Zack Stalberg was named President and Chief Executive Officer of the Committee of Seventy in February, 2005.
He broadened Seventy’s mission, brought new life to the organization and helped to attract a diverse governing board made up of many of the most principled and influential individuals in the region.
Stalberg is intimately familiar with the worlds of government, politics, business and the news media. He is a native Philadelphian who spent the first 35 years of his career in journalism. After taking one day off, he assumed command of the century-old, non-partisan, non-profit government watchdog with an inscrutable name that still bothers him.
Stalberg’s Seventy campaigns for more honest and effective government, an improved political culture, fair and well-run elections and greater accountability on the part of public officials. He will not run out of work soon in Philadelphia.
Highlights of Stalberg’s tenure at Seventy include:
• A successful court battle that crippled Philly’s corrupt practice of “pay-to-play.”
• Extraordinary growth of Seventy’s election program
, which serves thousands of voters before, during and after every Election Day.
• Creation of a non-partisan statewide coalition
of 175 organizations committed to making sure voters understood what identification they needed in order to vote under Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID Law.
• A battle against ultra-rich pension payments for elected officials.
These perks for pols were ultimately outlawed in Pennsylvania.
• A constant flow of unbiased information
that helps citizens understand government and how they can make it better.
Stalberg’s passion for the work, his outspokenness and his deep understanding of the way “news” works have combined to be powerful tools for the Committee of Seventy.
Hanging in his office is a quote from the legendary reform mayor of Philadelphia, Richardson Dilworth, whom he covered when he was still a reporter in short pants.“Yes, I am an emotional man, and a fighter. Do you think there would be any cities if there were not men like me to fight for them?”
Stalberg grew up in West Philadelphia and graduated from Overbrook High School. He majored in political science and graduated from Temple University in 1968, despite rarely attending class. He is a member of the Hall of Fame of Temple’s School of Communications.
Stalberg volunteered for the U.S. Army and served as an enlisted man in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. The war was his greatest learning experience.
He still carries his Vietnam Zippo.
After failing to break into political cartooning, he was hired as a reporter in late 1970 for the Bucks County (PA) Courier Times. He joined the Daily News in 1971 and started covering government and politics a short time later. He has tangled with every mayor of Philadelphia since Frank Rizzo.
In 1973, Stalberg convinced then-Mayor Rizzo to take a polygraph test after Rizzo was accused of offering a political bribe to a rival while the two officials were using adjacent urinals in the Bellevue Stratford Hotel. Rizzo flunked the test, sparking Philadelphia’s most famous headline:
RIZZO LIED, TESTS SHOW
Mayor Rizzo was a budding national figure before the lie detector test. His career and public image never quite recovered.
Stalberg’s took off.
He became City Editor of the Daily News in 1975, Managing Editor in 1977, Executive Editor in 1979 and Editor and de facto publisher in 1984. The News was losing $5 million annually and headed for closure when he took control. It was soon in the black.
Stalberg was responsible for news and business operations of The People Paper. During his 20-year tenure as Editor, the Daily News won two Pulitzer Prizes, was a finalist for a third and regularly produced bottom line results that most businesses would envy. In 2005, he received one of journalism’s great honors – the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Leadership Award.
The pre-Stalberg Daily News marketed itself as “Easy to Hold, Fun to Read.” Under Stalberg, the newspaper’s slogan became, “Making Enemies Since 1925.”
Stalberg made his mark at The News with bold, unorthodox campaigns aimed at making Philadelphia better – and particularly a ground-breaking series entitled “Rethinking Philadelphia.”
When print journalism began to head over a cliff, Stalberg chose to try to have a more direct effect on public life in Philadelphia than he had as a journalist. His longtime competitors at The Philadelphia Inquirer praised him on their Editorial Page as “a showman and a pit bull.”
The “Rethinking Philadelphia” series, Stalberg’s evolution to advocacy journalist and his decision to resurrect a Committee Seventy that had gone limp were inspired by the life and violent death of his close friend – idealist and commentator W. Russell G. Byers.
He is married to Deb Lock Stalberg, an Indiana-born horsewoman and former journalist. His three children are Erin, Ilisa and Zane. His son is named after Zane Grey, an untamed spirit and early writer of romantic Western novels.
Stalberg’s favorite author is Graham Greene and favorite movie is “Shane.” His only real hero is Edward R. Murrow. He drives a ragtop Jaguar, swears with abandon and favors cowboy boots built by M.L. Leddy of Fort Worth. A wrangler aboard a buckin’ bronc is tattooed on his right shoulder. The ringtone on his cell phone is Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.”
His favorite quote is from the inventor Robert Jarvik:
“Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them. They make the impossible happen.”