Profile is a series of brief biographies on noted Pennsylvanians.

At the 1956 Democratic Convention in Chicago, former President Harry S. Truman greeted Philadelphian James A. Finnegan (1906–1958) and asked how he was. “Very good,” replied Finnegan. “I hope it isn’t too good!” Truman quipped.

Truman had endorsed New York Governor William Averell Harriman for the Democratic nomination for president. Finnegan served as campaign manager for former Illinois Governor Adlai E. Stevenson II. Stevenson garnered the nomination, but lost the general election to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower. The New York Times described Finnegan that year as the “Driver of the Bandwagon” for his ability to forge successful political coalitions.

After graduating from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Finnegan worked as an accountant for a trucking company. He became president of the Young Democratic Club of Philadelphia and, in 1935, Governor George H. Earle III appointed him secretary of the Navigation Commission for the Delaware River. From 1938 to 1942, he was an administrative assistant for U.S. Representative Francis J. Myers of Philadelphia.

After World War II, during which he served with the U.S. Army Air Force Troop Carrier Command, Finnegan worked as an adminstrative assistant for U.S. Representative Michael J. Bradley, also chairman of the Democratic County Executive Committee of Philadelphia, a post which Finnegan assumed in 1948. Republicans had dominated the mayor’s office for nearly ninety years, but it was under the reform-driven Finnegan’s five-year tenure as chairman that Philadelphia Democrats began their political ascent in the city the New York Times had written off as the “graveyard of the Democratic Party.” Finnegan was elected to city council and in 1953 became its president. His deteriorating health forced him to resign later that year.

In 1952, he delivered Philadelphia for Stevenson, but Eisenhower won by a landslide. Governor George M. Leader appointed Finnegan secretary of the Commonwealth in 1955. He resigned the following year for the greatest opportunity of his career — to manage Stevenson’s second presidential campaign. After the election, Finnegan again served as secretary of the Commonwealth.

Finnegan’s life was cut short by lung cancer; he died in 1958 at the age of fifty-one. Inspired by Finnegan — and energized by his motto, “Good Government is Good Politics” — prominent Pennsylvanians established the James A. Finnegan Foundation in 1960. The nonpartisan foundation provides practical training in government and politics for outstanding undergraduate students in Pennsylvania colleges and universities through paid summer internships in state agencies. State Representative David G. Argall, a 1979 Finnegan alumnus and a foundation director since 2002, credits the program for giving invaluable opportunities to the Commonwealth’s future leaders. “The foundation makes it possible,” Argall says, “for young Pennsylvanians to experience firsthand the way government operates. Fifty years after his death, James Finnegan still inspires all of us to give our best to make Pennsylvania a great place in which to live and work.”