William W. Batoff, 76, a major political fund-raiser who helped elect mayors, governors and even presidents, died Saturday at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

His son Jeffrey, a local attorney, said that Mr. Batoff, who lived Center City, had gone into the hospital for surgery related to bladder cancer.

Gov. Rendell, for whom Mr. Batoff raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, on Saturday called him "a force in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia politics for four decades."

His success, in business as well as in politics, wasn't based on education or pedigree. A one-time street kid from South Philadelphia, he served with the Air Force in the Korean War and never graduated from high school. He was a self-made man every inch of the way.

Mr. Batoff started out selling residential real estate in Northeast Philadelphia and created his own title-insurance company, which he eventually moved to the Packard Building in Center City.

He considered running for local office. But former Philadelphia solictor Martin Weinberg, a life-long friend, convinced him to apply his salesmanship to raising funds for another candidate: Frank L. Rizzo.

That was 1975, and Rizzo was up for reelection as mayor. The success and exhilaration of that campaign led Mr. Batoff to make politics his priority. Business became second.

"He never became a wealthy man," his son said, "and there was a good reason for that: He was as honest as you could be."

By the late '70s, he had become state finance chairman for President Jimmy Carter's 1980 reelection effort. The kid who had dropped out of South Philadelphia High found himself sitting at the president's table, next to Egpytian leader Anwar Sadat, at a White House dinner to celebrate the Camp David Peace Accords.

He helped Rendell run for governor in the 1986 primary. When Rendell lost and shifted his support to Democratic nominee Robert P. Casey, Batoff became Casey's finance chairman.

Over the years, he helped many of the top Democrats in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania - and a few Republicans, including long-time GOP Sen. Arlen Specter. But Weinberg said his greater influence was in national politics. After Carter, Mr. Batoff supported Vice President Walter Mondale run for president.

Weinberg recalled that one day, in his presence, Mr. Batoff placed a call to Mondale. He was told that Mondale was on a diplomatic mission to China. But a few minutes later, the phone rang. It was Mondale calling back.

Visitors to Mr. Batoff's office were met by a large lithograph on the wall behind his desk. It was Andy Warhol's portrait of Carter, signed by both theartist and the president.

Mr. Batoff also supported Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988, and did some fund-raising for President Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.

He supported one Republican for president: George W. Bush, who rewarded with an appointment to the Advisory Committee of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

Fellow fund-raiser and sometimes rival Alan Kessler - who considered Mr. Batoff an early mentor - said he practically invented the role of the modern political fund-raiser in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Batoff came up with the idea of asking donors to write a check to a candidate but give it to him first. Mr. Batoff would bundle the donations and present them in one large sum to the awed candidate.

The plan worked to the advantage of both Mr. Batoff and the donor. It cemented Mr. Batoff's image and gave the small donor a better chance of gaining the candidate's ear.

Rendell recalled: "He'd say, 'If you give me the $5,000, it will have more impact than if you gave it directly. Because I will have raised $500,000, and then if you need a regulatory problem reviewed, I will be able to get through quicker then you.'"

"That is the role of the modern fund-raiser," Rendell said. "They get you access; they get you quick meetings. Alan Kessler and others do the same thing now that Bill invented in the late '70s and early 80s."

Besides his son Jeffrey, Mr. Batoff is survived by his wife of 57 years, Beverly; a son, Jerry, a real estate developer, and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Saturday.

Contact staff writer Tom Infield at 610-313-8205 or tinfield@phillynews.com.