Small-town mayor who's big on the Fourth

Narberth Mayor Tom Grady says the borough's celebration of the Fourth is "an all-day affair. Around noon, people start to put out their blankets, to save a place." Fireworks start at 9:30.
Narberth Mayor Tom Grady says the borough's celebration of the Fourth is "an all-day affair. Around noon, people start to put out their blankets, to save a place." Fireworks start at 9:30. (TOM INFIELD / Staff)
Posted: July 04, 2011

He is 50, father of a son and two daughters. He has a mild, intelligent face and wears rimless glasses. His hair, not long, runs wild in gray-white tufts.

Tom Grady, the mayor of Narberth (population: 4,300), looks more like a professor than a pol. But he fits the mold in what he calls "the heart of the Main Line." His half-square-mile borough, once a working man's town, has evolved into a bastion of "architects, lawyers, professionals," as he puts it. Mapes 5&10 has been joined by a Japanese market and French bakeries.

Grady runs a solo law practice in Philadelphia, which gives him a flexible schedule for his chatty online newsletters and "meet the mayor" sessions around town. His powers are limited; Borough Council carries most of the clout.

He is the voice of Narberth, its chief cheerleader, its No. 1 fan. And what makes Narberth proud, come summertime, is its Fourth of July festival that, by Grady's estimate, annually draws 20,000 people.

Inquirer staff writer Tom Infield spoke with Grady about small-town life on the edge of America's fifth-largest city.

Question: Why is the Fourth so important to Narberth? 

Tom Grady: Two things. The first is pride in our independence and a celebration of our country. The second is a coming-home celebration. We live in a small town, and it is a time for us to celebrate that way of life.

Children ride their bikes with red-white-and-blue streamers. They play games in the park during the day with their friends, have cookouts with their families at dinnertime, and come to the park at night to lie on blankets and stare at the summer sky as it is lit up by fireworks.

Regardless of age, I tend to think we all reach back to our best childhood memories, when maybe life was a bit less complicated.

Q: How far do people come? 

Grady: For people who used to live in Narberth, it's a favorite time to return. We give an American flag to the people who come the farthest. It usually ends up in the hands of someone from Australia or the Fiji Islands.

Q: Do taxpayers foot the bill? 

Grady: No. There's a Fourth of July committee that works all year long to raise money. On the Fourth, they pass around buckets. There is an ad book. Sometimes, they generate $25,000 to $35,000. If there's money left over, it goes to community groups such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Q: As a cheerleading mayor, whom do you pattern yourself after? Let me guess - Ed Rendell? 

Grady: I go back to the days when Rendell used to clean out the bathrooms in City Hall and make sure the pools worked. I use that as a model. He made his mark by getting out there. He actually did work, which is what politicians should do. I do a movie night each month in the borough. I am the projectionist, and I put out the chairs.

Q: You have a website, meethemayor.org, on which you list your personal e-mail address and home phone number. What's that about? 

Grady: I have lived in Narberth with my family for 20 years, and most residents already have that contact information. As mayor, I am head of the Police Department. There are times when our residents would rather reach out to me about a neighbor problem than call the police. By being accessible, I can address the issue immediately or, if necessary, request police intervention.

Q: Do you get paid? 

Grady: No. Although compensation is provided under the Borough Code [$2,500], I would never take it.

Q: You became Narberth's first Democratic mayor in memory in 2004, and you were reelected in 2009 without Republican opposition. How did a nearly all-Republican town become a nearly all-Democratic town? 

Grady: We have a lot of families who enjoyed living in Philadelphia. I constantly run into people who used to live in Bella Vista or Northern Liberties or Rittenhouse Square. But when their kids got to be 4 or 5 years of age, they decided to move out of the city for school reasons. When they crossed the borough boundary, they brought their Democratic voter registration with them.

Q: How hard has Narberth been hit by the Great Recession? 

Grady: Less than other communities. We have seen a longer time for house sales, but we don't have any vacancies in our downtown. Some people have been hurt. Architects and lawyers may have less work, but they still have business. Overall - touch wood - we have done quite well.

Q: So if I want to see the fireworks, what do I do?

Grady: The shooting starts at 9:30, but it's an all-day affair. We have sack races, all kinds of activities, at Narberth Playground. Around noon, people start to put out their blankets, to save a place. We'll have a band playing. It's a mini-Woodstock.

Q: Without the drugs, I presume. 

Grady: Without the drugs.


Contact staff writer Tom Infield

at 610-313-8205 or tinfield@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|