NEW YORK - In a year of unusual political volatility, the chatter in the halls of the Waldorf-Astoria was all about who might run in what big races - for Philadelphia mayor and state Supreme Court justice next year and for U.S. Senate in 2016.
And when attendees were not trading names of potential candidates, they were speculating about controversies surrounding U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane and debating how Gov.-elect Tom Wolf will respond to a budget crisis and a solidly GOP legislature when he takes office Jan. 20.
This year's event featured some real news, with Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille's comments on Kane, and the incoming Senate majority leader saying he was ready to talk budget deal with Wolf.
Since 1898, Pennsylvania's business leaders and elected officials have traveled to New York City around Christmastime to take part in the Pennsylvania Society weekend, best known as neutral ground for backslapping and boozing, fund-raising and gossip.
The weekend's showcase event is the society's $400-a-plate annual dinner honoring an individual for his or her civic leadership, a list that includes Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and President George H.W. Bush, and this year adds former PNC Bank chairman Jim Rohr.
With the mayor's race gearing up and an unprecedented number of vacancies on the state Supreme Court, candidates were in full campaign mode working the reception circuit for endorsements and cash.
Meanwhile, one of the top legislative leaders cracked the door open on one of the stickiest issues before the General Assembly.
Newly elected Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) told the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association forum Saturday he was willing to consider a tax on shale gas if Wolf negotiated on overhauling the state pension system. For his part, Wolf was noncommittal.
Philadelphia's four declared mayoral candidates busily made the rounds to garner support from top fund-raisers, business leaders, and labor groups.
Each candidate had supporters, but there was no question that an unannounced candidate - Council President Darrell L. Clarke - continues to keep a lot of the attention and money from the announced candidates - Terry Gillen, Ken Trujillo, Lynne Abraham, and Anthony H. Williams.
Clarke's fund-raiser Saturday, though, drew more than 100 people to a midtown restaurant where tickets went for as much as $11,500.
"We're here to write checks," said Gary Devito, a shareholder at the Zarwin Baum law firm.
Pennsylvanians will elect three new Supreme Court justices next year. the most vacancies since the court was formed in 1703, and the candidate field is growing. "You can't turn around without seeing a judicial candidate," said Joe Grace, public policy director for the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, standing outside the banquet room where John Dougherty, business manager of IBEW Local 98, was hosting his noisy shindig.
Dougherty even slipped a campaign bauble on behalf of his brother into his bag of swag for attendees: an ornament that said "Kevin Dougherty" for Supreme Court.
Speculation was rampant too about the futures of Fattah and Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, whom some Democrats want to see run for against Sen. Pat Toomey in 2016.
As for Fattah, a number of Philadelphia Democrats appear interested in replacing the 10-term U.S. representative who has come under fire after two political aides pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds and taxpayer dollars.
For departing leaders it was a time to say goodbye to elected office, and some did it with levity.
Castille, who steps down at the end of the year upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70, quipped that he envisions himself speeding down the streets of Fort Lauderdale in his Hoveround sporting a ponytail.
Asked whether he planned to leave Wolf a personal letter, as Ed Rendell had left for him in 2011, Gov. Corbett said he would. "I'm going to leave him the same advice he gave me," Corbett said. "Always have two dogs. That way they can keep each other company."