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Millennials flock to ritzy PA Society to be seen, schmooze

Albert Eisenberg took a bus and two subway trains to get from Philadelphia to Manhattan for the swankiest political event in Pennsylvania politics.

Albert Eisenberg took a bus and two subway trains to get from Philadelphia to Manhattan for the swankiest political event in Pennsylvania politics.

Eisenberg, 25, communications director for Philadelphia's Republican Party, isn't making the kind of money that would allow him to stay in the $500-a-night hotels in the area so he's crashing with friends in Brooklyn.

"The fact is, behind the suits are a lot of younger people who are probably sleeping on someone's fold-out tonight," Eisenberg said. "I'm here because it's a good networking opportunity and the political landscape is more open now than in a generation - I think there's a really big shift afoot in both parties so it's fun to put on a suit and shake some hands and see what's out there."

As the Pennsylvania Society's annual dinner turns 119 this year, its cocktail-sipping crowd is getting younger.

The weekend affair at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan - meant to bring together Democrats and Republicans from across the state - includes $100,000 parties, lavish luncheons and panels, all culminating in a Saturday night black-tie dinner in the hotel's Grand Ballroom.

The average age of attendees still hovers around 50 but more 20- and 30-somethings are making the trip to schmooze with the party elite, staff events for politicians they work for, or to seek out clients for newly formed businesses.

"It can be difficult. It can be awkward but Pennsylvania Society is one of those opportunities to get face time with a lot of people who are traditionally more difficult to access," said Dan Siegel, deputy regional director at J Street, a pro-Israel organization.

Lobbyists go to Washington to find their Congress people, Siegel explains.

Philadelphians go to the Waldorf.

"It's hard to call up and get formal meetings with members of the congressional delegation so to be able to go up to that person and say, 'Hey, this is who I am. This is the organization I'm with and we'd love to schedule a formal meeting - a 'yes' there means you can schedule that."

The weekend includes 42 separate cocktail receptions, dinners, luncheons or speeches. Tickets - save the main event - are largely symoblic.

"If you're dressed appropriately and you walk in confidently, no one questions you," said Michael Bronstein, 37, a political consultant.

Bronstein traces how far he's come in the last 10 years in PA Society terms.

"When you're younger, you have to sneak in and you rent a tux and when you're older, you're invited and you own a tux. That's a large difference between what was going on ten years ago and today."

Bronstein said oftentimes the more established politicians welcome a chat with someone younger. The whole environment is meant to be disarming - a dozen open bars will do that.

In terms of political relevance, "you've passed the first hurdle just by showing up," Bronstein said.

But for all of its usefulness there are those who hate the forced mingling.

And the cost and location can be prohibitive to younger attendees. The main event Saturday night runs $500 to $1,000 a seat and it's one you can't sneak into. That causes a mass exodus Saturday morning. Many younger people attend the Pattison Leader Ball, an event organized for millennials at which Gov. Wolf will speak at this year. Its founders, husband and wife team Kellan and Nicole White, founded it specifically because they saw so many of their friends taking the train home after the first night of activities.

Jason Tucker, 32, a real estate developer with the Goldenberg Group and board member with Young Involved Philadelphia, opts for the Philly event over the Waldorf.

"I know there's a reason that everyone goes to New York - it just doesn't smell right," Tucker said.

He's not the only one who answered with an eye roll, when asked for an initial reaction to the event.

"People definitely feel kind of held at arm's length from the political process in Philadelphia," Tucker said. "There's a chasm between young leadership and existing leadership so the idea that the existing leadership takes a social trip out of the city to have a networking party over the course of a weekend seems to confirm everything the young folks feel about them being kept out of the room where it happens."