John M. Perzel is a product of the hard-working, blue-collar neighborhoods that make up the Northeast Philadelphia legislative district he has represented in Harrisburg since 1979.
John Perzel’s emergence as one of Pennsylvania’s key leaders mirrors his approach to life: Preparation and perseverance are the keys to making a difference. He learned the value of hard work from his parents. His father was a printer and his mother worked for decades as a waitress.
John Perzel was sworn in as Pennsylvania’s 134th Speaker of the House April 15, 2003, after the death of Speaker Matthew J. Ryan.
Prior to being elected as Speaker, John Perzel served five consecutive terms as House Majority Leader, and throughout his tenure as Majority Leader, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives experienced four of the most successful legislative sessions in its more than three centuries of existence. Under his leadership, the Republican-led House focused on making Pennsylvania competitive in the marketplace for jobs and economic development, building Pennsylvania’s education system, confronting crime and transforming welfare from dependence to dignity. In an editorial endorsing his re-election to the 172nd District seat, the usually adversarial Philadelphia Daily News called John Perzel a "smart and effective" leader in Harrisburg. In 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2001, the influential Pennsylvania Report political newsletter named John Perzel as its Most Valuable Player.
John Perzel was the only Republican to serve three consecutive terms as Majority Leader in the 20th Century and he was the first Majority Leader of the 21st Century. As Majority Leader, he controlled and oversaw the movement of all legislation in the House of Representatives. First elected to the House in 1978, Perzel steadily climbed the ladder of responsibility, authority and leadership in the Republican Caucus. Before being elected Majority Leader in 1994 he held the offices of Republican Whip, Policy Committee Chairman and head of the House Republican Campaign Committee. He was unanimously re-elected Majority Leader for the 1997-1998, 1999-2000, and 2001-2002 sessions by the members of the Republican Caucus, becoming the longest serving Republican Majority Leader since the party was formed in the mid-19th Century.
Born on Jan. 7, 1950, John Perzel graduated from Lincoln High School in Northeast Philadelphia and went south for his college education, earning a bachelor’s degree from Troy State University in Alabama in 1975. After college, he returned to Philadelphia to resume his career in restaurant management and to try his hand at elected politics. He lost his first try for the House in 1976, but won firmly in 1978, unseating an incumbent Democrat. He has won ever since, succeeding in a legislative district where Democrats have an edge in voter registration.
Residing only a short distance from the house where he grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, John Perzel and his wife, Sheryl Stokes Perzel, have four children.