Constitution Center's Head Quits As Rendell Plays Bigger Role Robert M. Brasler Was President For 3 Years. Now, He Says, ``there Are Things . . . Only The Mayor Can Do.''

Posted: January 30, 1997

Robert M. Brasler, president of the National Constitution Center for the last three years, resigned yesterday, a month after the nonprofit organization unanimously elected Mayor Rendell as chairman of the board.

Joseph M. Torsella, a former deputy mayor and a key figure in Rendell's first term, will act as interim president.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Brasler said he had not been asked to resign.

``This is not an easy job,'' said Brasler. ``It's been a roller-coaster emotionally since day one. We've had great successes. And at times we've wondered what the hell we're doing.''

But, he said, ``a lot of stuff I wanted to do has been done and now there are things that need to be done that only the mayor can do.''

First proposed back in the 1980s, the Constitution Center is conceived as a $170 million multimedia celebratory temple on the second block of Independence Mall.

Brasler became president of the building effort three years ago, charged with defining the project, raising money and persuading the National Park Service to cede some land on the mall for the center. Last year, the Park Service agreed to make room for the center, penciling it in on a site along Arch Street.

Raising money and defining the center in an enticing way have proven more nettlesome, however. The slow pace led to considerable grumbling among board members last year, and ultimately induced Rendell to become actively involved.

Brasler said the center has raised a little more than $4 million, including about $1 million from the bankrupt Foundation for New Era Philanthropy. At least part of the New Era money will have to be turned over to the bankruptcy trustee, although the precise amount has not been worked out yet, he said.

Rendell could not be reached yesterday, but last month he vowed to push the center forward, becoming active in fund-raising.

Torsella, 32, who played a central role in negotiating city labor contracts and overhauling the city's disability program, is a former Rhodes Scholar with expertise in early American history. He left the administration in 1993, and now runs his own Center City consulting company. Torsella is also something of an inventor, known principally for the Spaghetti Smock, a dining bib he peddled around town.

Brasler, a former real-estate executive, will remain on the center's board and serve as a consultant. He plans to return to the business world after a vacation.

``Joe Torsella, while he's certainly the mayor's guy and worked with him closely, has also worked with us hand-and-glove as a consultant,'' said Brasler. ``I just feel it's a good time to let [the mayor] run things. I had carte blanche to run things. He needs that too. . . . I don't think there will be any change in direction.''

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