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Rendell to pols, business leaders: Kick in for schools

NEW YORK - Former Gov. Ed Rendell on Saturday challenged Philadelphia's business and political elite to contribute personally to Mayor-elect Jim Kenney's $60 million goal of providing universal pre-kindergarten throughout the city.

NEW YORK - Former Gov. Ed Rendell on Saturday challenged Philadelphia's business and political elite to contribute personally to Mayor-elect Jim Kenney's $60 million goal of providing universal pre-kindergarten throughout the city.

Speaking at the main gala of the annual Pennsylvania Society weekend, he made a broad appeal to the well-heeled crowd, saying that poverty remained a stubborn problem throughout Pennsylvania in spite of the renaissance enjoyed in parts of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He said that taking action to aid the state's struggling youth was "the least we can do."

"We have an obligation to do something to end the level of poverty that exists in the middle of all this opulence," he said in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel, decorated in Christmas lights and glimmering candles, with garland hanging from the balconies.

The crowd of more than 1,400 was made up of business leaders and elected officials who headed north for the annual Pennsylvania Society weekend, an annual affair for fund-raising, boozing and gossiping since 1898.

This year's gathering has been more subdued than others; packed with those who hoped to influence the state's politicians, but lacking in politicians to influence.

Many elected officials - who typically swarm the lavish receptions that run throughout the weekend - stayed in Harrisburg, perhaps to avoid the negative perception of spending a weekend in New York while the budget impasse persists.

Gov. Wolf, who had said he wouldn't attend without a finished budget, sat out this year. So did Kenney, who was at an event at Harvard University Friday and back in Philadelphia Saturday for the Army-Navy game.

"There were fewer events, so it seemed less hectic," Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, who attends nearly every year, said of the Friday night lineup. "There was no need to race from event to event - to only see the exact same people you just saw at the last event."

Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro simply shrugged when asked about the lack of buzz during the weekend surrounding the race for state attorney general next year, one of the more intriguing prospective contests.

Shapiro is widely expected to enter the Democratic primary but declined to disclose his plans.

In a speech to the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association Saturday morning, however, he did emphasize "the need to restore integrity in our justice system." He explained later that he was speaking both about current state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, a fellow Democrat awaiting trial on charges of leaking secret grand jury information to the Philadelphia Daily News, and state Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin, a Republican facing judicial misconduct charges related to past emails that included photos of naked women and jokes disparaging women, minorities, and religious groups.

"Integrity is at an all-time low in our justice system, and it needs to be repaired," Shapiro said. "You have a system that is clearly unfair and biased as a result of the actions of some of the leaders in the justice system. And that's not fair to average Pennsylvanians."

Kane, who did not attend, has not decided if she will seek a second term, according to a spokesman. The two declared Republican candidates, both from Montgomery County - State Rep. Todd Stephens and State Sen. John Rafferty - were tied up with budget negotiations in Harrisburg over the weekend.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zapalla Jr., a Democrat, has said he soon will announce his candidacy. Democrats Jack Stollsteimer of Delaware County and David Fawcett of Allegheny County have already declared.

In another looming race, which could decide control of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) held a fund-raiser and spoke at the business-friendly Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association during the weekend, emphasizing his concerns over the Iran nuclear deal.

A potential Democratic rival, Katie McGinty - Wolf's former chief of staff - made the rounds of events, greeting old allies.

Meanwhile, another Democratic contender, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, was introducing himself to many who don't know him. The burly mayor held court in the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria, he and an entourage of campaign staff wearing matching black tuxedo T-shirts, personalized with Fetterman's name on the lapel.

Fetterman wore his beneath a black button-down.

A third Democrat in the race, former Rep. Joe Sestak, declined to attend, and instead handed out school supplies, blankets, and food in Harrisburg, decrying the budget stalemate that he said has frozen federal funds for the needy.

Some eyes were already turning to 2018 - Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) held a jam-packed fund-raiser for his reelection bid.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump was the main event on Friday, when his speech to the Pennsylvania Republican Party at the Plaza Hotel was crashed by protesters, and he continued to draw discussion Saturday. His speech even bled into Pennsylvania's Senate race.

With Republicans fretting that a Trump nomination would sink congressional candidates in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Toomey dismissed the concern.

"I think it's very unlikely that he will be the party's nominee, so we're going to run our own race and we're going to be able and ready to win that race," Toomey told reporters.

Rendell, who along with his wife, Marjorie, was a recipient of the society's annual Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement, called Trump "the most interesting thing happening in America," acknowledging the "phenomenon" of a low-intrigue Pa. Society. And he seemed less convinced than Toomey that Trump's stardom will fade.

"It's not happening," Rendell said of Trump. "He's not dropping out.

215-854-2730 @TriciaNadolny