Jenkintown mayor puts his lighter side forward

Jenkintown Mayor Ed Foley works on tie-dyed bagels to promote a local arts festival. He hasn't made up his mind about seeking a third term.
Jenkintown Mayor Ed Foley works on tie-dyed bagels to promote a local arts festival. He hasn't made up his mind about seeking a third term. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 01, 2014

It was the messiest of political situations, a real schmear campaign in which the Jenkintown mayor stood to make a lot of dough. Literally.

If you went past the window of Fill A Bagel one morning this month, you might have seen Jenkintown Mayor Ed Foley wearing a white chef's hat and apron while making tie-dye-colored bagels to promote the forthcoming Jenkintown arts festival.

After kneading, he walked to a machine with a small conveyor belt that forms the dough into circles. Foley, 53, had to catch them with one hand, stretch them with the other, and then put them on a board. Like the classic I Love Lucy episode where chaos ensues when Lucy Ricardo works at a chocolate factory, Foley could not keep up and a bagel or two fell off the belt.

"Everything is fun for 10 minutes," he said as he finally mastered the grab.

The publicity ploy, devised by arts festival organizers, may seem unorthodox for a mayor - but not for Foley, an unpaid elected official who loves his town so much he'll do most anything to show it off.

"I don't just think he's the best mayor Jenkintown has ever had - I would put him against any mayor of any small town across the country," said borough resident, real estate agent, and friend Andrew Smith.

Jenkintown is a cozy community, with its 4,500 residents tucked into less than a square mile in eastern Montgomery County.

Foley has a media bent; he earned his undergraduate degree at Southern Illinois University in journalism.

When he and his family - he has two daughters and a son - were about to move to the borough from Boston in 1999, they looked at towns that had "walkable Main Streets," including Jenkintown, Media, Narberth, and Yardley. Jenkintown won them over, he said.

Indiana native Foley fell hard for Jenkintown.

"I never had been a joiner," he said, "never been involved in an elective capacity."

But when former Mayor Greg Wall decided to leave office, Democrat Foley decided to run in the Democrat-dominated borough. In the January 2009 election, he won a contest that had no real opposition and became hizzoner with 99.58 percent of all votes cast, according to Montgomery County results. (There were four write-in votes.)

He again faced no opposition in his reelection bid last year and coasted to a second term.

"I'm thinking about not doing a third term, but I haven't made up my mind," said Foley, who doesn't envision running for any other office.

As mayor, he oversees the Police Department and serves as a tie-breaking vote on a council that rarely has a tie. He also weighs in on local issues.

He bumped into one himself in 2011 when his daughter, 15 at the time, hosted a party at their house and one attendee ended up hospitalized with alcohol poisoning.

Montgomery County detectives looked into whether Foley knew underage drinking might have taken place at his house that night. District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said no charges were filed.

Now, as overseer of the department, Police Chief Albert DiValentino said Foley is "a hands-on mayor and wants to know what's going on. I keep him well-informed and if I don't keep him well-informed, he'll let me know about it."

Borough Council Vice President Rick Bunker said Foley is a great Jenkintown booster, "but he's also 100 percent serious about his responsibilities."

For instance, Bunker said, Foley led the effort to shutter a longtime massage parlor on Old York Road, where prostitution-related arrests occurred.

But it's his lighter side - the polar opposite of some pols' manner - that is most visible.

Foley, a marketing manager for a Philadelphia insurance firm, uses most any method to draw attention to Jenkintown, including encouraging residents to play with his country-rock band, "Mayor Foley and the Broken Promises," at concerts.

His greatest fame came in April, when he ate at all 24 borough eateries on one day to promote restaurant week, tweeting as he went. Local news outlets and online sources ranging from a New York Magazine blog to the Des Moines Register (under "Odd News") ran stories on his edible exploits.

By the time he got home that night, his wife said, "He just had that glossy look over him - that he-would-never-eat-another-bite kind of look."

Tina Foley said her husband's creativity generates off-the-wall ideas and his self-assurance leads him to act on them.

Like the time he read on the social-media website Reddit about "Pie it Forward," a group that describes itself as "on a mission to change the world with the power of pie." Last year, three people from the group traveled around the United States for six months to further that mission.

When Foley learned they were looking for a place to stay in the Philadelphia area, he offered his home, his wife said.

"He kind of calls me randomly and says would it be all right if these folks come and stay at our house?" she said. "He never thinks, 'What's the likelihood they're serial killers?' That's very slim to none, so why not?

"They came and it was a great experience."


cdavis@phillynews.com

610-313-8109

@carolyntweets

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