Edgar Rosenthal, 89, formerly of Swarthmore, a researcher and executive with the Pennsylvania Economy League for 43 years, died Tuesday, July 30, of complications of dementia at his home in the Watermark in Philadelphia.
At various times starting in 1952, Mr. Rosenthal served as a senior research associate, research director, and acting director of the nonprofit Pennsylvania Economy League, which acts as a fiscal watchdog and adviser to Philadelphia-area governments.
After authoring dozens of reports in his careful, exacting style, he retired in 1995. The nonprofit is now the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.
“He was very detail-oriented,” said his son, Robert. “He drove that home with everyone who worked for him.”
The son of a research scientist and an art-history scholar, Mr. Rosenthal was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1929. After the Nazis rose to power, his father, Otto Rosenthal, moved the family to Amsterdam. The Rosenthals came to Philadelphia in 1936 and settled in the city’s Spruce Hill neighborhood.
Mr. Rosenthal graduated from Central High School in 1947 and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951. While in college, he worked as an usher at the Palestra.
Mr. Rosenthal did postgraduate study at Penn to pave the way for his career at the league.
In that role, he analyzed and made recommendations to elected leaders on the budgets of the City of Philadelphia, the School District, and nearby municipal governments so that they could formulate public policy.
He prepared school enrollment projections, analyzed pension funding, looked at the effect of tax exemptions given to nonprofits, studied the city’s gangs, and tracked the number of women in the workplace.
He also took the arcane workings of government and broke them down in a way that was clear to readers. His classic 1956 report, Philadelphia Government, was a citizens’ guide to the government of Philadelphia, its organization, services, and finances.
In another analysis of the city’s benefit system to pay permanently disabled workers, he came up with “no grossly adverse results.” However, he wrote in 1959 that the city should improve reporting and other procedures “for greater equity among employees and to further protect the public interest.”
Mr. Rosenthal shared his knowledge of municipal finance and budgeting, as well as the social consequences of budgeting decisions, with his colleagues. Dianne E. Reed, the director of the league when he was its research director, was one of them. She went on to become the city’s budget director.
In the 1960s, he taught public administration at Penn’s Fels Institute of Government. One of his students was W. Wilson Goode Sr., the city’s future mayor.
Among his publications was an update to Philadelphia Government, the report he had coauthored with league researcher Emma Louise Bowman. Collaboration led to romance, and the two married in 1958. In 1968, they and their son moved from West Philadelphia to Swarthmore.
In 2008, Mr. Rosenthal received the Frederick P. Gruenberg career award from the Governmental Research Association. The plaque noted “his ability to analyze programs, but also to understand the broader public policy issues that influenced those programs.”
“He was a model for those who worked with him and those who have followed,” the plaque read.
As an adult, Mr. Rosenthal renewed his tie with the city of Berlin. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he went there for a special tour.
In retirement, he joined the Swarthmore Lions Club and the Philadelphia Trail Club. He was a member of the residents’ association at Watermark, where he spent 16 years.
His wife died in 1986. He married Sylvia Haber Wexler in 1989.
“Those who attended the Swarthmore July 4th celebrations in the 1990s will remember Edgar and Sylvia in their matching red-white-and-blue shirts,” his son said.
After Wexler died in 2006, he and his close companion Louise Ernst enjoyed attending opera and concerts in the city.
Besides his son, Robert, he is survived by a sister, Irene Hill; grandson Jeffrey Rosenthal; stepsons Lawrence Wexler and Robert Wexler; a stepdaughter, Deborah Sarachek; four stepgrandchildren; and nieces and nephews.