Joseph M. "Joe" Torsella (born October 8, 1963) is the State Treasurer for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Torsella was elected on November 8, 2016 to be the next Treasurer of Pennsylvania. He has served as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform (with the rank of ambassador) from 2011 to 2014. 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
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.
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". The municipal renaissance was chronicled in journalist Buzz Bissinger's book A Prayer for the City, in which Torsella describes the Rendell administration's philosophy as "taking control of the government and restructuring it for effectiveness".
National Constitution Center 1997–2003
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". 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.
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. 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.
Olympic Bid 2005
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 , 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 , the successor organization to Philadelphia 2016 that attracted two Olympic team trial events - table tennis and gymnastics - to Philadelphia.
Return to National Constitution Center 2006
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 , 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 to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In 2007, Torsella personally persuaded former President George H. W. Bush to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, the only active board position President Bush then held. In 2008, Torsella announced that former President Bill Clinton would replace Bush as chairman as of January 1, 2009. Jeb Bush currently serves in that capacity .
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, one that historians Garry Wills and Harold Holzer 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. That evening, Torsella's appearance on The Colbert Report aired on Comedy Central , 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 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 and non-governmental organizations. The Constitution Center supported Nasim Fekrat, Afghanistan's leading blogger, to strengthen citizen journalism in the country. 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 .
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; the Philadelphia Inquirer described his tenure as a "resounding success" and called him a "modern-day founding father."
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, but was outspent by close to $1 million, and lost in a close Democratic Party primary to Allyson Schwartz.
In 2009, Torsella announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 2010 U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania. In the weeks after incumbent Arlen Specter switched party affiliations from Republican to Democrat, Torsella withdrew from the race in an announcement posted on his campaign website . 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.
In 2016, Torsella was elected to Pennsylvania State Treasurer, beating Republican Otto Voit of Berks County. As Treasurer, Torsella is responsible for overseeing nearly $100 billion in public assets, but his bigger challenge comes with changing the public perception. The position of treasurer was previously held by Timothy A. Reese, who was nominated and confirmed in June 2015 following the resignation of Rob McCord.
Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education
On August 13, 2008, Governor Edward G. Rendell named Torsella the Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education.
Under Torsella's leadership, the State Board passed a landmark reform strengthening high school graduation requirements on August 13, 2009; the reform requires students to demonstrate proficiency in core subjects such as math, science, English and social studies prior to receiving a diploma. When an earlier proposal for graduation testing ran into heavy opposition from statewide education groups and was reversed by the legislature, Torsella brokered a compromise initiative that was approved by the state's Independent Regulatory Review Commission on October 22, 2009 and took effect beginning with the 2010-2011 school year.
The Board partnered with Pennsylvania's Department of Education 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 . In the first round selection, Pennsylvania was seventh out of forty-one applicant states and submitted a second round application on June 1, 2010. To support that application, the Board expedited its review and adopted "Common Core" academic standards in math and English language arts. The winners of the next round will be announced in September 2010.
In other initiatives, the Board initiated reviews to improve school safety, 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. 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."
On June 10, 2010, Governor Rendell tapped Torsella to lead Pennsylvania's participation in Complete College America , a 22-state effort to significantly increase college completion and accessibility by 2020.
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; on January 5, 2011, he was renominated after a lame duck session ended without his confirmation. 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) and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 19, 2011.
Torsella was the architect and chief public spokesperson for the Obama Administration plans, released in 2012, for reform of the $36 billion UN system. In his tenure, the US reversed a decade-long trend of unbridled growth in UN budgets (including securing only the second UN budget reduction in 50 years), brought new transparency to the UN through webcasting of meetings and publication of UN audits, and won milestone reforms toward ending sexual exploitation and abuse of civilian populations by UN peacekeepers and ending the unfair exclusion of Israel in UN bodies. Torsella’s plainspoken style earned him praise from UN watchers and publications ranging from Le Monde to the New York Post and he was recognized for his successful use of social media and public diplomacy to promote US policy. In his testimony to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Torsella said the UN “at its best” could be a “powerful tool” but that “too often, we have seen [the UN] at its worst,” and criticized “waste, inefficiency…abuse…[and] political theater.”
Treasurer Campaign 2015-2016
In 2015, Torsella announced his candidacy for State Treasurer of Pennsylvania. It was open seat election. The position of treasurer was being held by Timothy A. Reese, who was nominated and confirmed in June 2015 following the resignation of Rob McCord. Reese promised not to run for election, when nominated for the appointment. In January 2015, the Torsella campaign announced that it had set a fundraising record for any candidate for Pennsylvania row office 22 months ahead of the general election.
Torsella’s campaign focused on transparency, integrity, and accountability in government and increasing opportunity through policy innovation. Torsella’s policy proposals included: universal college savings accounts, portable IRAs for Pennsylvania workers whose employers do not offer retirement savings plans, banning the corrupt practice of third-party marketers introducing money managers to the state, appointing a chief integrity officer for Treasury, creating an online Pennsylvania Sunshine Checkbook that shows all state spending, disclosing all state contracts on alternative investments, adding political contributions by contract-holders to the Treasury’s state contracts database, and requiring those trading public funds to disclose their personal trades.
Banning third-party placement agents was a key issue in the campaign. Torsella announced in April 2016 that he would ban these middlemen, a key element in several recent corruption indictments related to Pennsylvania Treasury, as Treasurer. His opponent opposed a ban on third-party marketers. This played a role in newspaper endorsements with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette specifically citing Voit’s failure to vow to ban middleman as a factor in their endorsement of Torsella.
Torsella received the endorsement of all major newspapers statewide in his campaign including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Philadelphia Inquirer, Erie Times-News, Scranton Times-Tribune, Citizens' Voice, and Hazleton Standard Speaker.
He also garnered high-profile endorsements from Barack Obama, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Ed Rendell, and former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo. Obama praised Joe, saying, “He has the experience and integrity to protect Pennsylvanian’s money as Treasurer. And Joe has the right vision for this office, which can make a real difference in people’s lives — his innovative plan to help families save for college without raising taxes will expand opportunity. Joe’s a commonsense leader who will help move us forward."
On November 8, 2016 Torsella was elected to Pennsylvania State Treasurer, beating Republican Otto Voit III of Berks County. Torsella captured 50.66% of the vote, winning by a larger margin (380,593 votes) than any other statewide candidate.
Torsella has served as a trustee or advisor to many civic and non-profit organizations, including the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau; the Holocaust Awareness Museum; Historic Philadelphia, Inc.; the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation; the Springside School; and the Knight Foundation. He has written widely on historical and contemporary issues, with some of his work published in the [null New York Times], the Philadelphia Inquirer, the [null Cleveland Plain Dealer,] and the [null Miami Herald]. Torsella is a sought-after public speaker, and has appeared frequently in national broadcast media, including appearances on ABC’s Nightly News, Good Morning America and the Colbert Report.
In 1994, Torsella developed the Spaghetti Smock, a linen bib for adults.
In 2004, he founded a business consulting firm called 743 Ventures.