Friday, July 31, 2009

Glenn Reibman Reputedly Decides Against State Senate

I've just been informed by a highly placed source, who asks to remain anonymous, that former Northampton County Exec Glenn Reibman has decided against seeking the state senate seat being vacated by Rob Wonderling.
Update: The Morning Call has a similar report.

LC GOP Comm'r Candidates Unveil "Contract With County Taxpayer"

OK, I lied a a little bit about yesterday's trip to Allentown's Scottish Rite Center. LC Comm'r Dean Browning really did meet me at the door. I never was forced to eat haggis. There really were free sandwiches, and from Primo's, too. Finally, there really was a news conference starring three of Lehigh County Commissioner candidates - incumbent Glenn Eckhart (facing Hillary Kwiatek in District 5); Allentown School Board Prez Bob Smith (opposing appointee David Jones in District 3); and Mike Welsh (challenging incumbent Dan McCarthy in District 3). Chairman Percy Dougherty (District 2), on vacation celebrating his 43rd wedding anniversary with his lovely bride, was unable to make it. Neither could candidate Tom Creighton (District 1), who was unable to get away from his job.

Lehigh County Republicans are very entertaining because they have a flair for the dramatic. Don't let those suits fool you. Not terribly long ago, before Snarlen Arlen Specter saw the light and jumped into the warm embrace of the Democratic party, Lehigh County's rank and file were trying to censor him or burn him in effigy or something. They can really get fired up. If you pop on their site, they actually seem to have some sort of loyalty oath. Most Democratic sites, in sharp contrast, are little more than directories of local bars and clambakes.

What I remember best about Lehigh County Republicans is the way they reacted after then County Exec Jane Ervin - herself a Republican - imposed a very unpopular 70% tax increase. Before you could say Newt Gingrich, there were all prancing around in tri-corner hats, signing all kinds of important declarations and carrying muskets and stuff like that.

A lot of these dudes should be doing Shakespeare.

GOP commissioner candidates certainly lived up to their reputation yesterday, this time unveiling a “Contract with County Taxpayers," a hand-me-down of Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract with America. Here are the salient points.
1. Balance the county budget without increasing property taxes or raiding county reserves by 2012. Only support budgets for 2010 and 2011 that significantly cut spending and make credible strides towards that end.

2. Not approve any public employee union contract that allows wages to grow faster than county revenues or the COLA received those on Social Security.

3. Oppose any effort by Lehigh County to levy a 1% local sales tax in addition to the current state sales tax of 6% as is now being proposed in Harrisburg.

4. Limit to $3,000 the cumulative amount of contribution, either direct or in-kind, we accept from any single campaign donor during the upcoming general election.

5. Reject the taxpayer-funded pay raise we’d be eligible to receive if we win election in November.
Now, this pledge is being sent to all the Democratic candidates, too. Commissioner Dean Browning, who was on hand yesterday, mentioned that all ten candidates - Democratic and GOP - are in this race because they care and want to do what is right for our children. Noting that all county legislators serve as both fiscal watchdog as well as a check and balance for the administration and elected officials, he is asking Democrats to sign on, too.

But Democrats appear to be troubled and slightly offended by this pledge. They adamantly deny "raiding reserve funds," as claimed by GOP Comm'r Glenn Eckhart. They admit using a tax relief fund to balance the budget, but that's exactly why that fund was established in the first place. "The stabilization fund is our reserve or rainy day fund. We have not touched that, nor will we," said one administrator who asked to remain anonymous.

As far as saving money goes, administrators pointedly note that Republicans actually added to LC Exec Don Cunningham's most recent budget. Instead of reducing wages or planned increases in salary, administrators have curtailed spending by reducing the actual number of employees who work for the county, noting that the current county employment is at its lowest level since 1995.

After the news conference was over, the reporters all left without eating any sandwiches. The Morning Call's Scott Kraus looked really hungry, too, but he's known me for years and knew I'd dime him in a heartbeat. I stuffed all the sandwiches in my laptop bag and met Ron Angle outside, where we unloaded them on Hamilton Street for 50 cents each. I made $3, and bought a Rolexx from some guy on 7th.

Below, I've posted the statements made by Eckart, Smith and Welsh, along with links to the video. For Smith, I posted his actual video because he is such a passionate speaker.

LC GOP Commissioner Candidates Have Promises to Keep


. . . and miles to go before they sleep. Here are the statements they released at yesterday's news conference.

Glenn Eckhart: LC Administrators Raiding Reserve Fund to Cover Deficit (See video here.)

"We stand here today with a simple belief: That it is important for county voters to know where the candidates for Lehigh County Commissioner stand on critical budget, tax, spending and open government issues before they vote in November’s District Commissioner elections.

"The 'Contract with County Taxpayers' that we are unveiling today is the cornerstone of agenda to address those issues.

"Here is the plain truth: The County can no longer gloss over its massive deficit by raiding reserve funds that were never intended to be an excuse for irresponsible spending practices.

"Four years ago, the current County Executive rightfully ran on a campaign against his opponents’ fiscal irresponsibility. The problem is that since his election, he’s done nothing to change the bad habits of the previous administration.

"In fact, he’s made them worse.

"County government now spends 12 million dollars more than it takes in - with no plan to change course.

"If a business does that, they’ll be out of business.

"If a homeowner does that, they’ll be homeless.

"If a politician does it, they can just raise taxes to bail themselves out.

"We can’t allow that to happen here again.

"My opponent likes to call me 'Commissioner No' because of the hard line I take on tax and spending issues, and my refusal to budge from that position.

"In an attempted contrast, she likes to chatter about 'change' without any real plan to accomplish it.

"That’s the difference between us.

"With the announcement today of our “Contract with County Taxpayers”, it is…

* We are the ones with a plan that will deliver positive change for taxpayers.

* We are the ones with substantive ideas and real solutions that will help make Lehigh County an even better place to live for Republicans, Independents and Democrats, alike.

"On the other hand my opponent is offering no new ideas, just rhetoric, while she waits on marching orders from the State and County Democrats running her campaign.
This is the same State and County Democrats, by the way, who want a 1 percent sales tax in Lehigh County, in addition to the state sales tax of 6 percent we already pay.

"I pledge today that the Republican Commissioner candidates I’m running with will never vote to approve this tax here in Lehigh County.

"That’s right. I’m saying - Never.

"But what else would you expect from 'Commissioner No?'


Bob Smith: We Know This Will Make The Unions Angry (Video is above).

"For far too long, politicians have backed away from the tough decisions and the difficult fights necessary to run an effective government.

"They were too worried about the next election.

"That stops today.

"In these tough economic times, there must be shared sacrifice by everyone in government, including the employees.

"We know this is going to make some union bosses angry, but we believe our fair approach will earn the respect of taxpayers across Lehigh County.

"We pledge not to approve any public employee union contract that allows wages to grow faster than County revenues or the COLA received by those on Social Security.

"The days of guaranteed, annual 4 percent increases for County employees, without any regard for the current economic outlook or corresponding county revenue growth, are over.

"Our plan will reform the way County employees are compensated to bring it more in line with what county residents employed in the private sector or receiving Social Security are facing."


Mike Welsh: Payraise Simply Not Right During Recession (You can see Mike's video here).

"That sacrifice also needs to extend to the County Commissioners themselves.

"That is why we will reject the taxpayer-funded pay raise we’d be eligible to receive if we win election in November.

"In the midst of unprecedented economic hardship, it’s simply not right for politicians to take a pay raise, like my opponent sadly plans to do if re-elected this November.

"We will all reject this pay increase, encourage every candidate to do the same, and ask those who have already accepted it to give it back.

"Finally, we want to build upon the comprehensive campaign finance reforms we pushed for earlier this year by limiting to $3,000 the cumulative amount of money we accept from any single campaign donor, either direct or in-kind, for the upcoming general election.

"It was gratifying to have been part of the team who helped enact a more open, transparent system for the reporting of campaign contributions in Lehigh County earlier this year. We believe those reforms are already making a difference.

"But we’re not done.

"We want to prevent the potential for one campaign donor to underwrite most, or in the worst case scenario, all of another candidates’ campaign.

"We believe this kind of financial control over a campaign raises serious questions about whether the person giving the money will have undue influence on the person receiving the money once elected to office.

"To prove our independence, we are pledging to accept no more than $3,000 in the aggregate from any one donor for this election cycle.

"We challenge our opponents to do the same.

"The people of Lehigh County don’t want puppets that are bought and paid for, they want leaders.

"And if they elect us, leaders are what they will get."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bob Smith: How Allentown School Board Avoids Tax Increases

One of the shocks for me, when I finally made it to the LC Comm'r GOP news conference this afternoon, was the passion I found in candidate Bob Smith. He's in an uphill battle against Democrat David Jones. Smith, who serves as President of Allentown's School Board, is quite proud of what that board has done to save money. There have been no tax increases over the last three years.

An Afternoon at Allentown's Scottish Rite Center

Lured by a promise of free sandwiches, I darkened the doors of Allentown's Scottish Rite Center this afternoon for a news conference with the Republican Lehigh County Commissioner candidates. Because there was no way an Irish Democrat could ever get into that building on his own, LC Comm'r Dean Browning was supposed to meet me at the door, blindfold me and take me to the GOP's inner sanctum. But I arrived early, and there were no guards posted at the door, so I sneaked in.

After wandering hallways cluttered with dusty portraits of Robert the Bruce, Queen Mary (with head) and William Wallace, I finally found a picture of Percy Dougherty, a Republican who currently chairs the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners. Figuring I was in the right place, I opened the only door in that hallway, and this is who was waiting for me.

I'll never be the same.

I eventually did find the Republican Commissioner candidates, who had plenty to say. I'll be telling you about that next.

True Grit

I'm taking a break from politis today to brag about my grandson. Fortunately for him, he's not biologically related to me, so I really can't take any credit for any of his adventures, but I do anyway. I actually learn quite a bit from this 9 year-old. Indulge me, and let me tell you the latest.

As most of you know, Dat is a three-sport jock. This summer, he played on two baseball teams and two basketball teams. Last Sunday, he finally finished his last baseball tournament of the season, playing three games in one day under a hot sun. But by Monday night, he was playing basketball at Allentown's Cedar Beach. It was a tough and very physical game, with the lead going back and forth. Dat was banged around quite a bit on his way down the macadam court and fouled repeatedly.

At one point, while he was getting ready to make a foul shot, he looked like he was in agony. I shouted out, "Are you OK, Dat?" He just shook his head yes. Later in the game, making another foul shot, he had that same look on his face, but I got the same short answer to the same question.

Once the game was over, I went over to see him, thinking that one of his spills on the court must have hurt him. That was when I saw his little finger, swollen about three times its normal size. Right before leaving for basketball, he had been playing tackle football with some of his friends and had injured himself. Kids came flying into the house to ask for ice, but his mom thought they just wanted ice water. Dat said nothing.

As it develops, Dat played an entire basketball game with a broken finger. He even managed somehow to score the winning points.

Once his finger heals, he'll be putting on his shoulder pads. In the meantime, I finally have a chance to beat him at Par 3 golf.

Lehigh County has New Domestic Relations Office

Lehigh County reports that it has relocated Domestic Relations to a larger space in the Sovereign Building in Allentown after renovating two of its floors.

The department, which now occupies 20,000 square-feet at the 14 N. 6th St. location, has a large in-take room, 20 conference rooms to meet with clients regarding child and spousal support and two courtrooms. There’s also an area to conduct paternity tests and an office to handle interstate support cases. Last year, Domestic Relations handled 13,473 cases.

On Friday, at 10 AM, Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham will host a tour of the new facilities.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NRCC Slams Callahan as Pelosi's Dream Candidate

The NRCC has reacted to John Callahan's congressional candidacy with a news release that chides him for being so willing to spend your money, from the stimulus on a national level to a increased sales tax on a local level. Despite its partisan tone, this news release clearly shows Callahan's positions supporting the stimulus as well as a sales tax increase that will support more spending.

Washington- Now that Washington Democrats have found their hand-picked candidate in Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan to make a run for Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional district, it’s important for Lehigh Valley voters to take a close look at his record. As a strong supporter of the Democrats’ so-called “stimulus” package, Callahan would be a perfect fit among budget-busting Democrats in Washington:

“The federal stimulus package, now headed to a congressional conference committee, will bring a quick infusion of funds into Pennsylvania that will assist with the Commonwealth’s own budget crisis, as well as create jobs, encourage investment, lift consumer confidence, and begin the long road back to nationwide economic stability. Immediate action to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is vital not only to the future of our nation, but to the future of Pennsylvania and its local government units, stated Mayor John Callahan.” (PLCM Press Release, “Mayors and Local Officials, Representing the PA League of Cities and Municipalities, Call for Support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act)

In fact, Callahan pushed to institute a 17 percent sales tax increase on already-suffering middle class families (Jeff Hawkes, “Mayors Must Go to Town to Save Cities,” Intelligencer Journal, April 10, 2009). Meanwhile, unemployment in Bethlehem has skyrocketed more than 36 percent since Callahan has been calling the shots (Source: Department of Labor).

“It’s no surprise that Nancy Pelosi pulled out all the stops to get John Callahan in this race,” said NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain. “As a promoter of the Democrat’s failed stimulus bill and the architect of a massive tax increase on Lehigh Valley families, Callahan would fit right in with the fiscally irresponsible crowd in Washington. Unfortunately for him, Pennsylvania voters don’t want another Pelosi rubberstamp in Congress – they want jobs.”

The hard-working taxpayers of Lehigh Valley need to ask themselves one question when it comes to a potential Callahan candidacy: Why is John Callahan so eager to spend their money?

Background:

Americans Lack Confidence in Liberal Agenda: The Bloomberg Professional Global Confidence Index declined to 39.13 in July from 43.57 in June. A reading below 50 means pessimists outnumber optimists. A measure of U.S. participants’ confidence in the world’s largest economy fell to 29.5 from 36.7, the survey showed. “No one can wave a magic wand,” said David Semmens, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank in New York and a regular survey participant. “We aren’t pulling out of the recession in the same way as in past recessions. The economic outlook isn’t improving as strongly as people would have hoped.” (Shamim Adam, Global Confidence Drops as Unemployment Surge Counters Stimulus, Bloomberg, 7/15/09)

Unemployment Soars: The MSCI World Index is down about 2 percent since the U.S. Labor Department on July 2 reported higher-than-expected job losses and an unemployment rate approaching 10 percent. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said July 14 the world will probably suffer “more than the usual” setbacks in exiting the worst slowdown since the Great Depression. (Shamim Adam, Global Confidence Drops as Unemployment Surge Counters Stimulus, Bloomberg, 7/15/09)

A “Misread” Worth $1 Trillion And Thousands Of Jobs: The U.S. lost 467,000 jobs last month and Vice President Joe Biden said the administration “misread the economy” when it predicted unemployment would peak at 8 percent once the stimulus package was passed. President Barack Obama said the jobless rate, now at 9.5 percent, will “tick up” over the next several months. (Shamim Adam, Global Confidence Drops as Unemployment Surge Counters Stimulus, Bloomberg, 7/15/09)

Global Confidence Falters: The survey of more than 2,700 Bloomberg users was conducted between July 6 and July 10. Since the previous survey, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank lowered their forecasts for global growth this year, while leaders from advanced nations say the recovery is too fragile to consider reversing more than $2 trillion in stimulus efforts. (Shamim Adam, Global Confidence Drops as Unemployment Surge Counters Stimulus, Bloomberg, 7/15/09)

Is Obama's Stim Package Working?

"We are going to do what is required to jolt this economy back into shape." Pres.-elect Barack Obama, 11/24/08.

That was then.

This is now.

"There is no silver bullet, no single thing, that can address the many and complex needs of America’s vast economy." VP Joe Biden, 7/26/09.

Is Obama's $787 billion stimulus working? In February, at about the time that the stim package was adopted, Bethlehem Mayor (and now Congressional candidate) John Callahan had high hopes.

“The federal stimulus package, now headed to a congressional conference committee, will bring a quick infusion of funds into Pennsylvania that will assist with the Commonwealth’s own budget crisis, as well as create jobs, encourage investment, lift consumer confidence, and begin the long road back to nationwide economic stability. Immediate action to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is vital not only to the future of our nation, but to the future of Pennsylvania and its local government units.”

Well, I doubt anyone can help Harrisburg legislators solve their yearly budget crisis. They're in gridlock as usual. Overall, Obama's vaunted stim package has been a bust. According to Bloomberg Press,
* household net worth has fallen almost 22 percent;
* house prices have fallen more than 32 percent;
* the Standard & Poor’s index of 500 stocks is 40 percent below its October 2007 level; and
* the jobless rate hovers around ten percent, with 29% of them have been out of work now for more than six months.

What's more troubling to me is that the stim package totally fails to consider the deleterious impact that two other major spending initiatives - health care reform and cap-and-trade - will have on our economy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has already warned about the trillion dollar cost of some of the health care proposals. CRA International, in its report for the National Black Chamber of Commerce, concludes that the green energy bill passed in the House will reduce national GDP roughly $350 billion, cut net employment by 2.5 million jobs per year (even after accounting for new “green” jobs), and reduce earnings for the average U.S. worker by $390 per year.

Then we'll need another stimulus package until the whole house of cards collapses. Congressman Charlie Dent voted against the stimulus package as well as the cap-and=trade legislation. He certainly supports health care reform and said so at the Nazareth Town Hall, but is taking a more careful approach than House Democrats.

Don't You Feel Stimulated?

Today, there will be a big announcement somewhere to tell us just how Obama's stim package is working for you and me here in the Lehigh Valley. We're getting more cops.

More than 4,600 police officers will be hired nationwide at a cost of about a billion dollars. That translates to about $217 thousand per cop. A highly placed source tells me Easton will be getting $750 thousand for police officers, while Bethlehem and Allentown will get the bum's rush. Now my source is pretty good, but I'm having trouble understanding why the Queen and Christmas cities were shortchanged. Maybe there's more to this story, but I thought you should know what I know.

Maybe the feds actually believed King Edwin when he said Allentown's crime problem is just some silly misperception. If they do, they'd be the only ones.

Update: According to The Express Times, Easton is the only LV community to have received money for new police officers, and the grant amount is $670 thousand, lower than what I reported. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski is already threatening to lay off 39 police officers even though this grant money can only be used to hire new police officers.

Update #2: I told you this program will cost $217k per officer, but this is over a three-year period that includes salary, benefits and administrative costs.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Proposed County Sales Tax Option Explained.

Sales tax, which has a disproportionate impact on people with lower incomes, is certainly a regressive tax, one of the most ridiculous things to consider during a recession. But that's exactly what's happening in the land of midnight payraises, where a 1% sales tax increase is being considered as a county option.

Here's how the County Comm'rs Ass'n of Pa (CCAP), a sales tax promoter, describes this optional plan. "Under the proposal, 50% of the sales tax proceeds would be returned to the participating county, 40% would be distributed to qualifying municipalities, and 10% would be allocated to a Municipal Collaborative Efforts Fund. The county would be required to use at least 60% of its share for property tax relief and to eliminate nuisance taxes. Municipalities would have to use at least 60% of their share for property tax relief and/or to offset revenue losses from tax-exempt property." CCAP's talking points are here.

Sixty percent of the revenue would be used to reduce property tax, but the rest could be used to enhance revenue. If the real concern is reducing property tax, then why not dedicate the entire sum to property tax reduction?

Basically, this is a tax increase that covers more spending.

Is Now the Time for a Sales Tax Increase?

Deep in the bowels of the land of midnight payraises, state legislators are debating whether to give counties the option to increase sales tax by 1%. The current bill, which only applies to third class counties, would have to be amended. Approximately half of the money generated would reduce real estate taxes, but the rest would be a windfall to county and municipal coffers.

Calling it "tax fairness," the County Comm'rs Ass'n of Pa. (CCAP) supports this tax increase. But this is precisely the kind of regressive tax that has a disproportionate impact on the middle class and poor. One study shows that the poorest twenty percent of our nations's population already pay 5.4% of their income in sales taxes, while the top one percent pays just 0.6%. Is this tax fairness?

And is now the time? Northampton County Exec John Stoffa, noting the number of lost jobs and paycuts in this area, told the Express Times that he has reservations.

Wasn't casino money supposed to wash away all our sins?

Allentown's Motto: Sic Semper Tyrannis

The Liberty Bell Center for Constitutional Studies is a Lehigh Valley group of strict constructionists. Chairman Ryan Burgett submitted a letter to The Morning Call for publication, but the suits rejected it. I like it, and am proud to publish it here.

"'Sic Semper Tyrannis.' This phrase is nothing short of creepy. It was the phrase shouted by John Wilkes Booth as he shot Abraham Lincoln, and the phrase proudly written across Timothy McVeigh’s shirt when he was arrested. Many wrongly translate this phrase to mean “Death to Tyrants” but those who know history know that it actually means “Thus Always to Tyrants.” It is unfortunate that this phrase has been hijacked by crazy people throughout history when it is a perfectly legitimate phrase to be used by people. It is the state motto of Virginia and truth be told the motto of the city of Allentown. We have a government that has for years now stripped away at our privacy rights and wants more and more power to make decisions for us. That is tyranny. At the heart of tyranny is greed, greed by officials who want power and control and think they know better than the individual. But we know from history that greed always leads to destruction. It is time to resurrect this phrase and remind our officials from the local to the federal levels, that their greed will lead to destruction, Thus Always to Tyrants."

The phrase, of course, is originally attributed to Brutus, the last of a cabal of Roman Senators to plunge a knife into Julius Caesar.

Lehigh County's Citizens on Patrol!

Commandant Lassard is very, very, very pleased to announce that Lehigh County is now accepting applications for its third Citizens' Police Academy. Applications, limited to Lehigh County residents, will be accepted through August 15th.

Eight weekly classes will be conducted between Tuesday, September 22, and Thursday, November 12, between 7 and 9 PM. They'll take place in the Public Hearing Room on the first floor of the Lehigh County Government Center, 17 S. 7th Street, Allentown, PA 18101. Parking will be available in the Lehigh County employee parking deck.

Topics will include drug investigations, gang awareness, dirty bloggers, DUI and criminal scene investigations. The goal of the 8-week course is to promote understanding between police and the community. By becoming familiar with policing practices, participants will be better able to protect themselves and their neighbors.

Registration forms are available on-line at www.lehighcounty.org or by calling Dan McNeill, Manager of Regional Partnerships, at 610-782-3567. There is no fee associated with this program, but registration is limited to 85. Criminal background checks will be completed for each applicant. Acceptance letters will be mailed after the 15th of August.

Monday, July 27, 2009

John Callahan: Charlie Dent Supporter in 2006

“Anyone that says a freshman congressman cannot deliver for his district has never met Charlie Dent.”

That's what Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan said in 2006, when LV Congressman Charlie Dent presented him with a $15 million for Route 412 improvements, helping spark the development of Bethlehem's south side.

Calling All Blogwhores

Why, hello there, sailor!

Looking for a good time? You've come to the right blogspot.

You see, I'm a blogwhore. I found that this weekend. On Saturday afternoon, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan told a few reporters he plans to challenge LV Congressman Charlie Dent next year. By Saturday night, before I'd even written a single word about this race, I'd already been snarked as a "Blogwhore for Dent."

Political kneebreaker Chris Casey, trying his best to ingratiate himself with the Callahan crowd, has apparently taken it upon himself to screech that I will soon lead the "Callahan hate parade." I'll even be using a Morning Call "portal," whatever the hell that is, to smear the Christmas City mayor. Oh yeah, after complaining about some personal shots being directed at Callahan, he gratuitously adds that Lehigh County DA Jim Martin is some sort of boozehound.

Extremist rants like those spewed by Casey will do one thing - drive voters to Charlie Dent, especially in the Lehigh Valley.

Between tricks, I've just finished reading a series of historical novels about 9th century England, collectively called The Saxon Tales. Saxon England was in danger then of being totally assimilated by the evil Danes, who raped and pillaged their way through Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia. Wessex, ruled by Alfred, stopped the advance. In a black and white world of Christians and pagans, Alfred could still see the multiple shades of grey. He succeeded by combining Christians and pagans, Saxons and Danes.

Today, the war seems to be between Democrats and Republicans who are equally unwilling to listen to each other. Despite a recent apology over remarks directed at a Cambridge police officer, President Obama has failed to produce his promised bipartisan approach to our stagnant economy, dependent energy policy and ailing health care system. Dent, on the other hand, has consistently strived for bipartisan solutions.

Callahan's sale pitch so far seems to be limited to the good job he's done in the Christmas City. He claims to be bipartisan, too, and did help Republican Meg Holland behind the scenes in her race for city controller. But he's mayor in a city with no Republicans on council. That's great, but it's no reason to elect him to Congress.

Now if you'll excuse me, someone has just tuned into my webcam for a private show.

Why Is Glenn Reibman Smiling?

Democratic honchos think former Northampton County Exec Glenn Reibman should take a stab at the state senate seat being vacated by Rob Wonderling. But is Reibman willing to run? His warchest is pretty healthy at about $75 thousand, but he also recently insulted Morning Call columnist Bill White, refusing even to shake hands with him after some goofy golf outing. Now this may endear Reibman to some of you, but I think it's a mistake for someone seeking office to get so nasty to someone who buys his ink by the drumload.

Blogger Rich Wilkins makes an interesting pro-Reibman argument:

"Some will question if Glen is right, mostly because of his defeat and issues from his administration. I think that is short sighted. Glen is a bright man, with a great deal of government experience, who has shown the ability to run in and win some tough races (His 2001 win over Ron Angle and his 1997 win over Bill Brackbill come to mind). The biggest knocks against Glen, the ones that publicly stuck, were over people he brought into his administration (specifically Michael Solomon) who messed up, or essentially executive issues. No one questions this man's intellect and commitment to his community. This district is 51% in Northampton and Lehigh County, and needs a Lehigh Valley Senator. I think this job is perfect for Glen, and I think he'd do a great job. I also think he could run very well. Four years have passed since his loss, anyone moves up in polls after being out of office. He's never lost a general election, which is all we will have here. I think Glen should get into this race, the Lehigh Valley needs representation in the 24th Senatorial District."

I will add that Reibman, despite my harsh criticism of his two terms as county executive, has always been a gentleman to me. Yes, he'd have Hickey throw me off the courthouse roof from time to time, but those broken bones have healed.

What do you think?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Why Congress Needs More Time to Digest Legislation


Congressman Charlie Dent notices the complete absence of hydrogen as a possible "clean" fuel.

Friday, July 24, 2009

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

"Hey, I enjoyed this! Thank you."

That was the closest thing to an outburst at last night's meeting of Northampton County Council. It came at the end, so I'm not even sure it counts. The culprit was council's newest member, Jerry Seyfried, who was astonished at how smoothly things went. Me? I'm pissed.

Usually, I have reams and reams of insults that I gleefully reproduce here so we can all chuckle about the most dysfunctional legislative body in the Lehigh Valley. Comments like "He's staring at me" and "I know you are but what am I." But last night, there was nothing. Nada. Now how the hell am I supposed to write a witty and condescending blog about their goofy antics when everyone is behaving? Throw me a frickin' bone, people!

Everybody showed up. There were no ad hominems (that means personal attacks, for those of you who are LongDems). Democrat Lamont McClure actually went out of his way to compliment Republican John Cusick, who did do a terrific job going through applications for appointment to the county's new gaming authority. Cusick actually started blushing at the praise. Then Council Prez Ann McHale lavished praise on Lamont McClure for all the work he did in drawing up the initial gaming authority ordinance.

I was just about to hurl, but council went into executive session and my stomach was able to settle down.

After the meeting adjourned, they all went ballroom dancing.

So how the hell did a Northampton County Council meeting turn into a love fest? There are two theories. First, Jerry Seyfried's statesmanlike presence made a difference. Dertinger and McClure are a little intimidated by Seyfried, and need to feel him out a little more before throwing their usual grenades. Second, Council did its homework for once. Two of its committees actually met earlier in the week, making last night's job easy.

Whatever the reason, they looked pretty good last night.

It better not happen again.

Wayne Grube Memorial Park Forgotten by Norco Council

In times past, a public construction project was always accompanied by at least one or two human sacrifices, just for good luck. Today, all the grand poobahs still assemble near the construction site, but they've stopped killing people, unless they start giving speeches. Now it's just some back-slapping and a dip of some ceremonial shovel into some clump of ceremonial dirt. It's called groundbreaking and there's usually a news account to show where our tax dollars are going.

Construction at Wayne A. Grube Memorial Park, located in Weaversville, began this Spring. But the poobahs forgot all about the official groundbreaking until Wednesday. Actually, Northampton County Exec wanted to do that in May, but all the other poobahs complained they were unable to make it and he was doing it too close to an election and blah, blah, blah.

So Stoffa waited. The election's over. Nobody can accuse him of playing politics if he conducts a groundbreaking now. Amazingly, most of the little poobahs never came. Tuesday's ceremonial groundbreaking included Patti Grube, widow of the man who fought for that park over 14 years. In addition to Stoffa, Council members Ron Angle, Peg Ferraro and Joe Joe Capozzolo were on hand.

Six council members never showed. Some undoubtedly had valid reasons. Maybe the rest were afraid of becoming human sacrifices, but their absence was an insult to Patti Grube and the memory of her husband.

Phot Credit: WFMZ.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Robert Myers New Corrections Director in Northampton County

With no discussion, Northampton County Council has just unanimously approved the appointment of Robert J. Myers as the new Supervisor of Corrections. His starting salary will be $77,307.

During yesterday's personnel committee meeting, Meyers shared his vision for corrections in Northampton County, and it's one aimed at reducing recidivism. He started as a corrections officer in 1980.

LC Comm'rs On Video About Video

Posting the actual videos here tend to slow down this blog, so I'll instead provide links to some of thewebcasting arguments made by Lehigh County Comm'rs last night.

1) Dean Browning: There's not enough votes. Video here.

2) David Jones. Has a "stroke" of conscience and Bill Leiner is like Jesus in Gethsemane, up all night, worrying about webcasts. Video here.

3) Percy Dougherty. Looking for a few good webcasters. Video here.

4) Glenn Eckhart. We need to do this soon, but not now. Video here.

5) Andy Roman. We're majoring in the minors. Video here.

LC Comm'rs: Instead of Webcasting, How About Online Minutes?


In what Commissioner Dean Browning calls a "tactical retreat," he withdrew his webcasting initiative at last night's meeting of Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners. "It's apparent from the first reading and subsequent discussion that there's not enough votes for this to go forward."

But public transparency advocates will be happy to note that Comm'r David Jones has descended from his pulpit with an answer. Claiming to have had a "stroke of conscience" over his previous complaint that a camera might destroy the "integrity" of their proceedings, Jones has suggested filming a budget hearing or two to see "what the public appetite might be." He's even offered to bring some teenagers in from his church, claiming they won't cost much.

Budget hearings are probably the most important work done by a legislative body, but sitting through them is a lot like root canal. What Jones is really doing is trying his best to kill a transparency initiative, while getting a few bucks for some kids from his church in the process. When the Lehigh Valley Zoo funding was in trouble, that would be a time to gauge public interest. When Don Cunningham's safe streets proposal became controversial, cameras would have informed the public.

Browning's webcasting initiative may have temporarily failed, but commissioners were very eager eager to demonstrate a commitment to open government. Like Jesus in Gethsemane, Bill Leiner was once again up all night pondering the problem, something he mentioned three times. Then Glenn Eckhart proposed posting minutes on the county's web page, something that Lehigh County has amazingly never done. That motion, seconded by Dean Browning, carried unanimously.

Andy Roman still chastised his colleagues.

"I'm just disappointed to see that this measure is being withdrawn and we are dickering over a few thousand dollars to communicate what we do in a county government to the public. This falls under the category in my mind of majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors. We had a $6 million pricetag on a Linden Street bridge project that could have been delayed and paid for by the state. And we decided to pick up a $6 million tab for the Linden Street bridge. We decided to spend $200 thousand to pour cement down a sinkhole at the juvenile detention center. We didn't bat an eye on any of those big ticket items. ... Now we are spending twenty or thirty minutes over whether we should allow cameras to allow the public to view what it is that we're doing. In my mind, we have reverted to majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors, and I'm sad to see it."

For Dean Browning's withdrawal, click here.

Stoffa Denies Mandatory Furloughs Under Consideration

Northampton County Finance Director Vic Mazziotti would like to spend more time with his grandchildren, more time than his vacation package allows. So he occasionally takes a day off, without pay, because his family means more to him than a job.

This got Northampton County Executive John Stoffa thinking about voluntary unpaid furloughs for similarly-minded county workers. As long as it involved no overtime for other workers, this might save money. But Northampton County is a cesspool of rumors. Somewhere along the way, this was twisted into mandatory time off. Claiming that she had received several complaints, Council Prez Ann McHale asked Stoffa what was going on at yesterday's Personnel Committee hearing.

"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

That's how Stoffa responded to McHale, telling her very clearly that at no time has he considered mandatory furloughs for anyone. "Some people want to take time off without pay. Nothing is mandatory. We have not decided on anything. All we're doing is looking at it."

He explained why, too. "We're heading towards big time budget problems." But questions abound concerning voluntary furloughs. Will the county have to pay unemployment? How can it be sure it won't result in overtime somewhere else?

So Stoffa is unsure whether this will really save money, but no county worker should worry about mandatory furloughs.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Seyfried Back in Action

Jerry Seyfried, in his first committee meeting as Northampton County's newest council member, is already making a difference. Perched next to the Northampton County Bulldog, Seyfried immediately displayed his deep understanding of the Home Rule Charter, noticing something that seems to have been missed by everyone else.

When Northampton County Council adopted its ordinance establishing its own gaming authority, it decided to make some appointments on its own. But according to Section X of the Home Rule Charter, that's the Executive's job, as Seyfried pointed out.

Seyfried also had some good advice for the Executive's new Director of Corrections, Bob Myers, who comes from the ranks of career service. "Get a letter from the administration that you have a right to return to career service if you do not like his job." Seyfried later noted that this "has already been tested in the courts and it works."

He explained that, in the private sector, union workers would be fired after being appointed to exempt positions, and suggests this safeguard was built into career service regs.

Seyfried spoke with obvious respect to the administration and fellow council members. But County Council Prez Ann McHale did her best to continue the dysfunctional mess with cracks like "Ron, act your age, will you?" and "Don't tell me what to do."

In addition to Seyfried, Angle and McHale, today's meeting was attended by Peg Ferraro, John Cusick and Joe Capozzolo.

Pittsburgh Handgun Reporting Ordinance Survives Judicial Challenge

The Allegheny Court of Common Pleas has upheld Pittsburgh’s lost or stolen handgun reporting ordinance, rejecting a challenge from NRA-backed plaintiffs. In a ruling released Tuesday, Judge Stanton Wettick concluded those who challenged the ordinance failed to show they suffered any actual harm and hence lack standing.

Although gun control advocates have hailed the decision, the ruling fails to address the ordinance on the merits. It simply follows a similar ruling from the Commonwealth Court concerning Philadelphia’s lost or stolen handgun reporting ordinance.

Allentown, Reading, Pottsville, Pittsburgh, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Wilkinsburg and Philadelphia have all passed lost or stolen handgun reporting ordinances into law in recent months.

“With this ruling, I would anticipate that more and more municipalities across Pennsylvania will adopt lost and stolen handgun reporting, which gives further impetus for the General Assembly to pass this reform statewide,” said State Representative David K. Levdansky (D- Allegheny/Washington).

Phil Goldsmith, CeaseFirePA president, adds that “Gun violence is a statewide problem – not just a city problem, and the issue of reporting lost or stolen handguns to the police must be resolved by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. This decision today reaffirms our position. Our focus remains the same - to bring this growing, statewide coalition of cities, towns, Mayors, City Council members, police chiefs, faith leaders, and citizens to the General Assembly to demand that they pass lost or stolen handgun reporting as a common sense reform to protect every Pennsylvanian.”

Now excuse me while I go look for my howitzer. I'm always losing the damn keys.

Specter Opposes Relaxing Concealed Gun Permits

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition of mayors, reports that Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter has decided to oppose legislation that would undermine Pennsylvania's authority to decide who is entitled to carry concealed weapons in this state. Under a proposal from Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), tacked on as some goofy amendment to a Defense Authorization bill, a person who has a concealed weapon permit in Florida = which authorizes gun permits to people convicted of impersonating police officers - would be able to carry here, where the law forbids permits to cop copycats.

Reading Mayor Tom McMahon, pointman for Pennsylvania's Mayors Against Illegal Guns, calls the Thune Amendment a "detrimental step backward in our continuing effort to reduce gun violence in PA." He adds, “This is a States’ Rights issue, not a gun rights issue."

The Senate may vote on this proposal today, even though Thune has been denied a committee hearing. Republicans and some conservative Democrats appear to support what amounts to a nationalization of gun permits.

Specter himself released the following statement: “From my own experience growing up in Kansas and being District Attorney of Philadelphia, I know states need to prescribe their own rules for carrying a concealed deadly weapon. This is the essence of federalism. My vote against the Thune Amendment will not limit the constitutional rights of hunters and gun owners. Pennsylvania already recognizes concealed carry permits from 24 other states where their laws are similar.”

Courthouse Militia: Northampton & Lehigh County

Yesterday, I described some of the civilians who darken courthouse halls day after day. I can spot 'em a mile away. But there's one group I'm unable to make - those who come in for permits to carry concealed weapons. This "well-trained militia" could be anybody. Well-dressed businessmen, soccer moms and Councilman Ron Angle, who is usually carried into the courthouse by his servants, could all be packing heat. It's not just some wacky group of survivalists with three teeth, coming down from the local trailer park.

Think about that for a minute. People from all walks of life really, really want to carry guns in their pockets or underwear or something. Lots of people.

Here, in the People's Republic of Northampton County, they're usually angry people. You see, Sheriff Jeff Hawbecker, the only appointed Sheriff in the Commonwealth, insists on following the law. Before issuing a permit, he requires proof of identification, which must be a driver's licence or PENNDOT photo ID. He also requires proof of residency, which could be a per capita tax bill, earned income tax form, or voter's registration card. Most of these aspiring minutemen, when they seek their license, don't have any of those things. So they run to the voter's registration office, thinking they can just pick up a card there.

But it's not so easy. Here's what happens. Most have never registered and have no intention of ever actually voting. They just want to be able to pack heat. So they go, register to vote and then learn they have to wait to get their card in the mail. The voter registration office is not about to hand out cards to people who may not actually live where they say they live, and insists on mailing them.

"Some of these people get very angry" is what one voter registration office worker tells me.

"Hey, look on the bright side. At least, you know they can't shoot you."

In Lehigh County, where the Sheriff is elected, things are much easier. You just need to produce ID and two references.

I wonder if applicants list Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson.

Where Can an Auslander Live and Work in the Lehigh Valley?

I'm a miserable bastard. Regular readers know I hate everyone, although I do like kids and sushi if they're properly cooked. So imagine my surprise yesterday when I received an email from some dude asking me for some nice spots to work, play and live in the Lehigh Valley.

"I have read some of your blogs and you have an ear to the ground on a lot of areas (personal, commercial, and political). I would love to get some pointers from you on where to look for jobs for me, (I already have started down the top 100 employers list for Lehigh) as well as where is better/worse to live. At the moment, we are primarily looking at Bethlehem, but we don’t do any on the ground looking until next week."

Dude, do I look like Mary Frickin' Poppins to you? If you want that kind of junk, there are all kinds of puff blogs out there designed to snare you, your wife and first born. This is a hate blog, damn it. I've got a rep to protect.

But wait a 'tic. If he reads this blog, he must already know I'm an asshole. I think he's more interested in what you think.

This guy has a fairly diverse business background but I'll keep his name and resume confidential. Hopefully, he's no genius. You see, Lehigh's Nutty Professor has already condemned the Lehigh Valley as an intellectual wasteland. "I'm not going to pretend life is fun in the Valley for people who happen to take pride in being intellectuals. ... With my PhD from MIT, I'm so completely out-of-place it'd be hilarious if it weren't so sad."

Where's the best spot for these Auslanders to live and work in the Lehigh Valley? Downtown Allentown? He wouldn't need to watch Cops. He could just roll a couch onto his stoop and watch all the gunfights. How 'bout next to the Chrin landfill in Williams Township? With all the seagulls and strange smells, it would be just like the Jersey shore. Nazareth? The "Moravians" do need a new wicker man and I'm getting tired of the way they keep looking at me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Courthouse Civilians

We call them civilians.

These are the people who wander around courthouse halls, mouths wide open, looking around for hours. Many have died trying to figure out how the hell to get in, and sadly, even more have died trying to find a way out. Some have even accidentally ended up at county council meetings.

I can pretty much tell who they are, too.

Miserable old bastards with suspenders and hearing aids? They're either paying their tax bill, getting a doe license or are visiting judges.

Entire families, usually consisting of grandparents, parents and kids bouncing off of walls? Passports.

Man and woman, making out in the elevators, hallways, stairwells and everywhere else? Marriage license.

Woman, alone, usually crying or distraught? Protection from Abuse.

Man and woman, giving each other icy stares, flanked by hundreds of lawyers? Custody.

Large groups of young, black or other minority men? Criminal court.

Really hot, scantily clad younger women? Criminal division (for fines).

Well-dressed, cheerful and attractive older women? Probate.

The one group I can't pigeonhole is the class of people looking for permits to carry concealed weapons. I'll tell you about that next time.

This Hippo Must Read Bill White


Morning Call columnist Bill White obviously enjoys writing about golden retrievers, steers, pigeons and gerbils. He may detest politicians, but he's got that animal lover thing going for him. This hippo must read White's column. Why else would it rescue an impala from the jaws of a crocodile?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pa. Mayors Against Illegal Guns Have Message for Specter

This just in from Mayors Against Illegal Guns:

"Today 106 PA Mayors printed an open letter to Senator Specter as a full page ad in the Philly Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette -- urging him to oppose the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. ( You can read the letter here.)

"The legislation, which could come up for a vote today, has received surprising little attention. If it becomes law, it will undermine Pennsylvania's permitting guidelines -- requiring PA to accept concealed carry permits from any other state in the nation -- even if the person would not otherwise be eligible in PA. Pennsylvania currently accepts the permits issued by 17 states -- but 25 do not meet sufficient standards. This is about states rights, and protecting our citizens and out police.

"Since 2002, assaults on police officers in PA have increased 76% and 18 have been shot and killed in the line of duty. This sort of irresponsible mandate is the last thing Pennsylvania needs."

The Philadelphia Daily News condemns this proposal as the "latest outrage from the NRA-controlled Congress" and "an egregrious trampeling of state's rights."

Obama: Too Much, Too Soon

Last November, I voted for Obama. Was it the right choice?

I supported his $787 billion stimulus package, which was supposed to have kicked in by now. But instead of creating or saving 2.5 million jobs, the unemployment rate has steadily risen. Now, Obama economic advisor Lawrence H. Summers is telling us these lost jobs provide no "basis for concluding that the Recovery Act is falling short of its goals."


Huh?

While our economy founders, House Democrats rammed a cap and trade bill down our throats that will actually cost as many as 35,000 jobs here in Pennsylvania. As energy costs soar, our electricity bills will increase somewhere between $140 and $3,000, depending on whether you listen to Democratic or Republican bags of hot air.

Now, in the wake of two costly monster bills that appear to be failures, Obama insists on enactment of another financial juggernaut, a $1 trillion health insurance plan for 45 million Americans who lack it. A finished bill must be on Obama's desk by the end of August.

Why?

In the meantime, Obama's Presidential Approval Rating of is beginning to slip away. He's doing too much, too fast, without bothering to see whether anything is actually helping.

Express Times: Why We Need to Pay Attention to Severson Prosecution

From Sunday's Express Times: "In the end, though, this prosecution is about fair elections, and that is why we should pay attention. One of the hallmarks of our election reporting laws is that we get to see, in standardized public filings, who's paying what to whom in a campaign, and who the big contributors are. And in the case of advertising, which candidate or party or special-interest group is behind the message. That's particularly important when it comes to attack ads. "

Friday, July 17, 2009

Commissioner No

Ever meet Lehigh County Commish Glenn Eckhart? Take a look at the picture, where he's trying to pretend he's some badass, like he's running for Sheriff or something. True, he's big enough to be an NFL lineman. But if you look closely enough at his picture, you'll see the hint of a smile. The Glenn Eckhart I know is a big, jovial man with a warm smile and a little twinkle in his eye, kinda' like a young Santa Claus.

He's generous, too. He once invited me to tag along on a Gettysburg bus tour. Maybe he intended to throw me out one of the windows or ram me into one of the cannons, or even worse, turn me into a Republican. Unfortunately, I overslept that day and missed the trip, so we'll never know.

What puzzles me is that, despite his jovial appearance, Glenn's political philosophy is more akin to Ebeneezer Scrooge than Saint Nick. But he makes no sense on paper, as evidenced by his rant about Democratic Commissioner Bill Leiner earlier this week.

Get a load of another Eckhart special, sent to a gazillion Republicans this week. Glenn is reacting to LC Exec Don Cunningham's plan to spend some of his vast, $700k campaign treasury, to seize control of the Board of Commissioners.

"Don will get involved in the commissioner races if the candidates are of like minded [sic] to his. That is clear [sic] he wants people who will vote the way he wants them to and I will not. I understand on my opponents [sic] facebook sight [sic] she is calling me commissioner NO and [sic] am proud of it. I like that tag line because I have a record of NO new taxes, NO new programs, NO more unbalanced budgets, and NO more spending increases."

No grammar or spelling lessons, either.

Ironically, Commissioner No is the badass who dug into his own pocket to save a basketball program for Salisbury Township grade school kids earlier this year. He spent thirteen years coaching there, too. If Glenn is reelected, it will be because voters like him, not because he's some LV Rush Limbaugh.

Silence of the Lambs

Boy, those LongDems sure are quiet this week. By Friday, I've expect to have read that I'm a drunken disbarred lawyer at least seven hundred times. This week, it's only been about fifty or sixty times, and those are mostly ex-clients.

It's amazing how a little thing like a statewide grand jury can shut them up.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ever Dance With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight?

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

That's what the Joker would ask his prey before finishing them off. I wonder whether Senior Deputy AG E. Marc Costanzo poses similar questions to witnesses appearing in his grand jury investigation of Northampton County deceptive campaign practices. That grand jury, incidentally, is meeting somewhere today.

Ever dance with Severson in the pale moonlight?

During Monday's preliminary hearing at Dauphin County prison, Costanzo laid out a prosecution theory that hones in on a web of deceit - a conspiracy to keep the public in the dark about Severson's involvement in various political campaigns. Severson had told his staff that Democrats asked him to disguise his involvement in their campaigns, but the candidates called so far vociferously deny that. "Absolutely not," is how Bethlehem City Council Prez Bob Donchez responded to a question asking whether he had asked Severson to prepare bogus invoices. Costanzo calls them "unwitting" co-conspirators who unknowingly and innocently deceived the public. But what about those candidates who knew all about Severson's scheme to keep the public in the dark?

Ever dance with Severson in the pale moonlight?

Let's go back to 2003, when Paula Roscioli desperately wanted to trade in her Assistant DA's badge for a judge's black robe. Local Republicans got wind she was using Scissorhands Severson as her campaign consultant. In fact, her boss - DA John Morganelli - had just paid Severson $9,600 in dirty drug money for 20,000 newsletters. Naturally, those included portrait of Roscioli quadruple the size of other pictures.

When Express Times reporter Joe Carlson asked whether she was using Severson, Roscioli gave two answers. First, it would be a "poor strategic decision" to identify a consultant before being required to file campaign finance reports. Second, "I'm running my own campaign." Morganelli backed her up, denying that Severson's Precision Marketing was involved. "They're not allowed to do Democratic candidates. They can only do Republicans."

Were Roscioli and Morganelli dancing with Severson in the pale moonlight?

It sure looks that way. According to available campaign finance reports, Roscioli made seventeen payments to MJR Services, totalling $105,252.06. This is one of the shells Severson used to deceive the public concerning his involvement in political campaigns. Roscioli and Morganelli were obviously well aware that Severson's involvement in Democratic campaigns was quite controversial. Morganelli himself went along with paying his own MJR bills the previous year. They went along with a Severson scheme to hide his involvement from local Republicans. In the process, they deceived the public.

Fast forward from 2003 to 2007. LongDems desperately wanted to rid Northampton County Council of Ron Angle, once and for all.

Did LongDems start dancing with Severson in the pale moonlight, too?

In July, Severson began his dirty work with a push poll. Telephone calls from 484-548-6413 asked whether voters would be less likely to vote against Angle if they knew certain negative things about him, which were listed, one by one. Although this poll has been estimated to cost $3,000, its cost is listed nowhere in any campaign finance reports. But that telephone exchange has been used by Severson to conduct political polling and robo calls.

The next month, Charles Dertinger bought a postal permit for the Northampton County Democratic party, which was subsequently used by Severson for vicious smear mailers against Ron Angle and Peg Ferraro. They were also besieged by anonymous robocalls like this one from 484-548-6400 and 484-548-6413, the same number that had been used for the July push poll. It also is the same exchange Lamont McClure used for his robo calls. His consultant? Tom Severson.

In October, Lamont McClure handed Steve Barron, who was then Northampton County Democratic Party Treasurer, a $12,000 bill from Political Strategies, another shell Severson used to deceive the public concerning his involvement in political campaigns. McClure provided detailed instructions about how that bill was to be paid and how in-kind contributions were to be noted. But when Barron asked McClure to identify Political Strategies, all Lamont would say was that it is a consulting company. Barron later reviewed bank statements, and learned that checks to Political Strategies were being deposited by Severson's Precision Marketing.

Bossman Joe Long was similarly secretive about Political Strategies and the smear campaign being engineered against Angle and Ferraro. In fact, when The Morning Call condemned the anonymous robocalls, Long quickly responded with his typical threats in a letter to the editor. "This borders on libel and slander," he huffed. "[T]o my knowledge, the Northampton County Democratic Party has not made any so-called negative robocalls."

Long was clearly trying to hide Severson's involvement in the failed smear campaign against Angle and Ferraro. Long, McClure and Dertinger were clearly dancing with Severson in the pale moonlight, conspiring to keep the public in the dark.

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight? It sure looks like Deputy AG Costanzo will be posing that question to Roscioli, Morganelli, Long, McClure and Dertinger.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lehigh County GOP: "Trust No Democrats"

Last week, every Democratic Lehigh County Commissioner found different reasons to object to Dean Browning's webcasting initiative. Could it be that some of this is partisan? You betcha'. You see, Republican Commissioner candidates have pledged they will refuse to accept a scheduled payhike. And Browning, who happens to be Republican, even wants to link future county employee pay increases to revenue growth. So now, even when Dean suggests a scaled down version of webcasting at half the cost of the original proposal, a Democratic Commissioner like Bill Leiner remains unpersuaded.
"With the looming prospect of lay offs and raise reductions for county employees I plan to not support, at this juncture, any initiatives that are not core functions of county government.

"Next year or later after the second federal Stim kicks in and we experience economic recovery from the failed economic policies of the Bush Administration, rest assured, I will be with you shoulder to shoulder to follow through with this initiative."
Without question, Bill is giving Dean a partisan shot. But it's really just a little one. Leiner and Browning like to tease each other about their ideological differences, but find a way to work together. They get together for breakfast and lunch from time to time, and Dean sometimes joins in Leiner's Coplay crime watch programs. One night a few weeks ago, Dean and Bill trapped a slew of feral cats, but they turned out to be Northampton County Council. They were all released unharmed, but not before Angle was accidentally neutered.

This is where things get a little cRaZy. LC Commissioner, who is included in this email exchange, fails to see that Leiner's comment, made to a staunch Republican, is obviously tongue in cheek. Eckhart, himself up for reelection, responds with partisanship.
"Commissioner Leiner [sic] true side comes out. If this is not a wake up call to the Lehigh County votes [sic] I don't know what is. Commissioner Leiner wants to be Chairman of the Board of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioner and the Democrats only need to steel [sic] one seat and he will be Chairman. Please support your district Republican Candidates financially, volunteer, and be there on election day."
Dawn Berrigan, a born-again princess or something in the Lehigh County GOP, is one of the first to join the Leiner lynch mob, adding a shot at LC Exec Don Cunningham for good measure. You see, Don's a Democrat, too.
"Leiner is a real back stabber. Take it from someone who has dealt with him on many occasions. Ask Jim Anthony, ask Al Nelthropp, ask Dave Malony, believe me, he has tried to burn them all, along with myself [sic]. Anyone who goes into Coplay for elections is treated to the slimy tactics of Leiner. He will never co-operate with Dean, or any other Republican on any measure that would make anyone from our party look good. Failed policies of Bush, stimulus kick in? Give me a break. As you see he always has something ridiculous and partisan to say. Don't ever trust him. Or Cunningham, they are cut from the same cloth."
Self-proclaimed political strategist Joe Hilliard quickly grabs a rope to join the Leiner lynch mob, imparting these pearls of wisdom. "Trust no Democrats. They are purely partisan while Republicans painfully, and ineffectively, try to be bi-partisan and compromise." Someone who trusts no Democrats claims to be bi-paritsan. I see.

And so it goes as one partisan email after another piously condemns Leiner for his partisanship.

Of course, this whole episode is silly. Partisanship in Congress is why our government is broken. Instead of listening to each other, everything becomes a power play. That's why major legislation is enacted with no opportunity for the minority, Republican or Democratic, to read or digest what's happening. That's why an Allentown mayor can keep the public (and Council) is the dark about a budget deficit. That's why Northampton County Dems will oppose a Democratic County Executive who dares hire a Republican, no matter how useful that person might be. While partisanship certainly has its place in an elction cycle, its value diminshes once the task of governing begins. Ending this needless partisanship is something Obama the candidate stressed, but Obama the President has learned that partisanship remains alive and well in Washington. He's actually having more success reaching out in the Middle East.

Dean Browning, who is so conservative he has little elephants on his underwear, has an interesting take.
"From an overall standpoint, I don’t think partisanship is necessarily a bad thing. It is the process where we bring out opposing points of view and work to translate those views in to policy. The problem comes about when that process also includes attacks on the motives or characteristics of the opposing groups. Such as “Trust no Democrats” or “Republicans Don’t Care About the Middle Class” or whatever else each side says about the other. As you know from your blog, there is plenty of animosity on both sides. I’m not interested in engaging in that as I think it is counterproductive."
For his part, Leiner extends "an open Invitation to all critics to sit down over a cup of coffee to exchange ideas." Don't listen to him. Last time I went to Coplay, I ended up being trapped as a feral cat.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Severson's Mudslinging & Deception Outlined

Dauphin County Prison was the setting for today's preliminary hearing on the Attorney General's deceptive campaign practices prosecution against political consultant Tom "Scissorhands" Severson. As I've already told you, ALL charges were bound over for trial by District Judge Steven M. Semic. That includes 55 counts of what The Express Times calls "fraud and deception."

It was a strange place for a hearing. Peering through a doorway, I could easily see the bars of a county jail. Unlike any local magistrate, this judge had a guard and two clerks sit with him throughout the five-hour hearing. Eleven witnesses were examined by Senior Deputy AG Mark Constanzo, accompanied by six agents and boxes full of files. Prominent Defense Attorney George Heitczman represented Severson, who sat quietly, even though Ron Angle was right behind him.

(1) Agent Kevin Carney, who has worked in law enforcement for about a gazillion years, laid out the background concerning Severson's anonymous smear campaign against Brian Monahan. In 2007, when Monahan ran for magistrate, Severson sent out three mailers slamming him. None of them identified Severson as the person who paid for these ads. Carney also testified to a "John Doe" independent expenditure report, which was filed after the election.

(2) Priscilla Jroski, a notary for thirty-five years and legal secretary with Bethlehem law firm Leeson & Leeson, described seeing Severson sign a document she was asked to notarize. Instead of seeing Severson''s signature, the name "John Doe" was scrawled on an independent expenditure report. She notarized the document after being assured "It's OK" by Attorney Joe Leeson. But in her notary journal, she noted that Severson had signed the document as John Doe.

(3) Cheryl Dorschutz is a gum-chewing graphic designer employed at Severson's Precision marketing. She prepared the anonymous mailers slamming Monahan, using copy supplied by Severson. Severson told her he had talked to a lawyer and was allowed to send anonymous mailers. He also told her he had permission from Pat Vulcano to use his bulk mailing permit.

(4) Mary Lou Yarnell prepares the bills at Severson's Precision Marketing. He paid her cash for the anti-Monahan mailers and she put the money in petty cash. There is no record that the invoice was paid.

Yarnell also describes Severson's practice of using other companies to bill clients for his work. He supplied her with stationary from an outfit called Political Strategies, a California corporation, and had invoices for Severson's services sent to Democrats under that letterhead. When she receives checks made out to Political Strategies, she stamps them for deposit in Precision Marketing's account.

At Severson's direction, she instructed then state rep. candidate Tony Rybak to pay what he owed Severson to Printex, a company owed money by Severson for work involving other candidates.

(5) Pat Vulcano is the owner of the bulk mailing permit used to slime Monahan. He told a grand jury that Severson had denied using his permit, but now he's singing a different tune. He now claims that Severson admitted to him that he used his bulk mailing permit. He explained he suffers from a sleep disorder and that's why he gave the grand jury a different story. Vulcano's wife, Sandy, must have the same disorder. She had to change her story, too, and did so in a letter to the AG. I believe this disorder is called fibberitis.

Vulcano now claims Severson had "carte blanche" to use his permit and "didn't have a problem" with the sleaze mailers directed at Monahan. When he spoke, he denied knowing who had used the permit and condemned the sleaze campaign. He must have been suffering from fibberitis when he spoke to me, too.

(6) Bethlehem City Council Prez Bob Donchez has been using Severson since 1995, and acknowledged paying Severson bills on MJR and Political Strategies letterheads. He assumed these were other Severson companies. He emphatically denied ever asking Severson to bill him in any special way that would make it difficult for the public to know that Severson was running his campaigns.

(7) Steve Goodsoozian, Judge Jack Panella's campaign treasurer, acknowledges paying Severson invoices from companies like MJR and Political Strategies, thinking they were Severson companies. Like Donchez, he denies that he or anyone in Judge Panella's committee ever asked Severson to bill him in any way that disguised Severson's involvement.

(8) Beverly Rossetti happens to own a small mail house known as MJR Services. She actually leases space from Severson and runs his mailroom, but when he asked her to use her company as a front for some of his billing, she told him she'd have to get back to him. Then she got a few checks made out to MJR, which were delivered to her home in Phillipsburg. She gave them to Severson and asked him to stop billing in her company's name. But those checks kept coming. She eventually stopped handing them over. "I was upset. I just felt a little used. The whole thing was distasteful to me."

Call me cRaZy, but I have a feeling that Rossetti's lease with Severson has the shelf life of a loaf of bread at the beach.

(9) Northampton County Controller Steve Barron really lawyered up for his appearance. He was flanked by two attorneys as he walked into the courtroom. He was asked about his pre-Controller activities, when he was Treasurer for the local Dems. He took in the bills and donations, made deposits, paid the bills and filed campaign finance reports.

At one point in '07, Lamont McClure gave him a $12,000 bill from Political Strategies. McClure told him to pay what he could and record the rest as debt. So Barron, who had no idea that Political Strategies was connected to Severson, sent two checks to California. When he later looked at the bank statements, he noticed those checks were endorsed and deposited by Severson's Precision Marketing. He called party bossman Joe Long, but got no explanation.

(Blogger's Note: McClure's connection to Severson's work resulted in a subpoeana being sent to McClure late last week. Because McClure had a scheduling conflict, he was released from the subpoena. But knowledge of his deep involvement has only recently come to light.)

10) Anthony Rybak did himself no favors in his testimony. He acknowledged paying Severson's bills directly to Printex, assuming that was one of Severson's spinoffs. But he had no explanation for his failure to itemize phone calls and campaign signs. He never reported those expenditures. His mommy financed his unsuccessful campaign for the state house in 2006.

11) Precision Marketing's Tim Butler is Severson's right hand man. As he delicately put it, "I am number two." He proceeded to prove that point by being unable to recall any knowledge of any specifics about anything.

George Heitzman gave a detailed closing argument involving criminal intent and the Constitution. AG Mark Constanzo's basic reply? "Hey, we're the Commonwealth." Severson will face a jury.