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Joseph L. Zazyczny, former Philadelphia City Council member, dies at 84

Mr. Zazyczny was a city councilmember who worked hard at governing and didn't suffer fools lightly. But he also was a mentor to aspiring politicians.

Joseph L. Zazyczny
Joseph L. ZazycznyRead moreCourtesy of the Zazyczny Family (custom credit)

Joseph L. Zazyczny, 84, a former Philadelphia City Council member who later held a cabinet-level post under Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, died Thursday, March 26, of Alzheimer’s disease at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery.

A Nicetown native, Mr. Zazyczny grew up in Port Richmond, where he lived while serving as a city councilmember. Later, he moved to Upper Providence Township in Montgomery County.

In 1967, Mr. Zazyczny was elected as a Democrat to City Council, representing 200,000 people in the 6th District. He was reelected to two successive four-year terms ending in 1979. He also was Democratic leader of the 45th Ward.

During his time on Council, Mr. Zazyczny served as chairman of its committees on public property and public works. He pushed through legislation to develop the Tioga Marine Terminal, the Port Richmond plant of the Philadelphia Gas Works, and the SEPTA Airport Line.

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Borski said he got his start in politics “at Mr. Zazyczny’s knee.” Before his political career, while still a coach and athletic club leader in Harrowgate, Borski approached Mr. Zazyczny for help getting a gym for his club. The meeting didn’t go well.

“I know what’s going on in every area of my district," he recalled Mr. Zazyczny telling him, "but I don’t know what’s going on in your area.”

“You will from now on,” Borski said he replied.

Borski became a committeeman under Mr. Zazyczny, whom he described as blunt, intense, and “tough as nails." But Borski said he loved him.

“He was my mentor, one of the finest public servants I have ever known, and a man of the utmost integrity,” said Borski, who served in Congress from 1983 to 2003. “He was a role model to me and countless others as to what a public servant should be. I tried to pattern my political life after him."

Mr. Zazyczny's concern for his fellow citizens, particularly Polish Americans, caused him to seek out leadership roles in cultural and social organizations as well as city politics. That pattern emerged early.

At a 1987 testimonial to Mr. Zazyczny sponsored by the Polish Eagle Sports Club, another friend, Theodore S. Dydak, observed that by age 15, Mr. Zazyczny had already received an awardfor running the sports program at St. Laurentius Parish.

“This event, occurring so early in Mr. Zazyczny's life, merely hinted at what would become a most distinguished career of community service,” said a biography on file with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The son of John and Mary Zazyczny, he graduated from Northeast Catholic High School and Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in business management. He studied at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He served in the Army and was honorably discharged in August 1957.

In 1962, he married Martha Irene Stronski. They had six children.

While a councilmember, he was a hard worker. At budget time, he would disappear for days, going over the city budget line by line, Borski said.

After leaving his city post, Mr. Zazyczny served as secretary of the Philadelphia Port Corp. from 1979 to 1987, responsible for financial operations.

In 1987, Mr. Zazyczny was appointed a deputy secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Health. In 1988, Casey appointed him secretary of administration. He coordinated policies involving personnel, labor relations, and affirmative action with the executive branch of state government.

He was a past national president of the American Council for Polish Culture, founder of the Polish Heritage Society, and vice president of the Polish-American Congress, Eastern Pennsylvania District.

He received the Chapel of Four Chaplains medallion in 1993.

When not working, he enjoyed reading and dancing.

Besides his wife, he is survived by children Jacqueline, Joel, Jocelyn, Jayda Lynn, Jason, and Justin; 15 grandchildren; and a brother and a sister.

Burial was in Our Lady of Czestochowa Cemetery in Doylestown. A Funeral Mass and celebration of life will be held later.

Memorial donations may be made to the Polish Heritage Society Scholarship Fund, 9150 Academy Rd., Philadelphia, Pa. 19114.