Loss of a legend

A sad farewell: Longtime Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, who battled chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, died last week. She was 79.

Brian O’Neill and Joan Krajewski were both elected to City Council in 1979 and represented most of the Northeast for more than 30 years.

O’Neill, a Republican, and Krajewski, a conservative Democrat, were Port Richmond natives who voted on the same side of almost all issues for what they believed to be best for the Northeast and the city.

“We came in together with basically the same roots,” O’Neill said. “We had a long run. We constantly laughed together. Joanie loved to laugh. This girl brought Port Richmond street smarts to Mayfair. She was tough as nails on the outside and soft as putty on the inside.”

Krajewski, who had a long battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, died on Aug. 29. She was 79.

Viewings were held on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning at the Givnish Funeral Home on Academy Road. A funeral Mass was celebrated on Wednesday at Christ the King Church.

Krajewski did not seek re-election to her 6th Councilmanic District seat in 2011. She had long lived on Shelmire Avenue in Mayfair before moving last year to Morrell Park.

O’Neill, who remains in office, called her “my big sister from Port Richmond.”

“She was a wonderful person to be around, and I was privileged to work with her,” he said.

O’Neill described Krajewski as politically smart, adding that she loved her children and grandchildren. He recalls spending time with her at area diners, where it seemed everyone wanted to talk with her.

“If you were a stranger, you would think she was the owner,” he said. “She reveled in the diner atmosphere.”

Marty Bednarek unsuccessfully tried to succeed Krajewski. He’s president and CEO of Washington Savings Association, and she sat on the bank’s board.

Bednarek, who calls Krajewski “my mentor,” said she focused her work on improving neighborhoods. He added that her word was her bond.

“I don’t think there will ever be another Joan Krajewski,” he said. “She’s an icon, one in a million. I’m going to miss her.”

Don Brennan was a reporter at the former News Gleaner when he first interviewed Krajewski when she was a candidate seeking to succeed Joe Zazyczny in the 1979 election. He became friends with her that day, and the friendship continued as she served in Council and he spent 25 years as a newspaper editor.

Brennan described Krajewski as a compassionate person who often handled constituent issues by herself. He said she was politically astute, noting that she frequently said, “Ya gotta know your players.”

“She was one of a kind. There will never be another like her,” said Brennan, who enjoyed regular coffee meetings with Krajewski at local diners.

Krajewski worked for the city Department of Revenue and headed “Republicans for Rizzo” when Frank L. Rizzo ran for mayor as a Democrat in 1971.

After winning her Council seat in 1979, she was easily re-elected seven times after her initial victory. In 2004, she enrolled in the city Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) and announced she would not run again in 2007.

In 2005, she had surgery for removal of noncancerous polyps near her esophagus. That led to other complications, and she was away from Council for four months.

Later, she fully recovered and changed her mind about retiring. She was re-elected to an eighth and final term in ’07. She also served many years as Democratic leader of the 65th Ward.

In office, she fought the city prison cap and and created the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP).

Over the years, she earned many honors, including being in the charter class of the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame. She’s in Philadelphia magazine’s “Best of Philly” Hall of Fame. She’s even in the Hall of Fame of the all-boys Father Judge High School.

Karen D. Lash, president of the Friends of Holmesburg Library, credited Krajewski with helping libraries and her district as a whole.

“Joan Krajewski will always be remembered for her tireless commitment to improving the quality of life for the people of the 6th district,” she said. “As a lifelong resident, it was a pleasure to have had the opportunity to know Joanie and to know her devotion and love for our community. As a member of the Friends of Holmesburg Library, we are grateful to Councilwoman Krajewski for her constant and unwavering support of libraries and for championing the fight alongside library patrons to ensure we remained open to serve our community. Thank you, Joanie, for impacting so many lives and for making a difference.”

Tony Radwanski, of East Torresdale, said he and his wife, Kathy, lost a good friend. He knew her for 38 years, dating to when he worked for the city controller’s office and she was in the revenue department.

Radwanski recalls a huge 1994 middle-of-the-night water main break that severely affected 50 homes near Robbins Avenue and Hegerman Street. Among those affected were his wife’s parents.

“I’ll never forget looking out their window at about 6 a.m. and seeing Joan climbing up a steep hill of muddy dirt to talk with the workers,” Radwanski said. “She immediately sprung into action, establishing a base of operations, and dealing with each affected family until their problems were resolved. That was truly special, but it was the way Joan always approached her job for ‘her people.’ ”

A number of elected officials released statements on learning of Krajewski’s death.

Councilman Bobby Henon, who succeeded her, said, “I’ve had the good fortune of calling Joan a friend for more than two decades. I’ll miss our late-night conversations and her constant advice. She taught me to keep a sense of humor about this job. Her feisty nature and sharp political acumen made her equal parts legendary and approachable as a political leader in the Northeast. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone at the Aramingo Diner, Mayfair Diner or The Dining Car that doesn’t remember Joan passing through at one time or another.”

State Sen. Tina Tartaglione said, “To the residents of Northeast Philadelphia, Joan Krajewski was a tireless servant, advocate and a legendary public official who left a legacy few Philadelphians can match. To me, she was a dear friend and mentor, my first boss and a role model. She set the standard for public service, took challenges head-on and spoke from the heart. In an era of pollsters and focus groups, her blunt honesty and direct approach made her the embodiment of passion for which Philadelphians are widely known. Although she has passed, her influence lives on in the many public servants, city employees and local politicians she inspired over her decades of service. Philadelphia will miss her much. I will miss her more.”

State Sen. Mike Stack said, “From fighting to ‘save Christmas’ in 2010 to leading school district employees as president of Local 1660 and always available to listen to her constituents, her dedicated and vigilant service seared into our vocabularies phrases like ‘diner politics’ and ‘The Queen of Constituent Service.’ People loved Joanie so much they voted her Philadelphia magazine’s best councilperson in 1987, 1990 and 1991 — and then was enshrined in the publication’s hall of fame in 1993.”

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz said, “For more than 30 years, Joan was a fighter and a tireless advocate for the people of Northeast Philadelphia’s Sixth District. As city councilwoman, she made important decisions that strengthened Philadelphia and improved the quality of life for her constituents. We worked closely together on the North Delaware Riverfront Greenway and streetscape and public transit improvements along Torresdale Avenue. Joan’s passion, leadership and legacy as a defender of our city will not be forgotten.”

Mayor Michael Nutter said, “I met Joan Krajewski in the early 1980s through then-Councilman John Anderson. They were great friends and, over the years, I came to know her as straightforward and honest, sometimes brutally so, and a real friend who gave me help and guidance. She was a person whose word you could really trust. I very much admired her record of service to the city and in particular how she served her constituents in the 6th Council District who will miss her.”

Council President Darrell L. Clarke said, “Joan was a great champion of Northeast Philadelphia. She was an unfailingly supportive colleague. And more importantly, she was my friend. Our friendship began well before I was elected to office. The unsung, lowly staffer did not exist in Joan’s world. She treated City Hall employees as equals. Joan took the time to get to know everyone she encountered here, no matter their position or station. But Joan also was tough as nails. She was one of the most effective Council members in recent memory. The skill with which she leveraged her office to deliver for constituents and for the 6th District was masterful. I hope what Philadelphians remember most about Joan is she was a genuinely caring, warm, good human being.” ••