At service, warm memories of a tough Joan Krajewski

Heading a procession of city officials into Christ the King Church for services for former City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski were Mayor Nutter (right) and City Council President Darrell A. Clarke.
Heading a procession of city officials into Christ the King Church for services for former City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski were Mayor Nutter (right) and City Council President Darrell A. Clarke. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 06, 2013

Shortly after beginning his eulogy for Joan Krajewski on Wednesday morning, the Rev. Joseph Campellone asked how many people in the church had been called "an idiot" by the former Philadelphia city councilwoman.

Dozens of hands shot up, including a good number belonging to her former Council colleagues, who filled the two front rows of Christ the King Church.

"Even the mayor," Campellone said, pointing to Mayor Nutter, who had raised his hand, as the rest of the mourners broke into laughter.

Krajewski, who died last week of chronic lung disease at 79, served in City Council for 32 years, representing a proudly blue-collar swath of Northeast Philadelphia.

Known for her immovable will and blunt assessments delivered in a husky smoker's voice, Krajewski was immensely popular in her Sixth District, where she was most at home holding court in one of the neighborhood diners. She retired in 2011 after winning reelection seven times.

"I'm glad she was old-school," said Campellone, president of Father Judge High School and a longtime friend of Krajewski's. "We need people who are going to say, 'I don't need an office. My office is going to be a diner. My office is going to be Kmart. My office is going to be Frankford Avenue.' "

Above all, the priest said, Krajewski was ruled by a belief that "integrity makes you who you are."

He recalled the time she shut down a racially charged housing meeting in her district when someone in the audience referred to "those people."

Campellone remembered her thundering back at the hostile crowd, "What do you mean, 'Those people?' This is over. We're all God's people."

Raised in Port Richmond as one of 10 children, Krajewski entered politics as a Republican committeewoman. She switched parties in the 1970s to support Mayor Frank L. Rizzo.

She rose to become Democratic leader of the 65th Ward and, in 1979, won a seat in Council. Over the years, she was a tireless advocate for her district, while never taking herself too seriously.

"Joan was tough, but when it came to her grandchildren, she was a real softy," said her daughter-in-law Michele Krajewski.

When the first of Krajewski's five grandchildren was born, she wasn't sure she could stand being called a grandmother. Luckily, her granddaughter took to calling her "Memom."

"That was a name Joan could live with and love," Michele Krajewski said.

In one of her final messages, Joan Krajewski told her family to be happy and, "if you can only remember me with tears, then don't remember me at all," Michele Krajewski said from the pulpit.

After the service, Nutter laughed in recalling his battles with Krajewski - no matter how they ended, she always sent him away with a joke and wished him well, he said.

Nutter especially remembered his six-year effort as a councilman to ban indoor smoking in Philadelphia.

"She would just say, 'You must be crazy. I can't vote for that,' " the mayor said.

He also recalled a time he spoke to Dennis Farina, the recently deceased actor who played mobsters in movies and a cop on Law and Order. Farina was one of Krajewski's favorites, so the mayor asked him to call her.

Krajewski, who had engaged in a running practical-joke competition with former Councilman Jack Kelly, thought the call was a prank and hung up. Farina called back and eventually convinced her the call was real.

"She called me and she was ecstatic - 'I can't believe you did that,' " Nutter said. "There wasn't anybody like her and there won't be any time soon."


Contact Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or tgraham@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @troyjgraham.

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