Behind the massive Biden vote in suburban Philadelphia — and a reduced but still crushing Democratic majority in Philadelphia — the familiar groups of Democratic corporate lawyers and investment managers who helped pay for the victory are now in line to push their favorites for jobs in Washington.
Biden’s longtime aide and Greenville, Del., neighbor, former U.S. Sen. Ted Kaufman (D., Del.), is among the top gatekeepers weighing names, and former Pennsylvania State Rep. Michael Gerber (D., Montgomery), who collected checks for other prodigious fund-raisers is among those reviewing names to pitch.
The Biden people lean toward loyalists, Obama veterans, women, African Americans, and people with Washington experience. “They’ve done a lot of outreach,” says Philadelphia lawyer and party fund-raiser Alan Kessler.
With their party’s weak showing in the congressional elections, Democrats will have a hard time marshaling enough votes to appoint left-wing Cabinet members and judges, if they wanted to, even if they win their uphill fight for a slim Senate edge in the Georgia special elections in January.
There are also private-sector candidates, who combine progressive positions on broad issues dear to Democrats, plus real-world experience that might reassure investors and even some Republicans.
Obvious Philly candidates for jobs in Washington include SEPTA general manager Leslie S. Richards, city airport CEO Rochelle “Chellie” Cameron, Urban Affairs Coalition CEO Sharmain Matlock-Turner, Children’s Hospital chief Madeline Bell, Penn President Amy Gutmann, her Drexel counterpart John Fry, and First Round Capital founder (and Inquirer chairman) Josh Kopelman, says Susan Jacobson, the PR executive who chairs the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia board and served in the Biden and Obama campaigns.
Here are four other prominent Philadelphia-area figures who have beefy resumes and have voiced support for one or many key Democratic economic goals:
— Leo J. Strine, former chief justice of Delaware, and before that a judge in the state’s Court of Chancery, the nation’s top court for shareholder disputes.
In his last years of office, Strine, at a public talk at Penn’s law school and in research papers and other venues, urged lawmakers and judges to evaluate corporations, not just by how they enrich shareholders, but also by their social roles as employers and their impact on racial and economic groups and the environment. CEOs such as JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon, also a Democrat, have broadly claimed to support that approach. As a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Strine would make a mark.
— Richard Vague, former head of JPMorgan’s credit card business, the nation’s largest. After quitting Dimon’s bank 20 years ago, he built and sold two big companies, setting himself up as a Center City entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, and political donor. He endowed gene therapy pioneer Carl June’s Penn professorship, headed Penn’s publishing arm, and gave to the liberal Philadelphia 300 donor group, but also to U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.). Vague is a policy scholar, publishing research against the Iraq War and making the case that too much private debt, not government spending, tends to wreck economies.
Vague suffered a setback Nov. 3 when one of his favorite candidates, Joe Torsella, was nosed out of office after a term as Pennsylvania’s elected treasurer, and after annoying teachers’ union officers by pushing investment reforms at the school pension system (PSERS). Gov. Tom Wolf has made Vague acting banking secretary, giving him cabinet-level government experience that could win Vague a senior post at Treasury or one of the financial-regulatory agencies.
— Ellen Kullman as CEO of the DuPont Co. bet heavily on renewable fuels, reduced reliance on petrochemicals, and won a heated board election against profit-seeking hedge fund managers in defense of the company’s spending on science research.
Kullman was later ousted and replaced by corporate dismemberment specialist Ed Breen of New Hope, leaving her on the boards of Goldman Sachs, Amgen, and United Technologies and freeing her to continue to speak on issues dear to Democrats with the credibility of a blue-chip boardroom veteran. She could cut a bold figure at Commerce or the EPA.
— Patrick Harker, born in Gloucester City, earned twin Ph.D.s in engineering and economics, headed Penn’s Wharton School and then the University of Delaware, before area business leaders picked him as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
He oversees research on the future of work under digital automation and advocates forcefully for the renewal of vocational and skills education for the majority who don’t go to college, and the reorienting of community colleges around jobs that pay living wages. Harker could push that vision for an American workforce in a leadership job at the Fed, Labor, or Education.
Meanwhile, David L. Cohen’s announced departure Thursday as head of the University of Pennsylvania Trustees, just as he prepares to leave as Comcast Corp.’s executive vice president, removed Cohen from top jobs at Philadelphia’s largest employer and largest city-based corporation, respectively. That set off natural speculation the prominent Biden backer could head to an important role in Washington.
Indeed, an October virtual event led by Cohen, former Gov. Ed Rendell, and lawyer Ken Jarin raised $5.5 million for Biden.
However, as if to downplay the suspicion the school was launching Cohen into the Biden administration, fellow Penn trustees privately emphasized that the Penn board succession was a long time in the making; new trustee chair Scott Bok, a New York investment banker, was one of several candidates systematically tested on trustee committees in the past few years before he was tapped as Cohen’s successor.
Penn, though Trump’s alma mater and home of the Wharton business school, remains a liberal Ivy League college closer to Biden in spirit: Penn paid him a fat salary for a no-teaching professor’s job and found his allies jobs and funding at the Penn Biden Center (as the University of Delaware did at its Biden Institute).
Looking to Biden’s home base, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D., Del.), daughter of a Wilmington city councilman who won a second term down ticket from Biden, is among those who will have more influence with her neighbor going to the White House whether she stays in the House of Representatives or takes on a new role.
Unlike her lightning-rod congressional classmates, the “Squad” of four minority, female, leftish Democratic freshmen, Blunt Rochester represents a majority-white district. Like others who need diverse appeal to keep their jobs, she has been a bridge-builder, holding joint small-business events with U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Bucks County Republican, for example. Which could come in useful as Biden seeks to work with strengthened GOP caucuses in Congress.