Next Test: Harrisburg The Way Allyson Schwartz Crushed Joe Rocks Has Made Her A Person To Watch In State Politics. Will She Have The Toughness To Come Out Ahead As A Rookie Legislator?

Posted: November 15, 1990

Don't be fooled by her disarming smile. Allyson Young Schwartz is serious.

"She was always a serious kid," says her father, Everett M. Young, a retired dentist on Long Island.

"Very serious," says JoAnne Fischer, who met Schwartz at Bryn Mawr

College in 1971.

Just how serious came through on election night, when Schwartz - after a bruising campaign against Republican incumbent M. Joseph Rocks - began reviewing the results in the Fourth Senate District.

Schwartz was worried - not that she was going to lose, but that she would not stomp Rocks in a way he would never forget.

"We wanted a landslide," Schwartz, 42, said yesterday, sipping coffee in a plastic cup, and offering that earthy, New York street-smart grin. "At one point we were nervous. We thought we were going to just win. That wasn't enough."

Of course, Schwartz got her big win, putting a temporary end to Rocks' career, and ushering in a new era of Philadelphia politics, one that will see signs of increasing power from the Northwest coalition led by Democratic U.S. Rep. William H. Gray 3d. And, of course, that may not be nearly enough for Allyson Schwartz, who has never stood still for long.

Don't forget, this is a woman who in 1974 got tired of the doctors who owned the Women's Medical Services Clinic in Center City calling all the shots and, with a group of women, quit the clinic's board of directors. They founded the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center on Walnut Street. The first director of Blackwell? Allyson Young Schwartz.

This is a woman who in the summer of 1988 took over the city's Department of Human Services, an agency with a sad history of mismanagement that was criticized by child advocates. She helped the agency get back its state license, and simply by her manner on the telephone instilled renewed confidence among city health-care providers who had lost hope in the department's failed administrator, Irene S. Pernsley.

This is a woman who during a Channel 10 debate with Rocks this fall was asked by moderator Larry Kane to say something positive about her opponent. Rocks had obliged. Schwartz did not.

"I'm very diplomatic, but I'm also no-nonsense," said Schwartz.

"She gets it from her mother," Schwartz's father said.


In 1939, at age 13, Schwartz's mother, Renee Perl, fled Nazi oppression in Austria. She was by herself. Perl's mother had already gone to London, her father to Palestine. So Perl traveled across the European continent alone, then got passage to the United States, landing in Philadelphia at the Rebecca Gratz Club, a Jewish foster home and orphan asylum in Center City. After attending Girls High School and Temple University and working as an interior decorator and designer, Perl met Everett Young on a blind date.


They moved to Flushing in Queens, N.Y., where they raised four children - Neal, Allyson, Dale and Nancy. The family moved to Long Island after Allyson graduated from Calhoun High School, where she was the 1966 class president. She was also a class president at Junior High School 189 in Flushing.

At Simmons College in Boston, there was no student government. "So, I didn't get to run for anything." But at Bryn Mawr, they had student representatives to the board of trustees. "I was that," she said.

"Allyson was a girl who always knew what she wanted out of life," said her father.

Her mother died in 1975, and Schwartz assumed her mother's role in the family, especially for her younger sister, Nancy, who was a senior in high school at the time. "It was a real crisis time in my life," said Nancy Young. In addition to her mother's death, her father wanted Nancy to go to

college close to their Westbury, Long Island, home. Schwartz explained to her father that it was important for her younger sister's development as a woman that she go away to school, and she wrote to Simmons' admissions officials to help Nancy get accepted.

"She's always in control," said Nancy Young.

There were times in the fall campaign, however, when Schwartz appeared to be rattled. During a debate with Rocks at La Salle University in late October, she seemed overly rehearsed in front of a group of students, reading from white note cards instead of speaking more informally. Clearly, Rocks was the better prepared and more informed about Harrisburg's nuances and the legislative agenda facing the city.

Some say she overreacted, after six straight weeks of negative attacks by Rocks, by calling his tactics "anti-Semitic" because one of his mailers featured battlefield crosses but omitted the Stars of David used for fallen Jewish soldiers. Prominent conservative Jewish groups publicly - and some moderate Jewish leaders privately - admonished the Schwartz campaign for going too far.

But, despite Rocks' attacks, Schwartz never retaliated in a sustained way. Some say she'll have to toughen up in Harrisburg. Others say nonsense.


"What really bothered me throughout the campaign," said City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, who pushed Schwartz to run for the Senate, "was (the assumption) that women can't be tough-minded unless they scream and yell. You don't have to scream and yell and curse to be tough-minded. Watch what Allyson Schwartz does as much as what she says."

Schwartz faces a big test when she takes office in January. Despite an expensive, brutal campaign, the Senate remains narrowly in Republican hands. She will be a rookie minority senator in a chamber where only four of the 50 members are women. In addition, the leading Philadelphia Democrat in the Senate, Vincent J. Fumo of South Philadelphia, was dead set against her candidacy at the outset of 1990, when he backed Roxborough ward leader Bob Blasi.

Schwartz trounced Blasi, and Jeff Blum, in the primary. Fumo, who thought Schwartz was too liberal to beat Rocks in the Fourth Senate District, has since stood up with Schwartz at campaign news conferences to attack Rocks. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see whether Fumo, who is lining up opposite Gray in backing candidates for the 1991 mayoral race, will be kind to Gray's new ally in Harrisburg.

And there is the perplexing issue of abortion. Schwartz was backed by every major abortion-rights group in the nation. Rocks is anti-abortion. He voted for the 1989 Abortion Control Act, the strictest abortion measure in the nation. Given her precarious first-year position in Harrisburg, it is no wonder Schwartz said yesterday that she would not immediately propose legislation to roll back the Abortion Control Act.

She explained it this way:

"It's real clear what my position is on the choice issue," she said. ''I'm not happy with the law as it stands in Pennsylvania. But it's also real clear that I was not a single-issue candidate and I will not be a single- issue legislator."

Schwartz, who lives in Mount Airy with her sons, Daniel, 14, and Jordan, 11, and her husband, David, a doctor, said her agenda in Harrisburg would mirror her campaign theme.


She said the fiscal rescue plan outlined by Mayor Goode, House Speaker Robert O'Donnell, Fumo and other state legislators was "an important first step," but not nearly enough to instill confidence in investors who would buy city loan notes to keep Philadelphia afloat for the next six months.

"I think it's a beginning, I don't think it is enough. If I was an investor, well, I would say, 'What is the long-term solution?' I think it's great for O'Donnell and (state Rep. Dwight) Evans and Fumo to stand up with the mayor. It's a beginning of the political partnership with the state. But the missing link there is City Council. It's not going to succeed without City Council getting involved."

In the long term, she said, the state simply has to do more for the city, a difficult task considering that suburban and rural legislators have little stomach left for helping Philadelphia and that state budget deficits loom.


"Clearly my agenda is to work with the state to assume a greater role in Philadelphia. . . . In the last 10 years we've had federal Republican administrations that have basically said we're out of the business of tackling some of these basic domestic issues.

"So it is up to the state, not only in a funding sense, but in a policy one. And I don't think the state really has defined its role.

"Part of my agenda," she said, "is to work with the state to define that role and to ensure there are adequate health and human services in the state. The definition of the function of different levels of government is something I think we have to tackle in the 1990s."

How far can Allyson Young Schwartz go in Philadelphia politics? It's a question being asked even before she has been sworn in to office. Others may contemplate her future, but for now she's trying to be, well, diplomatic.

Yesterday morning, Schwartz made her first speech as senator-elect. She traveled to the E.C. Emlen Academics Plus School in Germantown, where the new student council was being installed. Schwartz made the keynote speech.

She talked about what it means to win an election, how to go about doing the job of being a student leader, how compromise can solve problems.

"It's important to figure out ways to conduct yourself so that people will listen to what you have to say," she said, pausing with a big smile. "You don't have to come up with all the answers but people expect you to come up with some of the answers. So, it's important for you to deal with serious things."

The children lit candles to commemorate the day, and gave the Emlen cheer. Then, the principal, Dolores R. Seiberlich, took the podium. Talking specifically to the young girls in the assembly, she lectured the elementary- school students about Schwartz's accomplishment.

"Allyson entered a race where the incumbent, a man, had the advantage," Seiberlich said. "She had to work very, very hard to win. She's a lady who has a college degree, who has a profession, who has a family. This lady has shown us what women can do. Have children, a family, the whole thing.

"Hopefully, you and I will be alive when the first woman is elected president," said Seiberlich. "Wouldn't that be exciting? What if it were Allyson Schwartz? Wouldn't that be exciting?"

The kids looked puzzled. Of course, Allyson Schwartz was smiling.

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