When the second weekend in December rolls around, you can set your watch to two things:
1) Politicians, business leaders and media executives from the Keystone State converge on the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan for three days of receptions and parties in an event known as The Pennsylvania Society Weekend.
2) The news media will, verbatim, recycle their tired old story, criticizing the event and asking why it isn’t held in Pennsylvania.
Good point, right? Wrong. It’s articles like that which make a newspaper’s biggest value being the backup when you run out of toilet paper.
Instead of actually reporting on some of the newsworthy stories that emerge from the weekend, or, God forbid, using the opportunity to generate leads for future stories, most reporters choose the easy — read: lazy — way out by publishing last year’s article after simply changing the date.
Water is wet, the sky is blue and the Pennsylvania Society gala will always be in New York — as it should be. So for all the misguided good-government types, self-described "reformers," and the chip-on-their-shoulder folks who sport a nose-pressed-against-the- glass attitude, here’s a newsflash: your self-righteous criticism is not just wrong, but factually incorrect about the PA Society. As a result, your comments are simply ignored as white noise.
Here is the truth rebutting many criticisms leveled at the year’s premier networking event and the "elite" who attend:
1) Why isn’t it held in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh? Uhhh, this is a no-brainer. Because, literally, no one would go. Period. Not only is there always an excitement in getting away for a weekend — which just isn’t the same when the destination is in your backyard — but there is the ultimate incentive to attend: it’s Manhattan at Christmas time. No city in the world comes close to matching the electricity flowing through New York in December. There is nothing better. End of story.
2) Why is the Pennsylvania Society event held in New York? In addition to the above, there’s a little thing called history. In an age when traditions are routinely scoffed, it is refreshing to see that some are still sacred. The weekend started a century ago when some of Pennsylvania’s successful businessmen living in New York (you know, the evil industrialists who had the gall to actually employ hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians and transform the state into one of the most dominant economic engines in the world) wanted to keep in touch with fellow Pennsylvanians.
Wow. Maintaining friendships, cementing business relationships and furthering the economic interests of Pennsylvania. What a crime. Maybe they shouldn’t have started the tradition and instead let the state fall into stagnation, decay, and malaise — kind of like it is now.
3) It’s all backroom deals in smoke-filled rooms: Not true. New York has one of those ridiculous, all-encompassing smoking bans, which is a shame. I saw a bunch of CEO’s and pols trying to finish their deal-making after getting thrown out of a mahogany-paneled restaurant for lighting up their Cubans, only to get ticketed for smoking in Times Square. Yep. That’s illegal too. The nerve of New York to interfere with Pennsylvania’s elite!
Of course, it hasn’t dawned on the critics that "schmoozing, networking, fund-raising, backslapping, wining, dining, and deal-making" (as the Inquirer described it) can and does take place outside of New York. It happens in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and everywhere in between. As a matter of fact, these folks don’t even need back rooms anymore, as they can "make their deals" on cell phones, and, for those who prefer face-to-face conspiracies, Skype.
The truth is that the last time a candidate was "anointed" at the Pennsylvania Society was Bill Scranton for Governor. In 1962. And a check of the records will show there was in fact an election that year, so Mr. Scranton was not installed via dictate by the power elite.
4) The money would be better spent in Pennsylvania, and what kind of message does it send in this economy to have politicians attending lavish parties in New York?
It’s probably a bad image, but damn it’s a fun time!
Of course, both these points boil down to one of America’s biggest problems — and a major factor why we are in this mess. We are all about style and symbolism over substance.
Does it "look good" to spend money in-state? Sure. Would it make one bit of difference? None. Zero. Maybe if a fraction of the energy spent advocating for symbolism was actually spent on getting Pennsylvanians back to work through meaningful growth policies, we’d all be a lot better off. Ironically, many of the detractors are the same ones standing in the way of real progress, but that’s another column.
5) It’s so aristocratic…all the power elite playing in their privileged world.
Well, since this author attends, that theory is shot to hell. But beyond that, it’s simply not true. Here’s the biggest non-secret that will get me barred from the few events to which I’m actually invited: most "By Invitation Only" events are nothing of the kind. Put on a suit or nice dress, and you’re in. And once that happens, the preconceived notions disappear right before your eyes.
It’s not about backroom deals and the coronation of candidates. It’s about people enjoying the company of folks whom they see only this once the whole year. It’s about renewing long-lost friendships. It’s about swapping war stories, exchanging ideas, going shopping, seeing a Broadway play and taking in a show at Radio City.
But perhaps most remarkable is that, just this one time of year in New York, you can walk into a room with no gatekeepers and have a relaxed, in-depth conversation with some fascinating people who are otherwise insulated. Current and former Governors, U.S. Senators, Attorneys General, Cabinet Secretaries, Congressmen, titans of industry, media publishers, authors… the list goes on and on. The overarching point of the weekend isn’t to lobby and politic (though clearly that takes place), but to have fun.
State Representative Mike Vereb said it best, "You can actually talk to someone for more than five minutes." Too bad we can’t do that more often in Harrisburg, but it’s a start.
And here’s the best part. It’s civil. Democrats and Republicans actually talk to one another without hurling insults and fists. About the only folks hitting the floor are the ones who enjoyed the festivities a tad too much.
The media would do itself a huge favor by reporting on the true aspects of the Pennsylvania Society Weekend and not regurgitating the same trite garbage that only serves to further undermine people’s faith in their leaders.
So I raise my glass to keeping the Pennsylvania Society Weekend exactly where it belongs — New York City.
Cuban cigar, anyone?
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at [email protected]