Pennsylvania governors to break bread in spirit of William Penn

If the hyperpartisan atmosphere of national politics ahead of midterm elections is too much for you, a coming event may be the bipartisan tonic you need. Pennsbury Manor, the reconstructed, historic home of William Penn on the Delaware River, will unite living Pennsylvania governors from different political parties for its first-ever Governor’s Panel.

That means that, sitting down together for the first time in their careers, will be current Pennsylvania Gov Tom Wolf (D), and four former, living governors: Tom Corbett (R), Mark Schweiker (R), Ed Rendell (D), and Tom Ridge (R). (Yes, Pennsylvania has had three governors named Tom in the last two decades.) And they will be discussing the ideas of a visionary whose voice may be needed now more than ever: original Philadelphian, and founder of Pennsylvnia, William Penn.

“As much as we like to say Adams and Washington and Jefferson are the founding fathers of our nation, William Penn is the founding grandfather,” said Sarah Rudich, managing director of Pennsbury Manor.

While the governors have all wrangled with similar challenges – from funding for schools to the state’s churning economy and social issues – the state itself was founded on principles of respectul debate and personal freedom and other values that go to the spirit of negotiating the challenges of the moment. 

Rudich cited values with which Penn founded Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in 1682 that are essential to 2018: gender equality, openness to immigration, religious tolerance, entrepreneurship, education. And his tripartite model of governance was “copied by the founding fathers,” Rudich said.

“He figures in so much of what we are talking about today, and a lot of people don’t know he was integral in creating and establishing a lot of these policies or models,” Rudich said. “We want to bring the visibiliy of William Penn back to the forefront.”

Five Pennsylvania governors, sitting side by side

The talk is intended to mark the 300th anniversary of Penn’s death in 1718. Governors will be invited to discuss challenges of running the state, and how they see Penn’s legacy relating to the current day-to-day affairs of Pennsylvania. Some of the proceeds will go toward creating a “William Penn Scholarship Fund” at Title I schools around Pennsylvania.

The governors have certainly had their clashes. Schweiker succeeded Ridge after Gov. Ridge was tapped by President George W. Bush to lead the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the wake of 9/11. But some of Rendell’s clashes as Philadelphia mayor with Ridge were documented in Buzz Bissinger’s “A Prayer for the City,” and Rendell would later go on to win the governorship himself.

Tom Corbett, former attorney general, won the election after Rendell’s second term, but only served one term before falling to then-challenger, now-incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf – who himself is currently campaigning for a second term against Republican Scott Wagner. (Polls show Wolf likely to win with a comfortable lead among most voters, and also out-spending Wagner on advertising, $13 million to $3 million as of the end of September.)

But the Governor’s Panel is a completely apolitical event, Rudich stressed – a time for history and reflection, not campaigning or taking stances on Trump.

“They in their own discussions will discuss the challenges they themselves face, we’re not controlling that part of this panel discussion,” Rudich said. “This is not a political event and they’re all well aware of that.”

Political or no, it’s a credit to the legacy of Penn — whose may be best-known in Philly as the figure atop City Hall — that centuries later, it still can bring former political rivals to the table.

“It was an ethereal goal of Penn’s,” Rudich said of his ideology. “What he did in establishing this great colony, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that’s the mortar — and the foundation he installed continues to this day.”

The Pennsbury Manor Governor’s Panel will be held on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 1-4 p.m., at Pennsbury Manor, 400 Pennsbury Memorial Rd., Morrisville, PA. To learn more, visit

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