On Saturday, December 10, PMA Chairman Frederick W. Anton, III, will again welcome Pennsylvania’s top elected officials and “VIP” audience to Manhattan’s historic Metropolitan Club. It will be Anton’s 36th consecutive year presiding over the PMA seminar and luncheon, now presented with Comcast Corporation, our sponsor.
Over that time, neither Anton nor the event, have lost any luster. Of the over 60 satellite receptions, fundraisers, and other events orbiting the Pennsylvania Society’s Annual Dinner in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria on Saturday night, none attracts the line-up of political and business heavyweights as the seminar. In fact, no invitation on Pennsylvania’s annual political calendar is more coveted.
In his usual frank, self-effacing style, Anton attributes the long-term success of the seminar -- he characterizes as the “ultimate networking opportunity” -- to simply a confluence of circumstances.
“Everyone is already there for Society weekend,” he said. “They don’t have to make a special trip. And we have all the main ingredients you need for a first-class event… the leading political figures of the day, higher caliber audience, and the setting at The Metropolitan Club.”
But the same set of circumstances could have been very well squandered by someone else, if ever conceived at all, never achieving its bipartisan allure. Yet even as Anton has been anything but shy in his role as the Commonwealth’s conservative standard-bearer, he has presided over an event that is more policy than politics, civil instead of confrontational, and educational rather than partisan.
It’s a tribute in part to an endearing aspect of his personality. He has never allowed differing political views stand in the way of friendships; demonstrated by the fact that the same current and past high ranking political figures from both parties return to the event every year.
He proudly says he remains good friends with former Republican Governor Dick Thornburgh, who spoke at the first event in 1981, and also with former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell and former Democratic U.S. Senator Harris Wofford. He also developed and maintained a good friendship with the late Bob Casey, Sr., Democratic governor from 1987-1995.
“This kind of event with all these different points of view being exchanged just doesn’t happen anywhere else,” Anton said. “It would be foolish to let personal views get in the way of that.”
PMA President David N. Taylor says that what distinguishes Anton is that he embodies all the hallmark attributes necessary for sustained, quality leadership.
“Mr. Anton is the Great Convener,” Taylor said. “He gets others to put aside any rancor that might rise out of political differences for this great informational event, a place where we can learn from each other in a civil setting. That’s a testament to him and to his character.”
Under the event format, the elected officials each have fifteen minutes as Taylor said, “to use however they choose, which is insightful and revealing in its own way.” The luncheon follows.
The backdrop this year is the General Election where the Republicans won the presidency (the first time Pennsylvania went red since 1988), maintained majorities in Congress and strengthened them in the state legislature – there they will have strongest majorities since the Eisenhower years. Speakers invited include Republican Senator Pat Toomey whose re-election helped the Republicans keep power in the Senate, and his counterpart Democratic Senator Bob Casey, now serving in his second term.
Representing the General Assembly will be Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre).
Another notable speaker will be the Pennsylvania’s next Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, who rode against the Republican wave in November and will take control of an office in turmoil with the conviction in August of former AG Kathleen Kane on perjury, criminal conspiracy, and other charges. His approach to the internal workings of the beleaguered office may very well be as important as his prosecutorial focus. Anton calls Shapiro “aggressive and smart” and a potential candidate for governor one day.
Other invitees include Philadelphia Mayor Democrat Jim Kenney, elected in 2015, and Republican Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Allegheny), recently re-elected to an eighth term.
Regrettably, Governor Tom Wolf will reportedly not participate in Pennsylvania Society weekend again this year. Although he spoke at the PMA Seminar in 2014 as Governor-elect, Wolf was absent last year, ending a bipartisan tradition that began with Governor Thornburgh and extended through governors Casey, Ridge, Schweiker, Rendell, and Corbett.
Taylor will alternate introducing the speakers with go-to political analyst G. Terry Madonna of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. Madonna who hosts the public policy and political commentary TV show, “Pennsylvania Newsmakers,” calls Anton a “legend.”
“The breath and scope of his knowledge is amazing,” Madonna said. “Every time I sit down with him I learn something new.”
Anton’s role in the Pennsylvania Society at large has similarly been as long and distinguished. He’s a past president of the Society and now Councilor Emeritus, having served on the board from 1980 to 2010.
“Fred is crucial to the spirit of collegiality surrounding the seminar and the dinner,” said Pennsylvania Society Executive Director Carol McC. Fitzgerald. “To see, say, a Republican from Erie sitting down with a Democrat from Philadelphia in an air of civility at this time of the year is just beautiful music.”
Surely the maestro deserves a long, enthusiastic round of applause.