Thursday, April 30, 2009

Future Judge Felton Sews Up the Ballers

He may be called "Junior," but he's about 8' tall. I'm talking about affable Walter Felton, Jr. , who's running for magistrate in downtown Allentown (wards 3, 13, 17 & 18).

A product of the projects, he graduated in '75 from Salisbury High School, he had plenty of experience in court - the basketball court. From there, he went on to serve as an Allentown police officer for 21 years.

I've known Junior as a Deputy Sheriff and have seen first hand how his smile and demeanor puts nervous courthouse visitors at ease. He has real empathy for people, not a bad quality in a judge.

Now he's sewed up the baller vote, sponsoring a Wall2Wall tournament team. While youth sports are struggling elsewhere in Allentown, Wall2Wall Urban Youth is a wonderful group cultivating the Queen City's most important asset - its children.

Walter, who was a youth officer, gets it. He is already certified by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Green Vehicles Displayed in Macungie on Sunday

Ordinary gas cars and trucks - converted into quiet, non-polluting, "green" vehicles - will be displayed by their owners at Macungie Memorial Park (Rte 100 & Poplar St) on Sunday, May 3, 10 AM - 4 PM.

Owners will also explain "How and Why I Converted My Car to Electric." State Representative Douglas Reichley (134th District) will kick things off.

Journalism 101 with Eric Chiles

Last night, a group of unsuspecting Northampton Community College students made the mistake of attending a 2 1/2 hour journalism class despite the good weather. Their reward was something even more horrifying and sinister than swine flu.

Me.

Just last week, I really screwed up a story about LC Exec Don Cunningham. He was pretty good about it. I only have to wash his car for the next year. That's better than Capitol Ideas' John Micek, who also screwed up, although not nearly so badly as me. He has toilet detail. More readers.

Eric Chiles, a former member of the Morning Call's editorial board, knows all this. He asked me to speak to his Journalism 101 class anyway. Teaching common journalism errors, he thought of me immediately. So I spent about an hour dealing with "Just how dumb are you?" and "Your fly is open, jackass." When it was all over, I got a coffee mug. Eric is very thoughtful.

After I was done, the class allowed me to remain for Eric's lecture. I probably should have attended a few of those before I started blogging. But I learned some things, and want to share them with you. He paints a dark forecast.

1) The Morning Call reports its most recent circulation figures in a factually accurate article that contains a very misleading headline. The headline screams, "Morning Call readership rises by 9.2 percent." The reality? "The paper's daily print circulation, a measure of people paying for the newspaper, dropped 8.9 percent to 99,111 compared with a year ago. Total Sunday print circulation, which is typically the most profitable day for newspaper advertising, dropped 7.2 percent to 130,693."

2) The daily circulation is under 100,000 for the first time in 38 years.

3) Coverage of important local issues, like the Bethlehem City Council race, is wanting. "I'm still waiting to find out who Eric Evans is. I see yard signs all over the place, but don't know who he is." (The Morning Call did cover Evans' announcement in a blog.)

4) Newspapers are going away. Chiles predicts that, like news carriers and ad salesmen, reporters will soon be converted into independent contractors.

5) Newspapers are going away. The Internet is taking over. He believes citizen journalists will pick up the slack, assuming the role of Colonial era citizens who published pamphlets that bashed the King.

6) Editors will be replaced by algorithms in search engines.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bar Survey A Setback to Koury

For forty years, the Northampton County Bar Association has shied away from evaluating judicial candidates. Bethlehem Attorney Al Williams was endorsed over Easton lawyer Mike Franciosa and many wondered whether that happened simply because Bethlehem had a few more J.D.s.

Memories fade, and the local bar decided to do these evaluations again. That decision was made months ago, when most of the hopefuls were still unknown. Questionnaires were sent to 425 full members. Returns by 201 attorneys were placed unopened in a separate envelope for review by an accountant.

This survey, which admittedly measures the views of less than half of the bar's full members, is still a setback for candidate Michael Koury, currently a magistrate in Wilson Borough. I've already expressed three objections to Koury's candidacy. First, he's running for reelection to his district court job and the court of common pleas simultaneously, even though he is unable to hold both jobs. Second, he has spent most of his legal career as a magistrate and has no idea what it is like to present a case to a jury. Third, he's a two-time loser best known for a disgusting last-minute smear attempt at then candidate Emil Giordano in 2003. That resulted in a rare condemnation from the bench.

Northampton County attorneys appear to share that view. Only 16 consider Michael "well qualified," and 34 lawyers actually rate him "unqualified." In my online poll, located at the left sidebar, Koury has only 55 votes of 771 votes cast. He trails Craig Dally (175), Sam Murray (138), Karl Longenbach (138), Lenny Zito (131) and Candy Barr Heimbach (84).

In addition to mailers that show Koury gazing in wonder at a portrait of his popular and well-respected father, Michael is embarking on a door-to-door campaign in the campaign's final weeks. Will it be enough? We'll find that out May 19th.

What Does Specter's Defection Mean?

A little over six years ago, former Northampton County GOP chair Charlie Roberts gave me a call. He's known me since I was a little kid growing up in Hellertown. His family lived across the street. Once, he picked up my sister Ellen after school and drove her home, thinking she was his daughter. Seeing a kindred soul, my Dad adored him after that.

When Charlie called me, Senator Arlen Specter was in a very tight race against Far Right Poster Boy Pat Toomey. Charlie knew I had a soft spot for Snarlin' Arlen, and asked me to switch parties and help defeat Toomey. I agreed and was even able to talk a few fellow Dems in joining me. Specter won his primary, 51% to 49%.

This time around, it's Specter who has switched to Democrat, sounding a possible death knell to the Reagan Big Tent that tolerates moderate views. This is no surprise. Just weeks ago, Lehigh County Republicans were squabbling amongst themselves over some movement to censure Specter. At the time, blueblood Charles Snelling warned that "if we don't find ways to work together as a party, we will cease to be a party." But ideologue Joe Hilliard blames "[t]he tiny minority that advocated the 'move to the Left' strategy just to win elections ... ."

Specter's defection, though clearly an act of self-preservation, will continue to marginalize the Far Right. His move to the Democratic party is actually a move to the center, where he's most comfortable.

With Specter and Al Franken, Dems now have the muscle to stop a Senate filibuster. But don't expect to see that muscle flexed. Just as he has infuriated Republicans for years by supporting Democratic initiatives, Specter will have no trouble swinging away from the left. Sooner or later, everyone gets mad at him. That's why I like him.
Morning Update: According to the White House press office, Senator Specter, VP Biden & President Obama met the press this morning in the White House's Diplomatic Room. Obama and Biden pledged their "full support" in the Democratic primary. For his part, Specter added that "I can be of assistance to you." Specter claimed he represents the people of Pennsylvania, not the Republican party. He also warned, "I will not be an automatic 60th vote."

And then they all sang a song.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Northampton County Bar Likes Zito, Murray & Heimbach

As I told you earlier this month, the Northampton County Bar Association has decided to the eight candidates seeking three vacancies this year. Questionnaires were sent to the 425 full members, and 201 responses were tabulated by a CPA because everyone knows lawyers can't count. Lawyers were asked to rate candidates as well qualified, qualified or not qualified.

The results are in, and Judge Leonard Zito leads the pack of of well qualified candidates with 138 votes, followed by Sam Murray (104), Candy Barr Heimbach (76), Karl Longenbach (70), Barb Hollenbach (67), Jim Narlesky (51), Craig Dally (50) and Michael Koury (16).

Michael Koury is top vote getter in one race he'd just as soon lose. Sixty-seven Northampton County lawyers consider Koury "unqualified" to be a judge. He got nearly twice as many votes as Craig Dally, rated "unqualified" by thirty-four barristers. Other candidates come in as follows: Jim Narlesky (17), Candy Barr Heimbach (15), Barb Hollenbach (11), Lenny Zito (7), Karl Longenbach (6) and Sam Murray (4).

Taxpayer Protest Planned at Bethlehem's Bank of America

WHO: Bethlehem Area Residents

WHAT: “Taxpayer Proxy” action to fire Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis and reform banks to create an economy that works for everyone

WHERE: Bank of America, 1 W. Broad St., Bethlehem, PA (corner of Broad St. & New St.)

WHEN: Tuesday, April 28, 2009, 12:00 PM

Today's Bethlehem action is a part of protests at Bank of America branches across the country to collect and deliver “Taxpayer Proxies” demanding that the bank fire CEO Ken Lewis and commit to financial reform that puts consumers and workers ahead of profits.

The LV LWV is Looking For a Few Good Questions

Santa Shillea and the LV League of Women Voters have gone to great lengths to schedule a Northampton County Candidates' Forum on Tuesday, May 5th, 7 PM, at The Northampton County Courthouse, Easton, Pa. Candidates for County Council and Executive will be on hand. Whether this event succeeds depends on you.

I've attended several of these extravaganzas over the years when I've had trouble sleeping. They've been disasters, with lousy formats and officious moderators who are obviously Tempo cast rejects. Two years ago, one of the moderators actually had a black whistle around her neck and asked goofy questions about state and township roads, which has nothing to do with county government. There was no real debate; candidates could not address each other. The audience was given little white cards for questions, but only softballs were permitted. No heaters. The net result was a snoozefest.

That changed late last year, at the Grave Cellar debate between Pennsylvania state representative Bob Freeman and challenger Ron Shegda. An audience member who didn't like Freeman's answer to a question about diabetes got all worked up, called Bob a "smooth talker like Obama" and a "son of a bitch." He kept getting closer and closer to Freeman until the church sexton began performing an exorcism. Bob was very nearly assaulted, people were screaming and a cleric was ready to knock someone out. Now that was my kind of debate!

This year, the LWV is trying something different. They're soliciting questions from you NOW. You can send them directly to lwvnorco@yahoo.com or, if you prefer, you can post your questions here. I'll forward them to Santa myself.

I've written hundreds of questions over the years and have yet to have a single one posed. I've been told most of them are just too negative. But I came really close at the Grave Cellar debate. My question was on deck, and would have followed the diabetes dude. But I withdrew it, knowing I had been topped. I personally think that Diabetes Dude was a LWV set up.

I doubt he'll make a return appearance, but the Northampton County Bulldog is threatening to come out of his bunker.

Where is Allentown Mayoral Candidate Dick Nepon?

As most of you know, I'm no fan of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. But young Bryan Kleiner, who publishes A Voice in the Valley, has been won over by King Edwin's "passion" for the city. Bryan helped organize a young voters' forum with Hizzoner, and emerged a fan.

I completely disagree with Bryan. But he did his homework and came to his decision honestly, and should be commended for caring enough to inform himself and others. He may even be right.
In the meantime, where is Democratic challenger Dick Nepon?

He has no money, but offers a stinging rebuttal to the tunes Pawlowski is spinning on his web page. On his campaign blog, he argues that "[i]f you believe Allentown is in good shape, and better than when Pawlowski took office, you might as well skip this. If you believe borrowed money is a surplus, skip this. If you believe that you can make a statement true by repeating it often enough, especially with a power point to back it up, you can skip this."

Interestingly, Pawlowski met young voters at Muhlenberg College, whose young Dems endorsed King Edwin without bothering to hear from Nepon.

It's pretty hard to get your message out when nobody wants to hear it.

Congressman Dent Urges Precautions to Combat Swine Flu

As Mexico's swine flu death toll soars to 149, should we be concerned? We know it is spreading fast, so here's a few details. LV Congressman Charlie Dent reports that about forty Americans have been infected so far, with no fatalities.

Symptoms: “The symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with swine flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.”

For the latest updates and information about this outbreak, check out the CDC's swine flu web page.

“Obviously we need to be concerned any time there is a disease outbreak, but through effective action and good common sense we can protect ourselves and our families, and help contain the outbreak,” Congressman Dent said. “Given my home district’s proximity to New York, where numerous cases have been reported, I advise people to avoid panic but take precautions.”
Update: Northampton County Executive John Stoffa states there are no LV cases of swine flu, but warns "If it's in New York City, chances are we are going to get it here."

Monday, April 27, 2009

John Stoffa's Political Agenda

When Joe Long Democrats endorsed Ann McHale for Northampton County Exec, it was at a meeting described on their web page as an "[a]nnual Petition signing and business meeting." No notice. In fact, nomination petitions were still being circulated. But incumbent exec John Stoffa, who happens to be a Democrat, was snubbed ... again. His crime, according to Bossman Joe Long, is a "lack of leadership within the Democratic Party." Funny thing. That's Long's job. Stoffa was elected to lead ALL the people, not just Dems.

Want some leadership? John Stoffa has publicly called for Joe Long's resignation as party boss. He's an embarrassment to emerging "new Democrats," who are sick of the undemocratic machine politics being forced on them by Long. Instead of relying on party machines and pay to play campaign contributions, Stoffa is taking his campaign to the people, as he has successfully done before. His active campaign blog, the work of son Jeff, gives a detailed view of John's outlook.

So just what is his political agenda? He has supported and even appointed some Republicans. Is he a turncoat?

I got my answer a few days ago, talking to him after a baseball game. "I always ask my cabinet one question. What's the right thing to do?" That's it. Pretty simple, huh? Instead of being motivated by a desire to elect Democrats or Republicans, Stoffa has always been more interested in doing the right thing, without regard to the political fall out. When Council wanted to ram building projects down Stoffa's throat, he resisted screams to build something, anything. They wanted to be able to take credit for something in their reelection campaigns, but Stoffa was more interested in being frugal in an uncertain economy. Who was right?

Council members like Charles Dertinger, who is taking credit for open space in his reelection bid, actually fought tooth and nail to kill Stoffa's "pay as you go" open space plan. Who did the right thing?

Stoffa resisted efforts, led by Council member Lamont McClure, to cook the books and deplete the cash reserve. This would likely have led to budgetary problems similar to those faced by many municipalities, including Allentown. Who did the right thing?

Council members like Ann McHale and Charles Dertinger stoke the union flames, actually encouraging union members to present their grievances to council instead of an arbitration panel. Stoffa stopped allowing deputies to take their cruisers home. Who did the right thing?

And so it goes.

People sense this. On Friday, while walking through a courthouse hall, two workers asked me for Stoffa signs. That evening, as I took signs out of my jeep to store them in my apartment, I was asked, "Do you think he'll win?"

"Absolutely."

"Thank God." The person who asked me this is a local government official whose father had the same political agenda.

Bucky Boyle Park, Kids & Baseball

This is a baseball story. It's also an Allentown story. But mostly, it's a kids' story. I have to warn you that my grandson is featured. Since all grandparents love to brag about their grandchildren and I'm about to start, you better run!

My grandson is a sports nut. Depending on the season, he's always engrossed in football, basketball or baseball. Most kids enjoy sports best when they compete on an Xbox 360 or a Wii. But Dat - that's his name - is always happiest when he is out there taking his own cuts. Whatever the sport, he just loves to play.

Fortunately for him, he's no biological relation to me. If he were cursed with my genes, he would likely spend most of his time warming benches or playing "way outfield," as I did at his age. Still, nothing gives me more delight than watching him involved in a game, either organized or pick up, with a group of like-minded kids.

This past weekend, as you know, it was downright hot. It was also the first really beautiful weekend we've had in some time. So when I visited Dat's Allentown home on Saturday morning, he was anxiously waiting to play ball. His Little League and tournament teams had no practices until Sunday, so he collected a group of kids between 8 and 15 for a pickup game.

Off we went to a baseball field at Bucky Boyle Park, where Allentown city council member Michael Donovan was recently assaulted. Kids crammed into my little jeep, sitting on each other's laps. Asses, arms, legs and bats spiked out each window as well as the back of my jeep as we bounced along potholes for the fortunately short drive. Yes, I broke about 7,000 vehicle laws.

Arriving at Bucky Boyle, those kids still alive tumbled out and began to warm up as other young ballplayers arrived on bicycles and scooters.

Now, selection of two baseball teams in a pick up game is always a contentious matter that sometimes requires NATO intercession. There are also endless discussions to determine if stealing is allowed and whether "pitcher's poison" is in effect. Worse of all is the inevitable war over who bats first. Wisecracks, insults, trash talk and jawing are all a part of that. I settled that dispute like I always do. I throw a bat, somebody catches it, and kids from both teams go hand over hand until they reach the top. Winner's team bats first. Nobody gets killed that way.

We were just about to start when an ice cream truck jingled its way into the park. Bats and gloves dropped as kids ran for cones, Italian ice, snow cones and milkshakes. Fortunately, prices were reasonable.

And so things continued throughout a very hot day. At least every half hour, a different ice cream truck would roll by, selling more cones and milkshakes, as well as bottled water. Humble water soon became everyone's favorite.

Several games were played throughout the day, with teams changing as some kids left and others dropped by. I was most amazed by a young seven year old boy named Emilio. He came out of nowhere equipped with glove, a big rubber softball and a very dented T-Ball bat. It was prominently marked in a Magic Marker with this note, "This bat belongs to Emilio." Not only was he allowed to play, but kids purposely would drop balls to let Emilio get on base.

At the end of the day, one of these Allentown kids scrounged around and gave Emilio a real baseball with no nicks. My grandson also gave Emilio a bat, the very first real baseball bat Dat had ever used. Sleek and black, we call it "Midnight Thunder." I hated to say good-bye, but it's in very good hands.

Around 5:30 PM, five of us went straight from Bucky Boyle to Coca Cola Park. Thanks to my brother, I had lucked into five club level seats. Dat and three friends went from playing to watching a group of bigger kids play baseball. They ate more ice cream, too. They erupted when John Mayberry hit a solo homer that sparked an IronPigs rally late in the game.

That's the thing about kids. And baseball. It really brings out the best in us. Yet most of these Allentown kids play on no organized teams. Some families are transient. I think many are simply unable to afford the fees, as low as they are. That's a shame because these are mostly good kids. Some are very gifted athletically.

When I finally got home Saturday night, it was nearly midnight. Old and out of shape, I collapsed, not knowing if I'd ever get up again. Sleeping soundly, nothing would wake me. Nothing except the summons of a ringing phone. Like a Pavlovian dog, I answered a Sunday morning phone call telling me baseball practice was cancelled because of the heat. So when I limped into Dat's house later that morning, he was waiting with bat, ball and glove.

"Wouldn't you rather go to a movie?"

Nope. Off we went again. Now, I can't move.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Should Municipal Candidates Attend Meetings?

Northampton County Council candidate Jane Mellert has started a campaign blog. In it, she includes her announcement, municipal government experience and Lehigh Valley Voter Guide responses. One of the Voter Guide questions asks candidates if they attend council meetings.

Is that impotant? Most candidates never attend council meetings unless they are actually elected. They'll argue it's a waste of time that could be better spent knocking on doors.

Jane has a different view. "I attended council meetings for four months before I considered running. I wanted to make an informed decision, keep up on the issues facing county council and learn how council functions. I have been volunteering in the Easton area over the past three years and it has helped give me insight into the social service end of county government." Council candidates like Bill Wallace, Walt Garvin and Barb Thiery have also begun to attend meetings.

Would you be more likely to support a candidate who regularly attends meetings? Is it that big of a deal?

Cunningham Camp Pa. Report Pulls a Fast One

Blogger's Note: Below is a report that published at 3 AM. By 9:00 AM, I was aware that it is largely incorrect. I do not delete posts, but wish I could delete this one. Be sure to read the Update that follows this post if you want the whole story.

As many of you know, I'm a fan of Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham. He makes a difficult job look easy, and is cruising easily to a second term. He's also considering a bold move that bucks the odds - running for Governor when Rendell steps down. Whether you're Democrat or Republican, it's hard to deny that electing a Bethlehemite would be a boon for the often ignored Lehigh Valley.

When Don's camp sent me a news analysis concluding he "will be a very serious challenger for the Democratic nomination," I was only too happy to post a blog about it. The source cited is a subscription only political newsletter called The Pennsylvania Report. In the email from Team Cunningham, I was told I was getting the "entire piece." They even included Pa. Report's banner, which made me feel very special.

I was a little puzzled that an "insider" newsletter would only compare Cunningham to Jack Wagner. I'm an Auslander, but I know that Allegheny County Exec Dan Onorato is a leading contender. He's even visited the Lehigh Valley to listen to crickets at a Joe Long Meet 'n Greet. Philly gazillionaire Tom Knox is never mentioned either.

Morning Call poliblogger John Micek, who really is an insider, teed off on Pa. Report. "[I]t's massively weird that the Report would go through all the trouble of handicapping the Democratic field and not make any mention of Onorato or Knox. That's kind of like writing a history of World War II and starting with VE-Day."

Micek and I were both scammed.

What the Cunningham camp calls the "entire piece" is actually a modified version of the story. All references to Onorato and Republican Pat Meehan are eliminated. Because Pa. Report is subscriber only, there was no way for me to check if the story sent to me is what appears in the newsletter. Turns out it's not.

While I was blissfully ignorant at a Northwestern Little League baseball game against some fierce sluggers from Lower Nazareth, Micek was astute enough to exchange emails with Pennsylvania Report's Jeremy Adlon, and learned that Cunningham's advisers had pulled the old switcheroo with the text of a news analysis. He has posted the real account, which you can read here.

As I mentioned at the onset, I am a Cunningham supporter. But there is no way I can defend a probable attempt to deceive voters. There's little difference between deleting references to Onorato's name and blocking Stoffa campaign signs. Micek claims he will "aggressively pursue an answer about these apparent differences from Cunningham's camp on Friday." I hope it's a good one.

As for me, did I screw up, too? Yep.

Update: It is Pa. Report That's Playin' Us!

One difference between printed newspaper and blog is you can always change or delete a blog. This is good and bad. You can make changes to correct misinformation. But you can also make changes to cover your tracks. I am highly critical of bloggers who delete or alter posts unless they explain exactly what they are doing to readers.

I've spoken this morning with Frank Kane, who works for Don Cunningham. Then I spoke to Don himself, who actually called me. He tells me that the online newsletter forwarded is exactly what was published on April 17. He has even supplied the hard copy. "My integrity and honesty is very important to me."

Get this. The folks at The Pennsylvania Report actually changed their online newsletter to add Onorato at some later point, and have admitted it to Morning Call reporter John Micek.

I pretty much feel like a jack ass right now. At 3 AM, I published a post that condemned a person I happen to admire and respect. At 9 AM, I learned I was wrong. I apologize to all involved, especially Don Cunningham, and am now headed to my bunker. For those of you who want to slam me about this mistake, I deserve it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nazareth Chops Down Popular Shade Tree


Nazareth people are different from the rest of the Lehigh Valley. It's still a very close-knit community. Everyone already knows what's going on. They really need no blogs, but have two. Now I've lived here about 1,000 years, but am still considered an outsider.

Usually, the people in town just do their own thing, cracking goofy jokes like calling the Calandra cheese factory Cheeses of Nazareth. But when they get worked up, look out. I've never seen citizens galvanize like did when burgermeisters tried to pull a fast one and build a new government center on part of a kids' park.

The people here just don't trust government.

And so it was with the decision to chop down a very popular and very old shade tree, located inside the circle on Main Street. Whether the tree was diseased was debated at length, but the decision was finally made to give the tree ... the axe. Yesterday was that fateful day. At various points in the morning, several hundred people watched as tree executioners did their dirty work.

Some were sad. Others wanted to see for themselves if the tree really is rotten inside.

People here believe government is rotten inside, but not trees.

Governor Cunningham Increasingly Likely

The Pennsylvania Report, a subscription only political news report, has cast its glare in the direction of the gubernatorial ambitions of Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham. After reviewing his strengths and weaknesses, the Don is classified "a very serious challenger for the Democratic nomination."

Strengths:

1) POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Bethlehem City Council, Bethlehem Mayor, Secretary of Department of General Services, Lehigh County Executive. "[H]e will be the candidate that can rightfully claim to hold the most executive experience (as Mayor and County Executive)."

2) NEW FACE: "[T]he 'fresh' face argument could be Cunningham's #1 campaign line."

3) POLICY KNOWLEDGE: "[I]mplementing a budget and saving taxpayer dollars could provide him a platform that other possible candidates, both Republicans and Democratic, do not have."

Weaknesses

1) LACK OF STATEWIDE NAME RECOGNITION: According to this analysis, potential candidate Jack Wagner is much better known. Jack who?

2) FUNDRAISING ABILITY: "Cunningham most likely will have a difficult time raising the kind of money needed to keep up day-to-day with a state-wide office holder running for Governor."

3) HISTORY: "Pennsylvania has a history of switching parties in the Governor’s mansion following one party’s 4 or 8 year hold....Thornburgh (R) - Casey (D) - Ridge (R) - Rendell (D), etc."

I have my own problem with this supposed insider's report. It only compares Cunningham with potential candidate Jack Wagner. It never even mentions Allegheny County Exec Dan Onorato, who has a $4 million warchest and is expected to make a formal announcement later this year. That makes Cunningham's chances even better. Wagner and Onorato are both from the western part of the state and will draw votes from each other.

This analysis also misses another Cunningham characteristic - the luck of the Irish. So far as I know, there are still no serious candidates from the eastern part of the state. Everything has to fall just right for Don, but that's exactly what's happening.
Update: Morning Call Micek has chimed in with these three observations: (1) Who the hell has ever heard of Pennsylvania Report? (2) Why the hell don't these insiders say a word about Don Onorato? (I made that point myself, Micek). (3) What about gazillionaire Tom Knox from Philly? (OK, I missed that one. If Knox is serious, Don's in trouble.)
Update #2: It appears that, contrary to what the Cunningham camp told me, I did not get a complete copy of the Pennsylvania Report analysis. I'll have the details for you in a separate post tomorrow.

Pam Varkony Has Weekly Internet Radio Show

I was always told I have a face for radio. But my career as an occasional guest host for shock jock Ron Angle was short-lived. He got fired, and I went down with the U.S.S. Angle.

I'm sure one of my favorite writers, Pam Varkony, will do much better. She's hosting a weekly Internet radio program called "Power of Women," starting today at 2 PM. Her program, broadcast by the VoiceAmerica Talk Radio Network, can be accessed right here. Her first guest is Mimi Griffin, Executive Director of the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open. She's held her own in the male dominated world of sports broadcasting and major event planning.

Pam, incidentally, is the founder of Power of Women, a group of women who shares common experiences, raises awareness of their importance to each other, and provides ongoing support for their goals and dreams.

Congrats, Pam!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bar Hoppers Need Blogs, Too!

Boozehounds are people, too. Finally, there's a blog for them. It's called LVScene and is dedicated to those "interested in going out, maybe having a few too many drinks, and waking up the next morning with some stories to tell."

I'm retired myself.

McHale & Stoffa: Who is the Better Communicator?

If communication skills are an important trait in a county executive, you have to give John Stoffa the edge. Stoffa, dissed by the Joe Long Dems, has taken his case directly to the voters with a very active and entertaining campaign blog as well as a growing Facebook group. Today, in a video interview, Stoffa explains how he feels about being snubbed by his own party. Son Jeff Stoffa, a fresh face in local politics, tells us about life with his dad.

Ann McHale, John's opponent, has apparently conceded the Internet. She has no web page, campaign blog or Facebook group. She is ignoring a grass roots tool that propelled President Barack Obama to a historic victory.

These contrasting communication skills are also evident in the way Stoffa and McHale respond to a LWV question about what they view as the major issue in this campaign and how they plan to address it.

Stoffa's answer is simple and direct. "The major issue for me is unfinished business. We must address the following: a long range plan for Northampton County, the increasing jail population and lack of rehabilitation programs, bringing our human service personnel into one building, adding and protecting open space, economic development and providing sustainable jobs for our citizens. Taxes must be kept as low as possible. The greatest challenge will be addressing these needs in our new economic unpredictable climate."

McHale's answer is a run-on sentence. "The most significant issue facing our public sector today is balancing the demand for services while maintaining those services at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer. Whether the issue is managing our prison population and providing rehabilitation programs, continuing care at Gracedale, preserving open space and farmland, promoting smart economic development to create jobs, and to assure quality services are provided by our newly created Bi-County Health Department."

You can understand Stoffa. For McHale, you'll need a translator.

Forks Action Committee Creates Primary Web Page

The Forks Action Committee, a nonpartisan group organized to inform Forks Township residents and promote citizen involvement, has posted a Primary Webpage that will be helpful to All Northampton County voters.

In addition to the Forks Township, the magisterial and Easton School Board races, this web page contains a description of the county executive, county council, judge and appellate judge races. There are links to the web pages of those candidates who have them. There are links to the news accounts concerning each race. There is even room for a brief statement from the candidates. There are even links to an election calender as well as an online LWV Voters' Guide.

I will keep a link on my left sidebar to this valuable resource.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pawlowski's $2,000 Union Shakedown

When confronted last month by Morning Call reporter Jarrett Renshaw over his prolific fundraising and the possibility of "pay to play," Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski denied he would stoop to such a low level. After all, he went to Bible College, damn it. He also claims, ''I have done everything I could to separate myself from these problems.''

I'd like King Edwin to explain an April 6 fundraising letter to unions (you can read it here). He not only solicits $2,000 contributions, but clearly suggests some sort of quid pro quo, pointing to very specific pro-union activities that leave me wondering whether he is a mayor or union agent. His letter makes these points.

* He was "the lone voice as a community leader" in urging Congressman Charlie Dent to support the pro-union Employee Free Choice Act. He attaches a letter to Congressman Dent, penned on the city letterhead.

* He protested "the virulent anti-union campaign engaged in by DHL" in response to workers' efforts to organize.

* He takes credit for the Housing Authority unionization.

* He "internalized and unionized jobs that were formerly outsourced, i.e. janitorial services."

* Allentown's "professional licensing ordinance" demonstrates "my firm commitment to unions."

In exchange for these pro-union efforts, Pawlowski wants more than some union endorsement. "I am requesting a contribution of $2,000 to my re-elect campaign which will ensure our victory in November. I would be most grateful to receive your contribution before the primary on May 19, for it will keep our momentum building toward a final victory in November."

Rather than separating himself from potential problems, Pawlowski looks like he's selling his office. His fundraising letter looks very much like a shakedown.
Update: Text of Pawlowski's April 6 Union Solicitation A commenter has asked me to post the text of Pawlowski's letter here.

"As Mayor of the City of Allentown and a strong supporter and advocate of organized labor, I write now to request the endorsement of the [redacted] in my race for a second term as Mayor. 1 also ask for your financial support and volunteers as well, both very crucial to the success of my campaign and my victory in November. As Mayor, I vow to continue my initiatives into the future and achieve the results we all look forward to. and I need your vote in order to do that.

"I would like to take this opportunity to mention my past performance on behalf of labor in the Lehigh Valley within the context of my job as Mayor of Allentown. I have always taken a stand for the rights of workers and have spoken out against corporate labor law violations. The enclosed letter, which I wrote in 2007, shows my strong opposition to the virulent anti-union campaign engaged in by DHL in response to the workers' efforts to organize their union with the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO.

"Additionally, I have been the lone voice as a community leader in urging Congressman Dent to reconsider his position on HR 800 and vote to provide expanded protection for labor union organizations. The Employee Free Choice Act legislation must be passed in order to ensure workers' common sense approach to organizing and negotiating and thereby preserve and honor the grand pro-union heritage of the Lehigh Valley. Please see the enclosed copy of my letter to Charlie Dent dated March of 2007 urging him to cast his vote in favor of this critical safeguard.

"As Mayor I opened the door for the Housing Authority staff to be unionized. On another front, I led the way for our school district to work with the labor council to create a labor sponsored apprenticeship training program at the Allentown schools. In addition, I internalized and unionized jobs that were formerly outsourced, i.e. janitorial services. And finally, I joined with the Sheet Metal Workers to create a professional licensing ordinance in the City of Allentown, only the second city in the whole state to accomplish this. Altogether this demonstrates my firm commitment to unions and represents substantial strides for organized labor under my leadership.

"Therefore, I humbly ask for the endorsement of the [redacted] and for a personal endorsement as well. In addition, I am requesting a contribution of $2,000 to my re-elect campaign which will ensure our victory in November. I would be most grateful to receive your contribution before the Primary on May 19, for it will keep our momentum building toward a final victory in November. Checks can be made to: [redacted]."

A Few Words For Ann McHale

The following is an email I sent to Northampton County Exec candidate Ann McHale yesterday morning concerning the sign war some goons in her campaign are waging against incumbent John Stoffa. If I get a response, I will post it.

"Over the weekend, goons obviously allied to your campaign decided to do more than plant your signs. They also removed approximately 600 Stoffa signs by John's estimate. Two people in a red pick up were spotted doing exactly that on Saturday night near Moravian Academy.

"In addition to this outright theft, your signs have been placed directly in front of Stoffa signs to prevent the public from seeing them. This practice is widespread throughout the county, from Bethlehem to Bangor. In some cases, the signs are mere inches apart in areas where there are hundreds of feet. Is this how you run a clean campaign?

"I am calling on you to do the right thing. Will you order these goons to remove your signs where they block Stoffa's and plant them somewhere else? Will you identify these thugs so they can be questioned by appropriate authorities?"

Neiper: Sixth Northampton County Council Member to Leave in Four Years?

Northampton County Council, without question, is the LV's most dysfunctional legislative body. Part of the reason for that has to be attributable to the departure of five members over just four years.

Michael Corriere - appointed Public Defender.
Mary Ensslin - appointed Director Court Services.
Tony Branco - defeated in election.
Wayne Grube - passed away.
Patti Grube - resigned for personal reasons.

Diane Neiper has all too often been a fourth wheel on the Team Dertinger tricycle. But to be fair, she has has also been one of council's workhorses. She previously decided against seeking reelection to spend more time with her family. Now that she and her husband have purchased a home in Camp Hill, inside word is that she will soon resign.

If that happens, council will be left with four Democrats and four Republicans. In an election year. Deja vu all over again.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan Endorses Craig Dally For Northampton County Bench


On Friday, Northampton County judicial hopeful Craig Dally received the endorsement of former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan, who himself is reportedly mulling over a bid for Ed Rendell's job. I actually met Pat, who was very nice to me even though my sneakers had holes. I was fortunately wearing my Penn State shirt, which saved the day.

Outside the courthouse steps, Meehan made very clear why integrity is needed on Northampton County's bench. "All we have to do is look a little farther up north, to Luzerne County, to see what can happen when people begin to lose faith in the institutions. We need to have people on our courts who are known for their judgment, for their temperament and for their ability to understand the communities that they represent."

Blogger John Micek's headline for this encounter, "Republican Endorses Another Republican," closes with "And then they hugged." Actually, it was the secret Republican handshake. Dally was going to show it to Micek, but I talked him out of it.

Six Hundred Stoffa Campaign Signs Stolen Over Weekend

Ann McHale, John Stoffa's opponent for Northampton County Executive, whispers that if you blow hard enough, that old man will keel right over. Yet John Stoffa has been chipper enough to get up at ungodly hours and plant hundreds of campaign signs throughout the Lehigh Valley. Hey, he's a farmer by nature and it's time to sow those seeds. If he can't plant crops, he can at least plant his verdant signs.

In addition to the work he's done on his own, he's had lots of help from people like Bethlehem's Anna Lawson, who put signs along Pembroke Road, Stefko Boulevard, Washington Street. I've even been planting signs myself.

I'm Bernie Stoffaseed!

Stoffa's sign campaign caught McHale and the Joe Long Dems completely off guard. They anonymously whined here, but the logos were largely unmolested. Sure, a few here and there were yanked out and I saw two cut to shreds in Easton, but that could be kids. I just replaced them. The signs were basically untouched.

All that changed this weekend. McHale was told she needed to get her signs out right away if she hoped to get any votes. Well, I can see why she waited. Her posters are almost identical to Stoffa's. She looks like a copycat. Copycat or not, her signs are welcome by John Stoffa. He thinks people should always have a choice. He's goofy that way.

Not McHale. She appears to have hired goons and thugs to plant her signs. I say this because, in addition to getting McHale's nearly identical signs out, they spent much of the weekend removing hundreds of Stoffa signs. County Executive Stoffa reports that between Friday night and Sunday afternoon, at least six hundred placards have vanished.

Poof!

In addition to the outright theft, these goons are also blocking numerous Stoffa logos by placing McHale signs right in front of them. Traveling along Route 191 between Nazareth and Bethlehem, I can see that at least half of the posters I planted are now being blocked from public view by McHale's Navy. The same is true along Route 512 between Bethlehem and Bath and along Route 248 between Nazareth and Bath. Anna Lawson reports signs have been removed or blocked in Bethlehem. In fact, Lawson claims that McHale's posters are actually in the same holes drilled for missing Stoffa signs. Slate Belt volunteers tell me the same thing. Even in Northampton and along MacArthur Rd, in areas where there are hundreds of feet of space, McHale signs block Stoffa's.

On Saturday night, two fellows in a red pick up were spotted near Moravian Academy planting McHale signs and removing Stoffa signs. They took off when approached.

Although stealing campaign signs is criminal, the thieves are rarely caught. What makes this situation unique is that Stoffa's signs go missing at the very same time that McHale posters are being planted. In addition, we have two fellows in a red pickup removing Stoffa signs and planting McHale's. At the very least, McHale should identify the goons she hired to do her dirty work.

If McHale wants to run a clean campaign, this is a strange way to do it. What McHale really thinks and has said is that "Nice guys finish last." I think she's wrong and that people are tired of these junior high school antics. McHale is unable to control a council so dysfunctional that Morning Call reporter Michael Duck has started a series he calls "Council Behaving Badly." She's unable to control the thugs she hires to place her campaign message. How will she ever control a county?
Update: Ralph Stampone, a Wind Gap resident, reports McHale signs this weekend that block Stoffa signs through Wind Gap, Pen Argyl & Bangor.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Which Northampton County Judicial Candidates Have Web Pages?

Back in the day, when Lehigh Valley Democrat was blogging, he would regularly do things like this. I miss him.

Craig Dally - none.

Candy Barr Heimbach - none located here.

Barbara Hollenbach - located here.

Michael Koury - none.

Karl Longenbach - located here.

Samuel Murray - located here.

James Narlesky - none.

Leonard Zito - none.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Domestic Violence Advocate More Interested in Headlines Than Justice


Surrounded by cardboard silhouettes of domestic violence victims and whirring cameras, Beginning Over Foundation's Heidi Markow was the center of attention yesterday, calling on both Governor Rendell and the Attorney General to take over the wife-beating prosecution of Upper Mount Bethel's Jeffrey Poliskiewicz. Poliskiewicz is scheduled to plead guilty today to seven of eight charges filed as the result of an alleged 2008 assault on his wife. A felony assault charge will be withdrawn, but Poliskiewicz will plead to simple assault, terroristic threats, reckless endangerment, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, stalking and harassment.

That's not good enough for Markow or victim Melissa McShane, who told me during yesterday's news conference that she would only be satisfied by a 43 year sentence. Neither McShane nor Markow seems to understand that sentencing is a judicial, not prosecutorial, function. It's unlikely that a sentence like that would be imposed, even if Poliskiewicz admitted everything. And after yesterday's dog and pony show orchestrated by Markow, I'd be surprised if Poliskiewicz pleads guilty to anything. You see, Defendants have advocates, too, and Markow's stunt may have poisoned would would have been a good result for the Commonwealth and Melissa, the victim of this assault.

Let me give you some background. Poliskiewicz is clearly a wife beater who has victimized all three of his past wives. But he comes into this plea agreement with practically no record of prior offenses, partly because the nature of domestic violence is such that victims are unwilling to pursue criminal charges.

Poliskiewicz undeniably assaulted his first wife, but those charges never went anywhere. When he assaulted his second wife, she agreed to allow him to participate in ARD, a special program for first time offenders in which charges are dropped after a successful probationary period.

This brings us to Poliskiewicz's third wife, Melissa McShane. It's been a very stormy relationship.

February 24 (2008): Two state troopers responded to a domestic violence call placed by Melissa's daughter. At that time, Melissa was reluctant to pursue any prosecution, noting she had only been married for two months and that her husband had never been violent before this incident. Troopers told her about the PFA (protection-from-abuse) process, different women's resources she could use and provided her with a Victim/Witness assistance guide. They also chargedd her husband with summary harassment, but Melissa never appeared at the hearing.

February 28: Three troopers responded to another call from Melissa's daughter. This time the couple was interviewed separately. Both indicated their argument was strictly verbal, and the state police saw no signs of physical abuse. Melissa told them she was leaving to stay with a relative.

February 29: Poliskiewicz and Melissa file dueling PFAs against each other. Poliskiewicz claims Melissa is taking things from his house, and is advised by state police to call his lawyer.

March 17: Melissa asks the Court, in a handwritten letter, to dismiss the PFA. She claims things "get blown out of proportion and we are very sorry to get the courts involved." A copy of this letter is below.



April 2: Alleged assault. There is no report of this incident to any police officer.

April 11: Melissa's dad asks troopers to check on his daughter, and two troopers arrive at an empty house. They learn that Melissa was at the courthouse, and had obtained a PFA based on the April 2 assault. She makes no call to the state police to report she was assaulted and makes no request for police assistance.

April 11: Troopers call Melissa's cell phone to see if she is alright. She returns their call and makes no report of an assault nor does she request to see a trooper.

April 12: Ten days after the assault, Melissa seeks medical treatment. She is ex-rayed and no fractures are diagnosed. She is advised to apply ice to evident soft tissue injuries.

April 12: Melissa calls to report Poliskiewicz driving an ATV through the property in violation of the PFA. She also reports finding weapons that Poliskiewicz failed to surrender to Deputy Sheriffs after a PFA was filed against him. Troopers seize the weapons. They seize Poliskiewicz, too, and turn him over to deputy sheriffs for contempt charges.

January '09: Domestic violence advocate Heidi Markow gets involved. She and Melissa meet with Morganelli concerning the April 2 assault, and he agrees to file charges. Morganelli describes Poliskiewicz as a "serial abuser" who preyed on women at match.com. Poliskiewicz is arrested and imprisoned because he's unable to post $300 thousand bail. Morganelli assigns his Domestic Violence Unit, which he established in 1998, to handle the prosecution.

February 9: Domestic Violence Advocate Heidi Markow issues a news release claiming that police "repeatedly ignored" Melissa's claims of abuse. Markow goes on to claim "police aren't talking even though their silence is a disservice to [Melissa] and the public at large." She commends DA Morganelli.

February 24: Poliskiewicz is depicted as an "online predator" in an NBC10 report entitled "Dark Side of Looking for Love on the Internet." He met his third wife at match.com.

March 23: Markow claims, in a domestic violence blog, that state police reacted to Melissa's story "with indifference -- and inaction."

Yesterday, instead of blaming police, Markow was wagging her finger at Morganelli for ignoring the evidence in a case that he himself filed. Domestic violence do-gooders were also blasting me, on this very blog, for suggesting that Markow seemed to be more interested in whipping up a lynch mob than obtaining justice.

Conclusion

Here's what Markow has really done. First, she has falsely accused Pennsylvania state troopers of indifference and inaction when it's quite clear they were very responsive. Second, she has substituted her own inexperienced judgment for that of professional prosecutors whose job is to achieve justice, not vengeance. Third, she has proved to be quite adept at throwing around irresponsible accusations that leads to headlines in which she gets some notoriety. Fourth, she may have destroyed whatever plea agreement existed between prosecutors and Poliskiewicz, doing a disservice to the very victims she supposedly is trying to help.

Update: Heidi Markow Explains Why DA Not Invited to News Conference About ... Him.
Afternoon Update: The Express Times' Sarah Cassi reports that DA John Morganelli went ahead with the plea deal condemned yesterday by domestic violence victim advocate Heidi Markow. Today, she incredibly claims "We're getting somewhere."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dally, Murray & Zito Lead in Judicial Poll

With 515 votes cast so far, many of which seem to be bullet votes, three candidates have a convincing lead in the race for three judicial vacancies. Craig Dally, Sam Murray and Lenny Zito appear to be in the lead.

If online polls had any validity, Ron Paul would be President today. But the more votes cast, the more likely this poll will be accurate. Here's the breakdown so far:

Craig Dally - 116; Samuel Murray - 107; Leonard Zito - 93; Karl Longenbach - 81; Candy Barr Heimbach - 46; Michael Koury - 39; James Narlesky - 17; Barbara Hollenbach - 16.

Disagree? Then vote. The poll is along the left sidebar.


Angle Threatens First of Many Lawsuits Over New Gaming Authority

"This is called Northampton County. This is not the County of Bethlehem and vicinity."

With those words, Council member Ron Angle has threatened to sue over the membership of a new gaming authority set up to dole out casino dough. The enabling ordinance limits membership to Bethlehem, the five contiguous municipalities, the county exec, council prez and controller. Yesterday afternoon, the Personnel committee was considering names submitted by the municipalities. "You have left out my end of the county," complained Angle.

Lamont McClure: "I would like to know, in advance, of your frivolous strike suit, what you would need in order not to bring your frivolous lawsuit that would keep our municipalities and maybe even this county from having the necessary funds to meet the needs of the people the law intended to be met?"

Angle: "Stop what you're doing right now. Throw these names in the garbage. Now put the ad in the paper and accept applications from the whole county based on what you could bring to the table to sit on this authority. Now is that unfair? You might get some pretty good people; this is nine political hacks."

Diane Neiper proposed advertising, but only for applicants from the County of Bethlehem and vicinity. That went nowhere and neither did the appointments.

If Angle does end up suing, he won't be alone. I'm not criticizing Council here, but the gaming law itself. It's poorly written and has already led to litigation in Erie County.

Domestic Violence Advocate Challenges Northampton County Plea Arrangement

Robin Shaffer was shot and killed by her estranged husband three years ago in Quakertown. She never knew her husband had a history of violence or had once before tried to kill his ex-wife.

Robin's sister, Heidi Markow, started the Beginning Over Foundation, a grass roots group to cast a public spotlight on the tragedies caused by domestic violence. She has advocated for adoption of Robin's Law, which would track repeat domestic violence offenders with a statewide registry.

In recent months, Heidi has begun to advocate for specific victims in court, but it appears she has no training. She recently lashed out at a judge and the Northampton County DA for refusing to find Sara Randall's ex-boyfriend in contempt of a PFA order. Sara had seen someone she was unable to identify inside her car and just assumed that person had been sent there by her ex. Randall was a little short on something we call evidence.

After the judge properly refused to find contempt, a petulant Markow decided to call it quits. "I’m stepping down from advocacy." She also slammed Northampton County DA John Morganelli. "I’m done with him."

Apparently, Markow is back.

She has scheduled a news conference on the courthouse steps at 1:30 PM today to demand that Governor Rendell, Attorney General Tom Corbett, Northampton County Courts and DA John Morganelli keep another accused wifebeater, Jeff Polisikiewicz, behind bars. She's bringing his three ex-wives, who aren't too happy with him. He beat each and every one of them. For reasons that totally elude me, Heidi is also bringing someone from Easton Mayor Sal Panto's office. They are upset at Morganelli's decision to dismiss an aggravated assault felony charge in exchange for a plea to seven misdemeanors. Polisikiewicz, incidentally, currently resides at Chez Northampton.

Interestingly, the one person who Heidi failed to inform about this news conference is District Attorney John Morganelli.

I contacted him last night, and he defended the plea agreement. "The plea is an EXCELLENT result for the Commonwealth because it gives the judge optimum sentencing authority to give Polisikiewicz a long sentence if the judge so desires. All the victims will be heard at the plea and sentencing - they can ask for max on all charges!! They are unrealistic because they want a life sentence for the guy or 20 years. That that will not happen, even with a felony conviction. No bargain was made on sentencing -- that is up to judge with input from the victims. The misdemeanor ones carry a max of 5 years!!"

He also told me it would be difficult to get a conviction on an aggravated assault charge. The victim failed to seek medical treatment for ten days after the assault and only had bruising/soft tissue injury. She made no report to police until nine days after the incident. She has told the PFA office, in writing, that prior alleged assaults were "overblown" or did not happen. She asked to have a PFA dismissed. In a trial, she would be crossexamined on her written statement.

I also spoke to Jackie Taschner, the assistant DA prosecuting this case. "I'm a prosecutor, not a persecutor," she told me. While expressing empathy for Markow's dedication to domestic violence victims, Taschner told me she has to consider what will actually fly in court. She mentioned a recent case in which some abuser actually nicked his girlfriend's artery with a knife and she had to be medivaced. The jury would only convict the Defendant of recklessly endangering.

Markow certainly has good intentions. Domestic violence is very real and Heidi does a public service by drawing attention to the problem. But so do prosecutors and judges. I have to question whether she is calling a news conference or whipping up a lynch mob.

What John Stoffa's Neighbors Think


If you really want to find out what someone is like, talk to his neighbors. John Stoffa's campaign blog has a very nice video interview with an elderly couple who consider John a "good friend and a good neighbor." Mrs. Strasser: "I'll work 'till I drop for John." Mr. Strasser: "I do what she tells me."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stoffa Shaves $2 Million Off $13 Million Bond

In Hocus Pocus, author Kurt Vonnegut notes one of our flaws - "everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance." And so it goes with Northampton County Council. Nearly a year ago, they were screaming about Stoffa's refusal to just build something already. They also demanded action on replacing those old courthouse windows, a $2 million proposition.

"We have an administration that can't build a birdhouse," snarled Council member Charles Dertinger.

Here's the thing. Building something requires your money. Stoffa is stingy when it comes to that. In December, Council approved a $13 million bond - $5 million more than Stoffa had requested -for various building projects, including $2 million to replace the old courthouse windows. At the time, Stoffa warned Council that "I don't like to borrow money. For every dollar you borrow, you pay back two."

Good things come to those who wait. Stoffa and Director of Administration John Conklin have figured out a way to shave $2 million off that $13 million bond. That windows project now qualifies for a $2.1 million grant from the Department of Energy.

The Stoffa administration may do poorly at building birdhouses, but does a pretty good job when it comes to saving taxpayers' money.

Severson Indictment Likely?

Anyone witnessing Deputy AG Marc Constanzo's intense cross-examination of political consultant Tom "Scissorhands" Severson on Monday, would quickly realize that this prosecutor's interest extends beyond the FUs hurled in the direction of the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle. He had so many questions about the campaign guru's anonymous sleaze mailers and robo calls that Express Times reporter Sarah Cassi penned a separate account about the state investigation into Severson's practices.

I have since been informed that Severson, through his attorney, has been warned that an elections laws indictment is both likely and imminent.

DA John Morganelli's Monster - Scissorhands Severson

In a prosecutor's world of grisly murders and major drug busts, a disorderly conduct and harassment conviction must seem like small potatoes. But a Senior Deputy Attorney General was willing to prepare for and conduct both a preliminary hearing and jury trial to achieve precisely that result yesterday against political consultant Tom "Scissorhands" Severson. He was willing to make the long haul up and down the turnpike for two days straight. So was a senior judge from Chester County. Why?

Perhaps to prove a point - no one is above the law.

For years, Severson has made our electoral system a mockery. He has thumbed his nose at nearly every disclosure requirement. By his own admission, this is the largest political consultant in the state. He's pretty much had a free ride, too. The District Attorney charged with the responsibility of enforcing our elections laws - John Morganelli - is a big Severson pal and customer. In fact, after yesterday's guilty verdict, the Northampton County District Attorney amazingly assumed the role of defense attorney. Severson's trial attorney, George Heitczman, had no comment. But Morganelli did his best to downplay the reality that his friend and political consultant is now a criminal.

Severson and Morganelli go back at least to 1991, when Severson ran John's campaign against then incumbent DA Don Corriere. That race, incidentally, turned nasty.

Morganelli has continued to use Severson, even after Scissorhands was charged in the funeral fracas. He stuck by Tom even after it became known that Severson was the subject of a statewide grand jury. He has even enlisted Severson's services for political allies seeking office. These include former first assistant DA Paula Roscioli, who used Severson's services when she ran for judge, and won.

In his seventeen years as DA, I can't think of a single elections law prosecution. Knowingly or not, he has given Severson a green light to run wild. In the process, he has created a monster.

In 2001, Moore Township resident Robert Welsh was the victim of a defamatory anonymous mailer when he sought public office. Morganelli told him his hands were tied. "[I]t is perfectly permissible for any citizen to distribute anonymous literature to voters." He refused to investigate.

Under Morganelli's tortured interpretation of our election laws, there's no need to place a disclaimer on a campaign mailer. If that is so, there's really no reason to file campaign finance reports at all. Why bother?

Ironically, Morganelli was all over AG Corbett when the Virginia-based Center for Individual Freedom (CFI) began a "public education" effort obviously designed to promote a candidate for the state high court. He demanded an injunction to force CFI to file a campaign finance report, the only remedy that would prevent irreparable harm in the closing days before the election.

But amazingly, Morganelli refused to lift a finger when local political consultant Tom Severson began an anonymous sleaze campaign against local magisterial candidate Brian Monahan in Spring '08. He remained silent in July '08, when Severson started a push poll against county councilman Ron Angle, even though that expense appears nowhere on any campaign finance report, even as an in-kind corporate contribution. When anonymous robo calls began in earnest against council candidates Angle and Peg Ferraro, Morganelli was MIA, even though campaign finance reports fail to reflect the amount of money being spent.

John properly feels it would be a conflict to investigate Severson. But whenever he has referred a question to the state AG, it has always been a half-hearted request at best that frames the facts in a light favorable to Severson. It has been a recipe for disaster in local Lehigh Valley races.

So yesterday's verdict was meaningful. Disorderly conduct and misdemeanor harassment are criminal offenses. There is no Severson exception in the Crimes Code. Victims of those offenses certainly have a little more peace of mind when those offenses are prosecuted.

Whether it's a political consultant in the pocket of a local DA or a cop who beats his wife, all of us are entitled to a criminal justice system in which nobody is above the law.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Severson Guilty in Mixed Verdict

A Northampton County jury has just returned a mixed verdict against political consultant Tom "Scissorhands" Severson. While exonerating him of terroristic threats and simple assault, the jury found the campaign maven guilty of harassment as a misdemeanor. Chester County Senior Judge Charles Smith also convicted Severson of summary disorderly conduct.

Correction: When I originally posted this report, I mixed up the harassment and disorderly charges. I have fixed my error and will wear a woolsack for the next day as my penance.

Requiem For Scissorhands Severson

Last time I heard people toss around "Fuck you" this much, I was sitting in a Northampton County Council meeting room. Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Constanzo and barrister George Heitczman clearly relished an excuse to throw that phrase around quite a bit yesterday. Except they got to do it inside a courtroom, flanked by stern deputy sheriffs who would gun down anyone who might take exception. Sure beats "res ipsa loquitor" for dramatic effect.

As you may have guessed, when people start shouting "Fuck you," even in a courtroom, Ron Angle is nearby. And so it was yesterday, as a jury trial got underway against political consultant Tom "Scissorhands" Severson. It was a little tough picking a jury because at least eight potential jurors claimed they could not be fair to Ron. "That's about average," quipped Ron.

Severson's repeated "Fuck yous" was all the rage yesterday. Instead of using that phrase in a bar or even a courtroom, the King of Sleazeball Politics was shouting that phrase during the middle of a Requiem Mass.

"Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them."

Scissorhands Response: "Fuck you."

"Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest, eternal."

Scissorhands Response: "Fuck you."

While Severson's wife was reading Scripture in front of the congregation, Scissorhands was menacing Angle, the Northampton County Bulldog, in the sinners' section at the back of the church. Ron's big mistake? He had attended Gemma Turtzo's funeral mass. She and her husband were forty-year friends. He was paying his respects. How dare he!

Seated next to Ron was prissy former Northampton County Council member Mary Ensslin, who adamantly told the jury Ron is "not a friend." As Ensslin tells it, Severson walked into the church after the mass had already started, grabbed a pew in front of them, and sat down. He then turned around and apparently recognized Angle. He got up, turned around, made an aggressive arm gesture and told Angle, "We're going to settle this."

Angle, who has never even met Severson, told Ensslin "Must be a happy constituent."

Later, Severson stood up again, turned around to Angle and said, "I'm going to stick this in you. We're going to end this." He put his hand in his pocket, suggesting he had a knife.

Angle asked Ensslin, "Who is that guy?"

"That's Mr. Severson."

Ensslin went on to claim that, as the mass was ending, Angle decided to leave the church early to avoid a confrontation. When Severson realized what had happened, he actually lunged at Ensslin, screaming "If you ever run for office again, I'll destroy you." Terrified, she escaped into the arms of Judge Leonard Zito, who was also attending the mass.

Pen Argyl Officer Jonathan Hoadley and Special Agent Michael Fuller told the jury that Severson actually admitted (1) giving Angle the finger, (2) multiple "Fuck yous"; and (3) telling Angle he "would get his." Severson even intimidated an elderly gentleman, Ed Mugavero, who had asked him to knock it off, especially after Severson took a cell phone call from his daughter in the middle of the Requiem.

Angle, when he took the stand, corroborated much of what Ensslin had said. Unlike Ensslin, he thought he saw a knife in Severson's pocket. He explained that when he left the church for his truck, he could see Severson from his rear view mirror "like a wild man flailing his hands" in the parking lot. Defense attorney George Heitczman tried to suggest that Angle had somehow provoked Severson by nodding "Hello" to him in the church. Angle explained that, as an elected official, he often says "Hello" to people he does not know. "If I see someone, I say 'hello.' It's the courteous thing to do."

After Angle was finished, so was Deputy AG Constanzo, who kept his case short and sweet. This was a surprise to defense attorney Heitczman, who had to scramble to get his witnesses together. He called two elderly gentleman and a pleasant older woman who could not even hear the oath as it was being administered to them. Obviously deaf, they heard nothing and actually sat in the front of the church.

The defense also called the funeral director, who acknowledged some sort of ruckus. He "heard two men speaking loudly - could hear it while a reading was going on." Not exactly helpful to the defense.

Severson's wife also testified. Naturally, she heard nothing.

Then Heitczman made the mistake of putting Severson on the stand, and Constanzo was like a kid in a candy shop, asking all sorts of questions about Severson's business practices. You see, Constanzo knows all about Severson's work for Tony Ryback when he ran against Joe Brennan for the state house. Uh oh. He knows all about Severson's work for the Northampton County Dems last fall. Severson insists he's been paid, but the most recent finance report shows he's still owed $7,000. Uh oh. Constanzo knows all about the California corporation Severson set up to keep his work for Democrats on the "down low." Severson claims he owns the company, but California records show a different name and the corporation is listed as "suspended." Uh oh. Constanzo even knows about the $9,000 that Senate Republicans pay Severson monthly. Uh oh.

If a Senior Deputy AG knew this much about me, I'd be wearing Depends right now.

When Constanzo returned to the case, Severson did nothing to help himself. He was forced to admit that (1) he actually makes knives as a hobby; (2) told Angle he was going to get him; (3) had given Ron the bird inside a church; (4) had tossed out "Fuck yous" repeatedly; (5) had intimidated an elderly gentleman in front of him; and (6) had approached Ensslin and promised to destroy her politically.

All inside a church.

During a funeral mass.

Why did he do this? He was provoked. Angle said "Hello" to him. Of course, Severson now claims he only intended to "get" Ron in a political, and not physical, sense.

Just like during the Requiem, Severson could not keep his mouth shut.

This case is being heard by a Chester County Senior Judge Charles Smith because, at one time or another, Severson has worked for half the court. Like Pontius Pilate, Judge Smith has a habit of rubbing his hands together with lotion throughout the trial, as though the whole thing is one dirty mess.

And it is. The case will wrap up today. No matter what the outcome may be, Scissorhands Severson's legal troubles appear to be just beginning.
Update: You can read about yesterday's trial in both The Express Times and Morning Call. The Express Times has a second account concerning the possible impact on a statewide grand jury investigating Severson.