Welcome to the second edition of City & State’s Fifty Over 50, a compendium of some of the most influential difference-makers to hit the half-century mark stronger than ever. Thanks to a record number of nominations for this year’s group – almost 200 people sent in recommendations – you’re about to meet our most wide-ranging group of honorees yet, from behind-the-scenes power brokers to well-known leaders from across the commonwealth.
This year’s list also highlights the work of 10 Lifetime Achievement award winners. These people have made lasting contributions to Pennsylvania by helping shape their communities through successful business endeavors, civic engagement and service to local and state government.
The following profiles were researched and written by City & State staff and freelance writer Hilary Danailova.
In two fields long dominated by men – Pennsylvania politics and agriculture – Meecee Baker pioneered her role as arguably the commonwealth’s preeminent agricultural lobbyist. Baker is the owner of Versant Strategies, a government relations outfit that has become rural Pennsylvania’s go-to resource for representation in Harrisburg and Washington. Her firm’s clients span the corporate, grassroots and nonprofit gamut, from Monsanto and Perdue Farms to the Pennsylvania Winery Association and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
A venerable farm educator, Baker has taught at North Carolina State University and was for a long time on the faculty of Penn State University, where she was honored as an Alumni Fellow at last spring’s university commencement. Baker was the first woman elected president of the National Association of Agricultural Educators and has also led educational outreach for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
At Versant, Baker advocates for policy on behalf of the commonwealth’s family farms and high-wattage food processing and environmental concerns. She is a recipient of the Medal of Honor Award from the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, the nation’s oldest continuously operating agricultural society. Baker was also honored with the Jefferson Award by the Penn Ag Democrats for her contributions to Keystone State farming interests.
Over eight terms in the Pennsylvania Legislature, representing parts of Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming counties, state Rep. Karen Boback has brought attention and energy to policy around schools and children’s issues. In the House, she has chaired the Children and Youth Committee and authored a bill mandating newborn health testing. She is currently promoting legislation that would provide assistance to older foster children, as well as a state mental health initiative for commonwealth public schools.
Boback, who holds a doctorate, spent three decades in education before entering politics. Her experience includes serving as both a teacher and guidance counselor in the Tunkhannock Area School District. She has also been a faculty member at Wilkes and Misericordia universities; the latter recognized Boback with the Excellence in Education Award in 2006.
In the House, Boback currently serves as chair of the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee; as a Speaker-appointed member of the Children’s Trust Fund Board; and as secretary of the Pennsylvania Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus. Gov. Tom Wolf appointed her to the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, where she is serving her third term. She is also a founding member of the Luzerne/Wyoming Counties Elder Abuse Task Force and sits on the board of the Juvenile Justice Institute at Keystone College.
As a City Councilmember until his recent resignation, Allan Domb prioritized both the needs of Philadelphia businesses and its workers. He passed a 2020 wage tax credit for low-income Philadelphians, many of whom were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Domb also created a hospitality working group to address the pandemic issues of another hard-hit category, restaurants and small businesses.
Now, Philadelphians are wondering what the future holds for Domb, who remains a force in city politics as the mayoral race heats up in advance of the all-important Democratic primary. Domb was a political novice but a successful and well-connected real estate developer when he first won election in 2015. The New Jersey-born entrepreneur earned a degree from American University before building a career in Philadelphia, continuing to run his business even as an active member of City Council and as a member-at-large. Domb’s dual careers have prompted grumbling from some quarters about potential conflicts of interest, which the councilmember tried to offset by donating his municipal salary to local public schools.
As candidates line up to vie for the Democratic mayoral nomination, Domb is under pressure to articulate a solid plan for addressing the city’s crime wave as well as its post-pandemic future.
When Kerry Kirkland was appointed as Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for diversity, inclusion and small business opportunities in 2017, he couldn’t foresee the way small and minority-owned outfits would be challenged by COVID-19. Kirkland’s pandemic response included the creation of a COVID-19 Small Diverse Business and Community Taskforce, whose balance of safety and commercial guidelines is credited with preserving dozens of Harrisburg small business jobs. In 2021, the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Pennsylvania honored Kirkland with its Black History Hero Award for his pandemic leadership.
Since 2017, Kirkland has served as the senior public official advising the Wolf administration and the State Department of General Services on the policies that best respond to the needs of the commonwealth’s small and minority-owned companies and that best integrate them into both state contracting as well as the overall economy.
Years ago, Kirkland got a close-up view of another society’s struggle to achieve inclusion on a delegation to South Africa, where he led equity management training for colleagues of the late President Nelson Mandela. Back at home, Kirkland has a distinguished record of public sector work as well as political leadership. He held a series of administrative roles with the U.S. Small Business Administration, helping firms secure billions in government contracts annually.
Kirkland, who previously headed his eponymous management consultancy, has also served as vice president for the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce and as executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. In addition, he is co-founder of the American Contract Compliance Association, the world’s largest membership-based contract compliance training organization.
Center City’s post-pandemic recovery is in the hands of Paul Levy, who has nurtured Philadelphia’s commercial hub for 31 years. As the founding chief executive of Center City District, Levy guides a business improvement zone with a $30 million annual operating budget and stakeholders that include major property owners, downtown businesses, labor unions and community organizations.
Levy, who holds a doctorate in history from Columbia University, founded Center City District in 1991, when the near-bankrupt city saw its historic core plagued with graffiti and workers largely fled after 5 p.m. Levy’s goal was to upgrade infrastructure maintenance and revitalize public spaces in order to improve security and quality of life, thus attracting a wide cross-section of residents and businesses to a 24-hour urban hub.
Under Levy’s leadership, the CCD has invested $152 million in capital improvements, including the transformation of four downtown parks that are under CCD management. Even as office workers straggle back, hotels and condominiums ensure an active street life, while CCD oversees security, cleaning, marketing and planning services for the neighborhood.
Levy also serves on the board of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau and teaches city planning at the University of Pennsylvania.
Few corporate leaders have such strong ties to their hometowns as Timothy NeCastro, a native son of Erie who now leads its largest employer and only Fortune 500 company, Erie Insurance.
NeCastro oversees a property-casualty insurance company responsible for more than 3,000 jobs at its downtown Erie headquarters and another 3,000 in the 12 states where it conducts business. A founding member and board president of the Erie Downtown Development Corporation, NeCastro has committed Erie Insurance to investing $64 million in the city’s downtown revitalization and opportunity zone.
Under NeCastro’s leadership, Erie Insurance expanded into its 12th state, Kentucky, and maintains top rankings from A.M. Best, the world’s largest insurance credit rating company, alongside a designation as one of the Forbes 2022 best American insurance companies. NeCastro has also spearheaded the company’s DEI initiative: As a signatory participant in CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, he committed Erie Insurance to an active role in the organization’s Racial Equity Fellowship, which aims to foster social change through collaboration between businesses, communities and policymakers.
NeCastro spent 10 years at Ernst & Young’s Cleveland and Erie offices, then oversaw finance for The Plastek Group in Erie before joining Erie Insurance in the mid-1990s, working his way up through finance, sales and operations. Currently, NeCastro serves on the boards of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association and the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership.
For three decades, the twinkly smile and familiar style of ABC27 anchor Dennis Owens have been fixtures on Central Pennsylvania television. Owens is a longtime broadcaster for the Harrisburg channel, reporting on everything from sports and local news to state politics, the beat for which he is best known. In the latter category, Owens is the host and a co-producer of “This Week in Pennsylvania,” a statewide political talk show spotlighting politicians and other newsmakers and influencers as they discuss issues of the day. And Owens’ daily political report is broadcast on Nexstar-owned stations statewide.
Owens, a Philadelphia native, is a graduate of LaSalle University. He has been with ABC27 since 1993, when he joined as a weekend sports anchor, honing his skills by reporting on Penn State football, Super Bowls, NASCAR and the World Series. Owens first made his mark helping to create “Friday Night Football,” a show that proved wildly popular; in 2021, the program celebrated its 25th year of showcasing the high school athletes, cheerleaders and marching bands that animate Friday nights across the Harrisburg region. During the course of his career, Owens has won 15 Emmy Awards and a Murrow Award for his work.
Al Schmidt’s expertise in the nuts-and-bolts of voting and honest government has long been in demand – but Philadelphians see his work as especially important this year, with election integrity under scrutiny and rising concern over the state of American democracy. Schmidt, who served as Philadephia City Commissioner for a decade, recently took over the helm of the Committee of Seventy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes democracy and fights corruption.
At the City Commissioner’s office, Schmidt served as vice chair of the city's bipartisan Board of Elections, where he led efforts to modernize the voting system, make elections more efficient and open more election data to the public. Schmidt was recognized as a Hero of 2020 by the Philadelphia Inquirer and a Best Public Servant by Philadelphia Magazine for his guidance during the highly contentious 2020 election cycle.
Originally from Pittsburgh, Schmidt graduated from Allegheny College and earned a doctorate in history from Brandeis University. He has worked as a policy analyst for the Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States and as a senior analyst at the non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office. Schmidt has also served as senior adviser to the Republican Party of Pennsylvania and executive director of the Republican City Committee of Philadelphia.
Over several decades in Philadelphia, Sheila Simmons has built a reputation as a go-to communicator for influential Philadelphians. Simmons was chief of staff for state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta until this past July, shaping the rising Democrat’s public image as he successfully ran for office in 2018 and became the first openly LGBTQ person of color elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Simmons has also shaped both political strategy and rhetoric for former Mayor Michael Nutter, for whom she headed communications during the 2011 reelection campaign, and state Sen. Anthony Williams, for whose administration she was director of communications for several years.
Simmons studied journalism at the University of North Carolina and at North Carolina State University before working as a writer and editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She spent nearly five years as the education director for Public Citizens for Children and Youth, the Philadelphia nonprofit advocacy group now known as Children First, where she worked on policy and legislative issues. Simmons has also served as a deputy managing editor at the Philadelphia Tribune, overseeing the newsroom at the city's longest-running African American newspaper.
As a freelance writer and consultant, Simmons continues to shape Philadelphia conversations around policy, power and city issues.
In his last stretch in the statehouse, outgoing two-term Gov. Tom Wolf is busily trying to cement his socially generous legacy and – especially with the recent Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade and the rise of Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano – ensure Democratic succession in this fall’s key elections. Wolf is championing the candidacy of his attorney general (and Mastriano’s opponent), Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, as well as his lieutenant governor, the progressive Senatorial candidate John Fetterman.
Having shepherded Pennsylvanians through the challenges posed by COVID-19 and rising inflation, Wolf is spending his final months in office shoring up relief programs and policies. He is currently championing legislation that would use federal pandemic relief funds to send lower- and middle-class households $2,000 stimulus checks, and he recently announced a $21.5 million plan to provide universal free breakfast to school children, as well as a one-time rent and property tax bonus for older and low-income residents.
Wolf also recently announced $247 million in American Rescue Plan funding for small businesses across the commonwealth through the State Small Business Credit Initiative. And at the Farm Show earlier this month, Wolf trumpeted a plan to make voting more accessible – a hot topic in this midterm election year – by allowing registration during any commonwealth agency interaction.
Few Pennsylvanians know managed health care like Marge Angello, the market president for AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania, a Medicaid managed care plan that serves nearly a half million commonwealth residents. In this role, she is responsible for day-to-day guidance of everything from medical affairs and quality control to marketing for plans providing care across the Lehigh, Northeast, Northwest and Southwest regions of Pennsylvania. Under her leadership, AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania was recently recognized with the highest level accreditation status by the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s Medicaid Health Insurance Plan Ratings.
Whatever the public thinks about something, Christopher Borick probably knows it before you do. Borick is one of the nation’s leading public opinion researchers, having conducted 400 large-scale surveys over the past quarter-century and provided insights for outlets as varied as The New York Times, the BBC, NPR and the CDC. Borick directs the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College, where he is a professor of political science, and also heads the National Surveys on Energy and the Environment.
As regional businesses confront the headwinds of inflation and economic uncertainty, Scott Cantor is there to counsel them. Cantor, a senior vice president for commercial banking at PNC Bank, draws on three decades of experience to advise Central Pennsylvania clients on everything from efficient cash flow strategies and optimal capital structures to treasury management. Cantor's thorough financial knowledge is perhaps only rivaled by his track record in cultivating business relationships, helping to grow PNC Bank's profile throughout the commonwealth.
Twenty years ago, Michelle Chenn was a flight attendant for U.S. Airways. Today, as the founder and CEO of Axiom Advancement Corporation, a microloan and small business lending institution serving the Allegheny region, Chenn helps small and minority-owned businesses take flight. Chenn’s interest in community finance deepened over five years as a government compliance administrator at the University of Pittsburgh, where she worked on an economic and workforce development partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.
Chenn’s goal at Axiom is to foster not only successful entrepreneurs, but also community development across Allegheny County.
Attorney Michael Churchill’s career began in corporate finance but quickly bent toward social justice at Philadelphia’s Public Interest Law Center, which he has led in various capacities since 1976. At the nonprofit organization, Churchill has handled cases involving race and disability discrimination, voting rights, housing and environmental justice matters, as well as the current suit over inequitable funding in Pennsylvania public schools. Churchill, a one-time partner at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, has also served as general counsel for the School District of Philadelphia.
Scott Cooper, a partner at the personal injury law firm of Schmidt Kramer, is one of the state’s top 100 attorneys, according to Pennsylvania Super Lawyers. He is also one of the most politically influential: Cooper currently chairs the Pennsylvania Association for Justice’s legislative policy committee and is treasurer of its PAC. He is also president of the Dauphin County Bar Association, serves on several key committees of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and was part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s transition team.
Attorney Suzanne V. Estrella advocated for survivors of domestic and other violence for two decades before Gov. Tom Wolf named her the state’s chief victim advocate in 2021. Estrella, a well-known victims' rights lawyer, was previously legal director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, where she launched a legal assistance program for survivors of sexual assault. In her current role, Estrella has expanded the mission of the commonwealth’s victim advocacy program to include crime prevention as well as trauma care and restorative justice.
As head of operations for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, Ben Fileccia helped steer the state’s eateries and hotels through the pandemic, organizing industry vaccine clinics and championing policy that responded to his membership’s needs. Fileccia, who has held various leadership positions with the PRLA since 2018, now heads strategy and engagement for the organization, helping shape its post-pandemic future. Fileccia began his career managing several Philadelphia-area restaurants; prior to joining the PRLA, he worked for Reserve, a restaurant technology platform.
When Juul Labs was seeking tobacco-friendly legislation in Pennsylvania, it turned to Andrew Giorgione. So did CrossState Credit Union Association, when it wanted Harrisburg’s blessing for financial institutions to work with Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry. Giorgione, an attorney and government relations shareholder at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, where he co-chairs both the firm’s gaming and public-private partnership groups, specializes in the gaming and cannabis industries. Previously the acting city solicitor for the City of Harrisburg, where he was the chief legal adviser for the mayor and City Council, Giorgione became a shareholder at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in 2006.
Over her four decades of work in public health, Dr. Marla Gold, Drexel’s chief wellness officer, has seen her field grow in stature and recognition – especially during the pandemic. Gold has guided the university through the challenges of COVID-19, striving for a balance between community health, equity and cultural sensitivity. Gold, a physician, is a dean emerita and professor of health management and policy at Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health and also serves on the Philadelphia Board of Health.
Shady overtime claims and stolen trade secrets meet their match in Bob Goldich, a shareholder in Greenberg Traurig’s Labor and Employment practice group. Goldich has built a career on defending employers in myriad labor issues, from collective bargaining and employment litigation to breach of employment agreements. The co-author of several labor law treatises, Goldich sits on the governing council of the American Bar Association's Labor and Employment Section and is a fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Attorneys.
For nearly 30 years, executives have called on Monica Gould to provide strategic advice, employee training and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives for their corporate teams. Gould founded and heads Strategic Consulting Partners, a management consulting firm that has coached more than 100,000 business leaders and specializes in diversity training. SCP was named Woman-Owned Business of the Year by the Small Business Administration Pennsylvania Eastern Region, while Gould was herself named a 2021 Top 100 Power Player by the Central Penn Business Journal.
As communications director for the Philadelphia City Council, Joe Grace serves as the spokesperson for Council President Darrell Clarke and his colleagues. Grace, a one-time journalist with several Pulitzer Prize nominations to his credit, has inked speeches and press releases for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Philadelphia Mayor John Street, members of Congress and others. An attorney by training, Grace has also previously headed CeaseFirePA, a gun violence prevention organization.
For a future leader in the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Peggy Grove had unlikely beginnings as the child of a struggling family in the Nevada desert. Groves put herself through college, moved east and became a prominent Harrisburg businesswoman and philanthropist, running Rosewein Realty and awarding several dozen annual scholarships. Since 2019, Grove has served as vice chair of the state Democratic Party; she is also a member of the National Democratic Committee and the National Democratic Finance Committee.
Wherever Philadelphians gather to protest injustice or organize for social change, Helen Gym is likely among them. Elected in 2016, Gym is the first Asian-American and among the best-known members of the City Council for her energetic activism – including a much-admired anti-eviction program, a successful fight against a state takeover of public schools, and legislation guaranteeing stable schedules for part-time workers. Gym serves as a co-chair of Local Progress, a national network of elected official advancing progressive causes.
When Philadelphia salons and delis needed cash to get through the pandemic, Iola Harper was on it. A senior executive vice president at The Enterprise Center, Harper has a long list of accomplishments from a career in public service, including working with her team to achieve a 36% minority- and women-owned business participation rate for the City of Philadelphia; helping to launch the nation's first curbside business vehicle that takes business services to commercial corridors in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; and working with more than 560 minority-owned firms to ensure that they were included in both public- and private-sector opportunities.
Holly Kinser has worked with both Republican- and Democratic-led legislative chambers, five Pennsylvania governors and former Philadelphia Mayors Ed Rendell and Michael Nutter, for whom she served as lead lobbyist.
Having established a reputation for bipartisan relationship-building and effective government lobbying, Kinser served as an executive vice president at S.R. Wodjak before launching The Kinser Group a decade ago. Last year, she merged with Bellevue Strategies. As senior vice president for government relations at Bellevue, Kinser is expanding the firm’s influence in the nonprofit, humanities, and arts and culture fields.
When Kimberly Kockler makes her case in Harrisburg or Washington, legislators listen. That's because Kockler, who leads state legislative advocacy for Independence Blue Cross, is a seasoned health care lobbyist, most recently for Independence, a health group with annual revenue of more than $22 billion. Kockler previously served as vice president of government affairs at Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania and has also headed the Managed Care Association of Pennsylvania. She is a member of Women in Pennsylvania Government Relations.
Sherri Landis is one of Pennsylvania’s best-known disability rights professionals. Landis heads the Arc of Pennsylvania, the Keystone State’s 70-year-old branch of America’s largest disability rights organization, which has 33 local chapters statewide. Under Landis’ leadership, The Arc advocates for Pennsylvanians with intellectual and developmental disabilities and provides therapeutic, home care and employment services. Landis began her career in government affairs and was the first director at the D.R.E.A.M. Partnership, where she spearheaded a half-dozen post-secondary educational initiatives for people with intellectual disabilities.
Chad Lassiter’s race relations expertise has taken him as far afield as Haiti, Israel and Norway. He brings this global perspective to his role heading the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, where he helps shape commonwealth policy, practice and workplace training on diversity, equity and inclusion matters. Lassiter has spearheaded several high-profile public and campus initiatives to spark interracial dialogue and conversations around social justice. Last year, the National Association of Social Workers, Pennsylvania Chapter named Lassiter its Social Worker of the Year.
Over decades, Dr. E. Fletcher McClellan has continued to offer fresh insight into Pennsylvania’s political landscape – both on the campus of Elizabethtown College, where he is a longtime professor of political science, and for the larger community as a commentator for WITF-FM, the Pennsylvania Cable Network and LancasterOnline. McClellan, an award-winning teacher of public policy, was honored in 2020 with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Political Science Education section of the American Political Science Association.
If you’ve spent any time listening to Philadelphia radio, you’ve no doubt heard the work of Loraine Ballard Morrill, who directs both news and community affairs for iHeartMedia’s six Philadelphia AM and FM stations as well as hosting and producing two shows, “Insight” and “What’s Going On.” Under Morrill’s leadership, the iHeartMedia station Power 99 received a record six Crystal Radio Awards for community service from the National Association of Broadcasters. Morrill’s work also helped win iHeartMedia a place among the Philadelphia Foundation’s 2022 Civic 50 Greater Philadelphia.
NFL teams have their ups and downs, but Dr. Parisnicole Payton makes sure her clients always look like winners. As the longtime director of public relations at The PNP Agency, Payton has built a three-decade career managing the public faces of dozens of NFL affiliates and numerous players, alongside a myriad of entertainment, nonprofit and business clients. Payton, who was instrumental in crafting the managing public engagement around Philadelphia’s recent Super Bowl celebrations, is a sought-after speaker on sports business and management.
Since 2001, Brett Perkins has guided public strategy for Comcast as the Philadelphia-based corporation blossomed into a telecommunications empire with $116 billion in annual revenue. During the years when Comcast expanded from 2,500 to 6,000 markets, Perkins has managed the relationships that made that growth possible, from communications and strategic partnerships to legislative advocacy. Perkins, a Temple University trustee, serves on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and the executive committee of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia.
Complex disputes and unfriendly jurisdictions are no obstacles for the litigator Laura Reinhart, a member at Cozen O'Connor's Pittsburgh office. Reinhart specializes in class action, complex and toxic tort litigation for the heavily regulated railroad and long-term care industries, as well as product liability and compliance matters. Known for her victories in challenging cases, Reinhart has lent her expertise to a national railroad, a Fortune 100 company and numerous high-profile clients who rely on her strategic counsel and detailed industry knowledge.
From local campaigns to the Rendell administration, Doug Rohanna’s political experience spans the spectrum of Keystone State politics. Rohanna, who is currently senior vice president at Harrisburg-based public affairs firm Triad Strategies, has earned the respect of Republicans and Democrats alike for his effective communication and advocacy. His decades-long career has included stints as the deputy state treasurer and as chief of staff to the Pennsylvania House minority leader.
T.J. Rooney has advised candidates from Gov. Tom Wolf to Al Gore, Barack Obama, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. Rooney heads Tri State Strategies PA and is a co-founder and senior partner of Rooney Novak Isenhour Group. Rooney’s know-how comes from first-hand experience: He served seven terms in the Pennsylvania House, led the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee and served as chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party for nearly eight years. During that time, he also served as president of the Pennsylvania Electoral College for the 2004 election.
Lisa Sanford oversees the state’s efforts to promote local and minority-owned businesses, serving since 2018 as head of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business Opportunities. Sanford guides state policy and manages programs around business diversity initiatives at a time when the commonwealth’s smaller companies have faced particular challenges due to the pandemic and rising inflation. Sanford was previously the compliance director for the Maryland governor’s office of small, minority and women business affairs, and has managed her own consulting firm.
Over two decades in state government, state Sen. Mario Scavello has been a consistent advocate for school property tax reform and expanded vocational training opportunities. Scavello, an Italian-born Republican who represents parts of Monroe and Northampton counties, was a major supporter of the commonwealth's new education funding formula and related efforts to shift the school financing burden away from property owners. A senator since 2014, Scavello, previously a member of the state legislature, currently chairs the Senate Majority Policy Committee and is vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.
From tidy brick rowhouses to Center City towers, Philadelphia’s built environment has a champion in Eleanor Sharpe. As a deputy director in the Department of Planning and Development, where she oversees the division of planning and zoning, Sharpe guides the processes and policies that preserve and perpetuate Philadelphia’s historic aesthetic. Tasked with realizing the vision set forth in Philadelphia2035, the city's comprehensive plan, Sharpe manages a variety of collaborations with government agencies and civic and community groups.
Of all Melonease Shaw’s professional achievements, her current project – Maven, the Philadelphia-based consulting outfit she founded and heads – is her most personal, catering as it does to minority- and women-owned businesses. Since 2004, Shaw has provided lobbying, strategic planning and marketing to organizations that include PECO, SEPTA, the University of the Sciences and Rivers Casino. Shaw previously launched and sold a data processing company, Developmental Planning Associates, and was an executive at PRWT Services, a minority-oriented business consulting firm where she led a dozen-year expansion.
Helping students overcome barriers to education – whether racism, finances or lack of opportunity – has defined the career of Dr. Marcia Sturdivant. As CEO of NEED, Sturdivant heads the commonwealth’s oldest nonprofit, grassroots higher education access program, which has helped generations of students from minority backgrounds. Sturdivant, an educational psychologist, is also an assistant professor in the Department of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences at Point Park University, her alma mater, and a widely consulted expert on issues surrounding culturally sensitive intervention practices and child development.
After 12 years, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey may be on his way out the door of the walls of Congress, but he’s not going quietly. The legendary fiscal hawk recently denounced President Joe Biden’s student loan bailout program, endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz as his Republican replacement and suggested that Oz’s opponent – Democratic nominee Lt. Gov John Fetterman – might not be up for the job after a stroke slowed the latter’s campaigning. Whatever Toomey’s next act, the senator has made it clear he’s not going to fade away.
In 2020, Shenandoah pierogi scion and state Rep. Tim Twardzik became the first Republican elected to represent the 123rd District from Schuylkill County in more than a half-century. Twardzik, who previously ran his family’s company producing Mrs. T’s brand frozen pierogies, has since positioned himself as a champion of business, crusading against pandemic-related closures last year and hosting a recent hearing on pro-business policy fixes. He has also joined GOP efforts to fight mail-in ballots and school property taxes.
After landing on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2021 best-places list, Philly is riding high. Destination marketing expert Angela Val keeps the momentum going as the CEO of Visit Philadelphia, the city’s tourism organization. Before assuming the role in June, Val led Ready. Set. Philly!, the city’s yearlong pandemic revitalization initiative, and was CEO at Tempest, a marketing agency. She also led the host committee for Philadelphia’s 2016 Democratic National Convention, and has served as chief administration officer for the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
John Wanner is a 40-year veteran of both state-level lobbying and industry associations. He founded Wanner Associates in Harrisburg in 1985 to provide lobbying and association management services, and has served as chief staff executive of more than a dozen state associations, from chambers of commerce and labor unions to professional societies and social organizations. Wanner is an honorary life member of the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council and an emeritus member of the Alvernia University board of trustees.
Joe Watkins is a Philadelphia Renaissance man. As a political commentator, Watkins – a onetime aide to former President George H. W. Bush – hosts State of Independence on Lighthouse TV and has appeared on MSNBC; he also serves as a senior consultant at the New York firm Causeway Strategies. As a pastor, Watkins headed Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church until last year. And as a businessman, Watkins is currently president and CEO of Community Council Health Systems in Philadelphia.
After nearly two decades representing Pittsburgh, Jake Wheatley left the Pennsylvania Legislature this year to support his erstwhile colleague in the House – Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, the city's first African American to hold the position. As the State Legislature’s longest-serving African American representative, Wheatley chaired the minority finance committee and served on the appropriations committee, prioritizing policy to facilitate education funding, developing Pittsburgh’s mass transit and improving residents’ access to quality health care. At City Hall, Wheatley continues to champion these issues as well as initiatives around minority-owned small businesses, child care programs and marijuana decriminalization.
Energy lobbyist and environmental expert Pam Witmer currently leads government affairs for UGI Energy Services, a Wyomissing-based Fortune 500 natural gas and electricity supplier. Before joining UGI, Witmer led the energy and environment practice for Bravo Group, a public relations firm, and was a commissioner with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. She is also a former CEO of the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council and has served as lead legislative liaison for the Department of Environmental Protection.
Under Laurie Zierer’s longtime leadership, PA Humanities has vastly expanded not only its cultural programs across the Keystone State, but also its social mission promoting the humanities as a force for positive change. Zierer, who joined PA Humanities in 1995 as a program director, is perhaps best known for partnering with philanthropic organizations to spearhead nationally recognized projects like Teen Reading Lounge, a book club aimed at teens from low-income backgrounds, and Chester Made, a community revitalization initiative in the eponymous commonwealth city.
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