Herb Denenberg died last night at his home. He was 81. The cause of death appears to have been a heart attack.
Mr. Denenberg was born in Omaha, Nebraska but made his mark as a Pennsylvanian. He served as Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner and was an Emmy-winning reporter and host at WCAU-TV from 1975-to 1998. He was also a columnist for the original Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, the Philadelphia Daily News and numerous weeklies, and, up until his death, for the new Philadelphia Bulletin.
He had degrees from Johns Hopkins University (B.S.), Creighton University School of Law (J.D.), Harvard University School of Law (LL.M.), and the University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D) and sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 1974.
He was widely heralded as a consumer advocate. He was praised by Ralph Nader and co-authored the Social Protection Plan of Puerto Rico, the first no-fault law in a U.S. jurisdiction.
He was Loman Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He also served as assistant professor of insurance at the University of Iowa, professor of law at Temple University, and adjunct professor at Cabrini College.
What he is most likely to be remembered for, however, is his investigative broadcast journalism. He was the subject of a story in Time Magazine when people still read it back in 1976. Besides the Emmys, of which he received 40, his reporting was recognized by the National Press Club and he received numerous awards from the Philadelphia Press Association.
One story for which he will be long remembered concerned the sale of that Philadelphia staple the soft pretzel and forever changed the way it was sold and purchased. Vendors would buy the pretzels in bulk and sell them to motorists stopped at traffic lights throughout the city. These vendors would be on site all day and these sites really did not have any access to running water. Or any form of plumbing facility for that matter.
Mr. Denenberg’s crew filmed these vendors as they went about their work as they blew their noses and handled pretzels or spit on their hands to clean them and handle pretzels. The clinching scene was the man who returned from behind the bushes to resume his pretzel sales, obviously with unwashed hands. You see very few traffic light pretzel vendors today.
Mr. Denenberg’s curtain call concerning activism came with the Tea Party movement. He became disenchanted with the Democrat Party during the Clinton years and became even more outspoken during the Obama administration especially concerning health care matters.
He also became a harsh critic of dishonesty and leftist bias in the old media.
He was keynote speaker at the July 4 Tea Party event outside Independence Hall.
Mr. Denenberg served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Army.
He was a member of the board of Consumers Union and wrote popular consumer guides on insurance and health care.
Mr. Denenberg, who was Jewish, is survived by his wife, Naomi.