Dennis M. O'Brien

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Dennis O'Brien
Member of the Philadelphia City Council
from the At-Large District
In office
January 2, 2012 – January 3, 2016
Preceded by Frank Rizzo Jr.
Succeeded by Al Taubenberger
137th Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
In office
January 2, 2007 – November 30, 2008
Preceded by John Perzel
Succeeded by Keith McCall
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
from the 169th district
In office
January 5, 1983 – January 2, 2012
Preceded by John Swaim
Succeeded by Ed Neilson
In office
January 4, 1977[1] – November 30, 1980
Preceded by Stephen Wodjak
Succeeded by John Swaim
Personal details
Born (1952-06-22) June 22, 1952 (age 65)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Bernadette M. O'Brien (née Benson)
Children 3

Dennis Michael O'Brien (born 1952) is an American Republican Party politician who served as the 137th Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 2007-08. First elected in 1976, he represented the 169th Legislative District in the state House for the most part of four decades. He served as a member of the Philadelphia City Council for one term, from 2012-16.

Personal life[edit]

A graduate of Archbishop Ryan High School,[2][3] he attended La Salle University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in Labor Relations.[4] He is married to the former Bernadette Benson; they have three sons, Dennis Jr., Brendan and Joseph.[5]

Political career[edit]

O'Brien was first elected to the Pennsylvania House in 1976 and served two terms before giving up his seat in 1980 to challenge fellow Republican Charles Dougherty for his congressional seat.[6]

O'Brien lost to Dougherty by 480 votes in the primary. In 1982 O'Brien ran for his old seat in the Pennsylvania House and won. He was re-elected in every succeeding election he contested. Prior to his elevation to the Speakership, he served as chairman of the House Committees on Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness, Health and Human Services, Consumer Affairs, Judiciary. Upon leaving the Speaker's office, he served as chairman of the Committee on Children and Youth.


Inspired by his late nephew Christopher's diagnosis, O'Brien has been an advocate for autism issues and founded the Pennsylvania Legislative Autism Caucus.[7]

In over 20 years, he has proposed a number of bills requiring mandatory school and health care funding for patients.[8]

He worked with Governor Ed Rendell to organize a Bureau of Autism Services within the state's Office of Developmental Programs. In 2008, one of his bills, requiring insurance companies to cover autism treatment, was passed and signed into law.[9]

2007 Speaker Election[edit]

O'Brien became the Speaker of the House following deals between Republicans and Democrats. Despite a one-seat Democratic majority, the Democratic leader, Bill DeWeese, was unable to garner the votes necessary to win back the Speakership due to some dissatisfaction within his own caucus because of his handling of matters as leader, and notably due to the decision by one member in his caucus to vote for John Perzel, the incumbent Speaker. DeWeese nominated O'Brien, a Republican and a Perzel rival, in a surprise move.

O'Brien went on to defeat Perzel, 105-97.[10] O'Brien was the first minority-party Speaker in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.[11]

2008 Primary Election[edit]

O'Brien defeated what was described as an “underground write-in campaign” in the 2008 Democratic primary election. With no Democrat on the ballot, a write-in candidate emerged in an attempt to secure a position on the November ballot as a Democrat. He organized his own campaign and defeated his opponent 1,372–416, meaning that O'Brien was listed on both parties' ballots in the general election.[12]


Upon the election of 2008, the Democrats saw the opportunity to put their own in the Speaker's office. Representative Keith McCall of Carbon County was elected Speaker with O'Brien opting out of the race. He was named the minority chairman of the House Committee on Children and Youth. In addition to those responsibilities, O'Brien worked with the Department of Public Welfare to ensure implementation of Act 62 (mandating autism insurance in Pennsylvania) which he wrote and passed while he was the Speaker.

2011 City Council election[edit]

O'Brien announced his intention to run for one of the minority seats on Philadelphia's City Council in 2011. He, attorney David Oh, and incumbent Frank Rizzo were considered the clear favorites among the Republican contenders. On May 17, 2011, in spite of not being supported by any of the party organizations,[citation needed]

O'Brien won one of the five GOP nominations for the City Council's at-large seats, with 17.32% of the vote. Oh won 18.50% of the vote, being first among the field of candidates, while Rizzo was soundly defeated, coming in 7th out of nine candidates—a result some have attributed to his involvement in DROP, the Deferred Retirement Option Plan. O'Brien went on to be the top finisher among the minority party candidates with an approximately 10,000-vote lead. He was sworn into Council on January 2, 2012.[13]

He was the sole member of Council voting to oppose a public water rate setting board, opting to instead leave that decision in the hands of the Water Commissioner.[14]

2015 Council Re-Election[edit]

O'Brien again ran for re-election to one of the two minority seats. He faced a field of five candidates, including the other incumbent, David Oh. With 100 percent of the ballots counted, O'Brien lost to Oh and Councilman Al Taubenberger.[15]


  1. ^ "Session of 1977 - 16lst of the General Assembly - Vol. 1, No. 1" (PDF). Legislative Journal. Pennsylvania House of Representatives. January 4, 1977. 
  2. ^ "DENNIS M. O'BRIEN - PA House of Representatives". Retrieved June 7, 2017. 
  3. ^ Julianna Cerruti (November 20, 2015). "Ryan Review : Star studded AR". Retrieved June 7, 2017. 
  4. ^ "La Salle University News". January 16, 2007. Retrieved June 7, 2017. 
  5. ^ "Speaker: Dennis M. O'Brien, Former City Councilman – Autism Conference". Retrieved June 7, 2017. 
  6. ^ Tom Waring (January 4, 2007). "O'Brien's new man of the House". Northeast Times. Retrieved August 23, 2008. [permanent dead link]
  7. ^ "PA Report 100" (PDF). Pennsylvania Report. Capital Growth, Inc. January 23, 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 14, 2009. 
  8. ^ Chris Buckley (June 28, 2007). "O'Brien champion to autistic citizens". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Archived from the original on May 19, 2007. Retrieved August 23, 2008. 
  9. ^ Dave Pidgeon (July 3, 2008). "Revised autism bill passes Legislature". Intelligencer Journal. Archived from the original on August 20, 2008. Retrieved August 23, 2008. 
  10. ^ Tracie Mauriello (January 3, 2008). "New House speaker hailed as firm, fair, passionate". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved August 23, 2008. 
  11. ^ Amy Worden (June 18, 2008). "O'Brien's speaker deal upset GOP". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved August 23, 2008. 
  12. ^ Jeff Shields (May 5, 2008). "O'Brien effort thwarts challenge". Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on October 18, 2008. Retrieved August 23, 2008. 
  13. ^ "Citywide Election Results". Philadelphia County. The Philadelphia City Commissioners. November 8, 2011 Municipal General and Special Election Unofficial Results. Retrieved November 14, 2011.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  14. ^ "View Section: Council meeting, 12 December 2013 :: Philadelphia City Council Meetings :: SayIt". December 12, 2013. Retrieved June 7, 2017. 
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 17, 2015. Retrieved December 16, 2015. 

External links[edit]

Philadelphia City Council
Preceded by
Frank Rizzo Jr.
Member of the Philadelphia City Council for the At-Large District
Succeeded by
Al Taubenberger
Political offices
Preceded by
John Perzel
Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Keith McCall
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Preceded by
Stephen Wodjak
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 169th District
Succeeded by
John Swaim
Preceded by
John Swaim
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 169th District
Succeeded by
Ed Neilson