Attorney General Tom Corbett gets a posh party thrown for him at a Fifth Avenue apartment. Former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan takes guest-of-honor billing at a reception at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. And Lehigh County executive Don Cunningham is hosting an "Irish tea" at that famed hotel's bar.

Like debutantes taking center stage at the ball, Pennsylvania's gubernatorial hopefuls will descend on Manhattan today for the annual Pennsylvania Society event: a weekend of politicking, partying and, perhaps, even some policy-making.

They will be joined by hundreds of politicians, lobbyists and business leaders for the three-day affair, which this year celebrates its 110th birthday.

The Pennsylvania Society was formed in 1899 to help New York-based business barons maintain political and social contacts in Pennsylvania, where their interests - mainly coal, oil, steel, railroads, and merchandise - were located. Among the names dotting the early event programs were Mellon, Carnegie, Wanamaker and Strawbridge.

With the 2010 governor's election marking Pennsylvania's next big race, those jockeying for governor likely will be the center of attention.

"Pennsylvania Society is the place to see and be seen," said Bob Asher, a Montgomery County businessman and Pennsylvania Republican national committeeman. "If you're not there, people think something is wrong with you, or you're not a player."

And if you want to run for governor in Pennsylvania, Asher added, it is a must-attend event.

In the early 1990s, Tom Ridge was a little-known congressman from Erie who trekked up to New York to show his face, pass out his card and get his name out in political circles.

By 1995, he was the governor.

"It's an opportunity for candidates to showcase why they should be considered for support," said Abe Amoros, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

Former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf, like most flirting with the idea of a gubernatorial run, has not formally announced his intentions. Wolf, who left the Rendell administration after two years, has made up his mind, but said he won't be announcing his decision for a few weeks.

"For someone like me, going to Pennsylvania Society is a very good thing," he said. "I'm really an outsider coming into public service late in life."

Neither Wolf nor Democrat Tom Knox, who made an unsuccessful run for Philadelphia mayor in 2007 and now has his eye on the governor's office, are holding receptions, but both men intend to shake a lot of hands at breakfast events, work sessions and parties this weekend.

Other potential candidates, however, are putting themselves squarely at center stage.

Cunningham, the Lehigh County Democrat exploring a gubernatorial run, is throwing his Irish tea at the Bull & Bear bar in the Waldorf. He also was scheduled to host a dinner last night for about a dozen members of his finance committee.

By the time the weekend is over, Cunningham said, "you need a day off to recover, but it's a requirement for anybody looking to run statewide."

Other potential gubernatorial candidates hosting events this weekend are Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato, a Democrat, and state Auditor General Jack Wagner, also a Democrat who is hosting a reception at the Waldorf, as well.

The event generating a high level of political interest, at least among Republicans, is the private party being thrown for Corbett by businessman and big-name political donor John Catsimatidis at his Fifth Avenue apartment.

A recent surge in interest in the party has led to concern about possible fire-code violations, said Brian Nutt, Corbett's chief of staff. As a result, he said, the guest list has been pared from 250 to about 175 and the party schedule has been broken into shifts.

Corbett just won reelection in a difficult year for most Republicans. He also made headlines with his office's Bonusgate investigation into political corruption in the state capitol.

Corbett has not said definitively whether he will run. But if he does, he'll likely have to face off first in a Republican primary with Meehan, the well known former U.S. Attorney from Philadelphia who oversaw the City Hall corruption probe.

Meehan will also be in New York this weekend pressing the flesh at a reception in his honor. "We've gotten about 450 RSVPs," Meehan said yesterday.

Also on hand will be Republican U.S. Congressman Jim Gerlach, who announced this week that he's seriously considering a run for governor.

"The weekend is always a great opportunity to meet and talk to people from all around the state," he said.

Gov. Rendell, who as a lame duck won't have to work the party circuit quite as hard this year, will still campaign for one cause: moving the Pennsylvania Society to Pennsylvania.

"I'd like to bring it back," said Rendell, lamenting all the lost revenue from the event pouring into New York hotel rooms, restaurants, bars and shops. "It falls on deaf ears. People say if you had it in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh no one would come."

Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.
Inquirer staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald contributed to this article.