vants, city em­ploy­ees and loc­al politi­cians she in­spired over her dec­ades of ser­vice. Phil­adelphia will miss her much. I will miss her more.”

State Sen. Mike Stack said, “From fight­ing to ‘save Christ­mas’ in 2010 to lead­ing school dis­trict em­ploy­ees as pres­id­ent of Loc­al 1660 and al­ways avail­able to listen to her con­stitu­ents, her ded­ic­ated and vi­gil­ant ser­vice seared in­to our vocab­u­lar­ies phrases like ‘diner polit­ics’ and ‘The Queen of Con­stitu­ent Ser­vice.’ People loved Joanie so much they voted her Phil­adelphia magazine’s best coun­cilp­er­son in 1987, 1990 and 1991 – and then was en­shrined in the pub­lic­a­tion’s hall of fame in 1993.”

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz said, “For more than 30 years, Joan was a fight­er and a tire­less ad­voc­ate for the people of North­east Phil­adelphia’s Sixth Dis­trict. As city coun­cil­wo­man, she made im­port­ant de­cisions that strengthened Phil­adelphia and im­proved the qual­ity of life for her con­stitu­ents. We worked closely to­geth­er on the North Delaware River­front Gre­en­way and streets­cape and pub­lic trans­it im­prove­ments along Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue. Joan’s pas­sion, lead­er­ship and leg­acy as a de­fend­er of our city will not be for­got­ten.”

May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter said, “I met Joan Kra­jew­ski in the early 1980s through then-Coun­cil­man John An­der­son. They were great friends and, over the years, I came to know her as straight­for­ward and hon­est, some­times bru­tally so, and a real friend who gave me help and guid­ance. She was a per­son whose word you could really trust. I very much ad­mired her re­cord of ser­vice to the city and in par­tic­u­lar how she served her con­stitu­ents in the 6th Coun­cil Dis­trict who will miss her.”

Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Dar­rell L. Clarke said, “Joan was a great cham­pi­on of North­east Phil­adelphia. She was an un­fail­ingly sup­port­ive col­league. And more im­port­antly, she was my friend. Our friend­ship began well be­fore I was elec­ted to of­fice. The un­sung, lowly staffer did not ex­ist in Joan’s world. She treated City Hall em­ploy­ees as equals. Joan took the time to get to know every­one she en­countered here, no mat­ter their po­s­i­tion or sta­tion. But Joan also was tough as nails. She was one of the most ef­fect­ive Coun­cil mem­bers in re­cent memory. The skill with which she lever­aged her of­fice to de­liv­er for con­stitu­ents and for the 6th Dis­trict was mas­ter­ful. I hope what Phil­adelphi­ans re­mem­ber most about Joan is she was a genu­inely caring, warm, good hu­man be­ing.” ••

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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