Joe Torsella

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Joseph M. Torsella)
Jump to: navigation, search
Joe Torsella
United States Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform
In office
April 26 2011 – December 19 2014
Nominated by Barack Obama
Preceded by Joseph Melrose (Acting)[1]
Succeeded by Isobel Coleman
Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education
In office
August 13, 2008[2] – January 18, 2011
Appointed by Ed Rendell
Preceded by Karl Girton
Succeeded by Larry Wittig
Chairman and CEO of the
National Constitution Center
In office
June 1, 2006 – January 1, 2009
Preceded by Richard Stengel
Succeeded by David Eisner[a]
In office
January 29, 1997[3] – December 31, 2003
Preceded by Robert Brasler
Succeeded by Richard Stengel
Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia for Policy and Planning
In office
January 6, 1992 – September 30, 1993
Mayor Ed Rendell
Preceded by Justin Moorhead
Succeeded by Greg Rost
Personal details
Born (1963-10-08) October 8, 1963 (age 52)
Berwick, Pennsylvania
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Carolyn
Children Four
Residence Flourtown, Pennsylvania
Alma mater University of Pennsylvania
a. ^ Linda Johnson served as interim Chairman from the date of Torsella's resignation until Eisner's formal election to the post.[4]

Joseph M. "Joe" Torsella (born October 8, 1963) is an American politician and diplomat who has serve as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform (with the rank of ambassador) from 2011 to 2014.[5] He previously served as President and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia from 1997 though 2003 and again from 2006 through 2008 and as the Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education from 2008 through 2011.

Education and personal life[edit]

Torsella is a graduate of Wyoming Seminary high school in Kingston, Pennsylvania and an honors graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, 1986, with a degree in economics and history. As a Rhodes Scholar (1986–1990), he did graduate work in American History at New College, Oxford. His wife, Carolyn Short Torsella, is a trial lawyer and partner at Reed Smith LLP. They live with their four children in Flourtown, Pennsylvania.

Early career[edit]

Torsella served as Philadelphia's Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning for Mayor Ed Rendell (later Governor of Pennsylvania) from January 1992 to September 1993. He was not yet 30. Under Rendell, Torsella developed and implemented financial and labor reforms that led the city toward a fiscal rebound that the New York Times called "one of the most stunning turnarounds in recent urban history".[6] The municipal renaissance was chronicled in journalist Buzz Bissinger's book A Prayer for the City,[7] in which Torsella describes the Rendell administration's philosophy as "taking control of the government and restructuring it for effectiveness".[8]

National Constitution Center 1997-2003[edit]

In 1988, the United States Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed the Constitution Heritage Act calling for the creation of a National Constitution Center to "disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a non-partisan basis in order to increase the awareness and understanding of the Constitution among the American people".[9] The non-profit museum and education center was to be located in Philadelphia. But for almost a decade the project languished, financially troubled and inadequately focused.[10]

By 1997, the Constitution Center was still not built and already had an operating deficit of $200,000 (Philadelphia Business Journal, January 3, 2003). That year, Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell asked Torsella to become President and CEO. Torsella raised $185 million in private and public funds, formed a board of trustees led by Vanguard Group founder John C. Bogle and got the project back on track.[11] The National Constitution Center opened on July 4, 2003 in a modern glass-fronted 160,000-square-foot (15,000 m2) structure (designed by Henry H. Cobb of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners) located on the north end of Independence Mall.[12]

Olympic Bid 2005[edit]

In 2005, Torsella co-chaired the city of Philadelphia's bid for the 2016 Olympic Games, along with David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corp [1], and Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley. Chicago was ultimately selected as the U.S. Olympic bid city, but Torsella continues to serve as co-chairman of the Philadelphia Olympic and International Sports Project [2], the successor organization to Philadelphia 2016 that attracted two Olympic team trial events - table tennis[13] and gymnastics[14] - to Philadelphia.

Return to National Constitution Center 2006[edit]

Torsella returned as President and CEO of the National Constitution Center in 2006, after his successor, Richard Stengel, left to become managing editor of Time magazine. Under Torsella's leadership, the Center became the permanent home of the annual Liberty Medal ceremony. The medal was presented in 2006 to former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton for their humanitarian work following Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Southeast Asia. In 2007, it went to Bono and DATA [3], the advocacy organization he co-founded for raising awareness about AIDS and extreme poverty in Africa. In 2008, the medal was presented to Mikhail Gorbachev[15] to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.[16]

In 2007, Torsella personally persuaded former President George H. W. Bush to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees,[17] the only active board position President Bush then held.[18] In 2008, Torsella announced that former President Bill Clinton would replace Bush as chairman as of January 1, 2009.[19] Jeb Bush currently serves in that capacity [4].

The Constitution Center also hosted key events during the 2008 presidential race. On March 18, 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama delivered his much-heralded speech on race relations in America at the Constitution Center,[20] one that historians Garry Wills[21] and Harold Holzer[22] have compared to Abraham Lincoln's famous Cooper Union address. On April 16, 2008, the National Constitution Center hosted a Democratic presidential primary debate between Senators Obama and Hillary Clinton, the last and highest rated debate of the primary season.[23] That evening, Torsella's appearance on The Colbert Report aired on Comedy Central [5], in a segment awarded "Best TV Performance" in Philadelphia Magazine's 2008 Best of Philly issue.

In 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Constitution Center launched an International Engagement Program[24] to promote constitutional principles in emerging democracies by using the civic learning and educational initiatives it developed at the Constitution Center. The Program sought to bolster civil society in Afghanistan through partnerships with the Ministry of Education, the Marefet School[25] and non-governmental organizations. The Constitution Center supported Nasim Fekrat, Afghanistan's leading blogger,[26] to strengthen citizen journalism in the country.[27] In addition, the Constitution Center provided Afghan students with digital cameras and camcorders to capture the sights and sounds of freedom, religious expression and other civic themes as part of its Being "We the People" exhibit project, which opened at the Constitution Center on August 24, 2009 [6].

On December 11, 2008, Torsella announced that he would be stepping down as President and CEO of the Constitution Center at the end of January 2009;[28] the Philadelphia Inquirer described his tenure as a "resounding success" and called him a "modern-day founding father."[29]

Political aspirations[edit]

In 2004, Torsella ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania's 13th congressional district. Torsella received endorsements from the region's major newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer,[30] but was outspent by close to $1 million,[31] and lost in a close Democratic Party primary to Allyson Schwartz.[32]

In 2009, Torsella announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 2010 U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania.[33] In the weeks after incumbent Arlen Specter switched party affiliations from Republican to Democrat, Torsella withdrew[34] from the race in an announcement posted on his campaign website [7]. In that announcement, Torsella cited a potentially negative primary fight that would weaken the Democratic Party’s chances in the November 2010 general election as the reason for withdrawal.[35]

Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education[edit]

On August 13, 2008, Governor Edward G. Rendell named Torsella the Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education.[36]

Under Torsella's leadership, the State Board passed a landmark reform strengthening high school graduation requirements on August 13, 2009;[37] the reform requires students to demonstrate proficiency in core subjects such as math, science, English and social studies prior to receiving a diploma.[38] When an earlier proposal for graduation testing ran into heavy opposition from statewide education groups[39] and was reversed by the legislature,[40] Torsella brokered a compromise initiative[41] that was approved by the state's Independent Regulatory Review Commission on October 22, 2009[42] and took effect beginning with the 2010-2011 school year.[43]

The Board partnered with Pennsylvania's Department of Education[44] to develop an application for the federal government's Race to the Top initiative, an incentive program designed to spur reform in K-12 education across the country [8]. In the first round selection, Pennsylvania was seventh out of forty-one applicant states[45] and submitted a second round application on June 1, 2010.[46] To support that application, the Board expedited its review and adopted "Common Core"[47] academic standards in math[48] and English language arts.[49] The winners of the next round will be announced in September 2010.[50]

In other initiatives, the Board initiated reviews to improve school safety,[51] held more than half of its meetings outside Harrisburg and urged a variety of measures to make college more accessible and affordable, including the creation of a "no frills" option in higher education.[52] More recently, the Board advanced new regulations on school nutrition and physical activity to reduce childhood obesity, a response that has been called "the most comprehensive such standards in the nation."[53]

On June 10, 2010, Governor Rendell tapped Torsella to lead Pennsylvania's participation in Complete College America [9], a 22-state effort to significantly increase college completion and accessibility by 2020.[54]


On November 15, 2010, Torsella was nominated by President Barack Obama to the position of U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform, with the rank of Ambassador;[55] on January 5, 2011, he was renominated after a lame duck session ended without his confirmation.[56] He had a second hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on March 16, 2011 (with Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. acting as chairman)[57] and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 19, 2011.[58]

Other endeavors[edit]

In 1994, Torsella developed the Spaghetti Smock, a linen bib for adults.[59]

In 2004, he founded a business consulting firm called 743 Ventures.[60]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Goodenough, Patrick. "Obama Finally Names Nominee for U.N. Reform Post, But He Has No U.N. or Diplomatic Experience". News. CNS News. Retrieved September 30, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Pennsylvania Governor Rendell Names Joseph Torsella State Board of Education Chairman". Education News. Retrieved September 30, 2012. 
  3. ^ Salisbury, Stephan (January 30, 1997). "Constitution Center's Head Quits As Rendell Plays Bigger Role". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved September 30, 2012. 
  4. ^ Van Allen, Peter (November 18, 2009). "National Constitution Center makes David Eisner next CEO". The Philadelphia Business Journal. Retrieved September 30, 2012. 
  5. ^ United States Mission to the United Nations, ".
  6. ^ Hinds, Michael deCourcy, "Philadelphia Climbs Out of Fiscal Depths and Builds by Sharing Sacrifices," New York Times, April 6, 1993, pg. A-19
  7. ^ Bissinger, H.G., A Prayer for the City, Random House 1997
  8. ^ Bissinger, 1997: 123
  9. ^ The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia
  10. ^ Van Allen, Peter, "Hospitality review preview: Under Pressure, Joseph M. Torsella," Philadelphia Business Journal, January 3, 2003, pg. 8
  11. ^ Nussbaum, Debra, "A Renaissance Go-to guy," Philadelphia Inquirer, November 11, 2001, Sunday Magazine
  12. ^ Rybczynski, Witold, "More Perfect Union of Function and Form," New York Times, July 8, 2003
  13. ^ Drexel University, "Drexel University to Host 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Table Tennis", August 7, 2007.
  14. ^ USA Gymnastics, "Philadelphia, USA Gymnastics confirm partnership for hosting the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials", December 12, 2006.
  15. ^ Shister, Gail, "Gorbachev honored with Liberty Medal", Philadelphia Inquirer, September 19, 2008.
  16. ^ "Gorbachev to receive Liberty Medal for ending Cold War", Russia, September 5, 2008.
  17. ^ Eichel, Larry, "Bush 41 Will Chair Constitution Center," Philadelphia Inquirer, January 12, 2007 pg. A-1
  18. ^ Eichel, Philadelphia Inquirer, 2007
  19. ^ "Bill Clinton named chairman of Constitution Center", USA Today, September 9, 2008.
  20. ^ Obama, Barack, "A More Perfect Union", National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, PA, March 18, 2008.
  21. ^ Wills, Garry, "Two Speeches on Race", The New York Review of Books.
  22. ^ National Constitution Center, A More Perfect Union: A Virtual Exhibit of Barack Obama's Race Speech at the Constitution Center on March 18, 2008, "Historian Harold Holzer compares Lincoln's Cooper Union Speech and Obama's Race Speech at the Constitution Center".
  23. ^ Stelter, Brian, "Top Ratings for Pennsylvania Debate", New York Times: The Caucus Blog, April 17, 2008.
  24. ^ National Constitution Center, "National Constitution Center Launches International Engagement Project: Focus on Supporting Democracy in Afghanistan", December 10, 2008.
  25. ^ Rubin, Trudy, "Worldview: Grassroots Afghan Education", Philadelphia Inquirer, March 14, 2010.
  26. ^ Lowrey, Annie, "Meet Afghanistan's Biggest Blogger: How 26-year-old Nasim Fekrat Helped Create Afghanistan's Blogosphere Out of Thin Air", Foreign Policy, August 12, 2009.
  27. ^ Stern, Jeffrey, "Meet Afghanistan's Most Fearless Blogger", Slate, July 3, 2008.
  28. ^ "Torsella to step down as Constitution Center chief", Philadelphia Business Journal, December 11, 2008.
  29. ^ "A Modern Day Founding Father," Philadelphia Inquirer, December 15, 2008.
  30. ^ "Pa. Primary Elections A Summary of Endorsements," Philadelphia Inquirer, April 25, 2004
  31. ^ Davies, Dave, "Schwartz-Torsella a tough choice for Dems", Philadelphia Daily News, April 20, 2004; Davies, Dave, "Schwartz’s winning recipe included Emily’s dough," Philadelphia Daily News, June 1, 2004.
  32. ^ Prichard, Oliver, "Schwartz, Brown will vie for Hoeffel seat; Schwartz's Democratic win was narrow. Melissa Brown coasted in GOP," Philadelphia Inquirer, April 28, 2004
  33. ^ Associated Press, "Joe Torsella to Seek Democratic Nod for Senate", February 9, 2009.
  34. ^ Hefling, Kimberly, "Joe Torsella, Specter's Democratic Opponent, Drops Out of Race", Huffington Post, May 14, 2009.
  35. ^ Fitzgerald, Thomas, "Torsella Drops Out of U.S. Senate Race", Philadelphia Inquirer, May 14, 2009.
  36. ^ "Pennsylvania Governor Rendell Names Joseph Torsella State Board of Education Chairman",, August 13, 2008.
  37. ^ "Pennsylvania Education Board OKs New High-School Tests",, August 13, 2009; Murphy, Jan, "Pennsylvania Board of Education OKs Graduation Requirement Proposal", The Patriot-News, August 13, 2009.
  38. ^ Pennsylvania Department of Education, Standards Aligned System, "Keystone Fact Sheet".
  39. ^ Chute, Eleanor, "Graduation Exam Rule Expected to Pass", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 12, 2009.
  40. ^ Barnes, Tom, "Pa. Senate approves legislation to prohibit high school exit exams", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 11, 2009.
  41. ^ "Testing times: Compromise school exam deserves support", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 14, 2009; Chute, Eleanor, "Graduation exam compromise earning mixed grades", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 13, 2009; "Keystone Exam Compromise Receives Strong Bipartisan Support", NewsTalkPA; "Keystone Exam Compromise Receives Strong Bipartisan Support", Pennsylvania Senate Republican News, July 28, 2009.
  42. ^ The Education Policy and Leadership Center, Education Notebook, "Independent Regulatory Review Commission", November 13, 2009.
  43. ^ Mezzacappa, Dale, "New Pa. graduation tests to kick in for class of 2015", The Notebook: An Independent Voice for Parents, Educators, Students and Friends of Philadelphia Public Schools, Vol. 17, No. 2, Fall 2009; "Diplomas that count", Philadelphia Inquirer, July 22, 2009.
  44. ^ Pennsylvania Department of Education, News Releases, "Pennsylvania's 'Race to the Top' Fueled by Effecitve Reforms, Strong Local Support: State Stands to Receive up to $400 Million in Federal Grants to Accelerate Ongoing Educational Gains", January 19, 2010.
  45. ^ Dillon, Sam, "New York is Among Finalists for U.S. School Grants", New York Times, March 4, 2010.
  46. ^ Pennsylvania Department of Education, Grants and Subsidies, "Race to the Top for Pennsylvania Schools"; PR Newswire, "Pennsylvania Submits Round Two Federal 'Race to the Top' Application for $400 Million in Education Improvement Funding", June 1, 2010.
  47. ^ Murphy, Jan, "Pennsylvania adopts new math and language academic standards advanced by consortium of states", The Patriot-News, July 1, 2010; Chute, Eleanor, "Pennsylvania to adopt new academic standards", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 3, 2010.
  48. ^ Pennsylvania Department of Education, State Board of Education, "Common Core Standards – Mathematics".
  49. ^ Pennsylvania Department of Education, State Board of Education, "Common Core Standards – ELA".
  50. ^ U.S. Department of Education, Race to the Top Fund, "Executive Summary of Key Policy Details".
  51. ^ Graham, Kristen A., "State: After 5 years, classrooms no safer", Philadelphia Inquirer, December 3, 2009.
  52. ^ American Public Media, Marketplace, "No-Frills Colleges Don’t Have Big Costs", May 5, 2009.
  53. ^ National Association of State Boards of Education, "Headline Review for Week Ending 5/14/10"; PR Newswire, "State Board of Education Approves New Nutrition and Activity Regulations for Schools", May 6, 2010; "First Lady’s obesity campaign resonates in Pennsylvania schools", The Patriot-News, February 28, 2010.
  54. ^ "Education chairman will lead ‘complete college’ effort", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 13, 2010; PR Newswire, "Governor Rendell Names Joe Torsella to Lead Commonwealth's Efforts to Increase College Graduation Rates, Access", June 10, 2010.
  55. ^ White House, "Presidential Nominations and Withdrawal Sent to the Senate, 11/17/10", November 17, 2010.
  56. ^ White House, "Presidential Nominations Sent to the Senate 01/05/11", January 5, 2011.
  57. ^ [Robert P. Casey, Jr., United States Senator for Pennsylvania, Newsroom, Press Releases, "Casey Chairs Torsella Confirmation Hearing", March 16, 2011.
  58. ^ Goodenough, Patrick, "Obama Administration Finally Fills U.N. Reform Post", April 19, 2011.
  59. ^ Klein, Michael, "Messy at Mealtime? Now, A Neat Idea Is Offered For Adults," Philadelphia Inquirer, August 1, 1994, Pg. D-8.
  60. ^ Panepento, Peter, "A Civic Leader's Works to Protect the Nation's Constitution," The Chronicle of Philanthropy, August 3, 2006.

External links[edit]

  • Official Campaign Website [10]
  • National Constitution Center [11]
  • Torsella Biography from Constitution Center Website [12]
  • Philadelphia Sports Congress [13]
  • City of Philadelphia [14]
Party political offices
Preceded by
Rob McCord
Democratic nominee for Treasurer of Pennsylvania
Current holder