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House Speaker Biographies


Robert W. O’Donnell

(Elected following the death of James J. Manderino)

Born: September 25, 1943, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA.  Member of the House: 198th Legislative District, representing part of Philadelphia County, June 10, 1974-December 31, 1993.  Affiliation: Democrat.

Robert O’Donnell attended LaSalle College before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Temple University in 1966 and a Juris Doctor degree from the Temple University School of Law in 1969.  He also received a certificate from the Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands in 1969.  He became a practicing attorney specializing in public finance.  O’Donnell won a special election to the House of Representatives on May 21, 1974, and was sworn in on June 10, 1974.  O’Donnell was re-elected to the House for 10 more consecutive terms.

As a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, O’Donnell was the prime sponsor of eight bills which were signed into law.  O’Donnell’s legislative achievements include enacting a stronger ethics law, the Philadelphia Convention Center Authority Act, establishment of an authority to restore financial stability to Philadelphia (Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority), and the development of a college tuition savings plan.   He worked 301 calendar days to enact a nationally recognized automobile insurance reform package, which became Act 6 of 1990.

He was elected to the following leadership positions: Democratic Caucus Chairman, 1981-1982; Democratic Whip, 1983-1986; and Democratic Leader, 1989.  O’Donnell was elected the 132nd Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on January 23, 1990, following Speaker James Manderino’s death.  He was elected Speaker again on January 1, 1991.  During the 1993 term, he returned to the rank-and-file membership and served as a member of the following committees: Federal State Relations, Professional Licensure, and Urban Affairs.   He resigned from the House on December 31, 1993, to focus on his campaign for Pennsylvania Governor in 1994.   

As Speaker, O’Donnell cosponsored legislation to enhance publicly owned treatment works to enforce industrial pretreatment standards for industrial waste discharges, which became Act 9 of 1992.  During his tenure as Speaker, he served on the Executive Board of the National Conference of State Legislatures and as chairman of its Legislative Organization and Management Committee.  

O’Donnell was a past commissioner of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.  He has served as a member for the Public Employees Retirement Study Commission, the Mayor’s Tax Budget and Advisory Committee, the Mayor’s Economic Recovery Task Force, and the Philadelphia Port Corporation Board of Directors.  O’Donnell also served as a senior fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation’s Center for Educational Excellence.

O’Donnell remains a practicing attorney, is an instructor in state and government law at Drexel University School of Law, and resides in Chestnut Hill with his wife, Dr. Donna Gentile O’Donnell.  They have 2 sons.   

Historical Member Biography

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