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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Nonprofit" Attempts to Shame People Into Voting ... Democrat

During the primary, Lehigh Valley residents were flooded with letters from the very official-looking "Center for Voter Information. It enclosed a "Pennsylvania State Voter Report" detailing the voting history of both the recipient and several neighbors. It asked, in bold upper caps, "What if your friends, your neighbors, and your community knew whether you voted?" It was an obvious attempt to embarrass people into voting. The organization that was really behind this shady tactic was a "Women Vote" group. The intent was clearly to drive turnout for Susan Wild. She denied any knowledge.

It's happening again. Voters are now getting mail from the Voter Participation Center (VPC). "Who you vote for is private, but whether or not you vote is public record," it states in bold type. It also includes the voting history of a few neighbors. Though the names are omitted, the street addresses are listed.

Like the primary mailer, this is an effort to steer recipients into voting.

Claiming to be a nonprofit, VPC goes on to provide answers to three questions that are designed to encourage a vote for Wild and against Nothstein. The answers are false. The letter fails to list the positions of Tim Silfies, the third candidate in this race.

According to Wikipedia, Voter Participation Center is actually Women's Voices Women Vote (WVWV), founded by Democratic political activist Page Gardner. In 2008, this group was fined $100,000 when it sent misleading information to African American voters in North Carolina. It was thought by some to be an effort to suppress the black vote in the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

These letters are being sent elsewhere in the country, and are stirring up controversy in Memphis and Minneapolis, Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin and New York.

VPC purports to be a "nonprofit," but is listed by the Center for Responsive Politics as a "liberal" group that targets Republicans.

Arrest in Fatal Lookalike Drug Case

From The Bethlehem Press: As the opioid crisis continues to take lives at a record pace, a new problem has begun to emerge. Lookalike painkillers. They are designed to look exactly like prescription painkillers like Percocet. They are instead a deadly combination of fentanyl and heroin, or in some cases, pure fentanyl. They kill. On Friday, a person who sold a lethal lookalike was charged with a drug delivery resulting in death 

Lookalike Percocet
Gustavo Rivera, 31, of Bethlehem, has been charged with selling what Kara Ann Heckenberger, 27, thought were Percocet pills. They were in fact a combination of heroin and fentanyl. She died after taking just one of these pills on August 9, 2017.

Heckenberger, Bethlehem Catholic High School and Kutztown University graduate, was no junkie. She had a full-time job and lived with her parents in Lower Nazareth Tp. Though she was a healthy woman, she did suffer from gastroparesis, a painful abdominal condition. Opioids actually worsen this condition. She nevertheless obtained what she thought were two Percocet pills, stamped with a "30" on one side and an "M" on the other.

The "30" refers to 30 milligrams. Assistant DA Bill Blake, who supervises the Northampton County  investigating grand jury, said this is also the cost in dollars for one of these pills, if bought on the street. The "M" is a reference to Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures Percocet.   

Kara Ann Heckenberger
Text messages from Heckenberger's cell phone reveal that the evening before her death, she contacted co-worker Danielle Koehler and Koehler's boyfrend, Rivera, in search of painkillers. Heckenberger was to  deposit the payment in the mailbox at Koehler's E. Ettwein Street home. While she waited at Koehler's  residence, Rivera picked up the money, and later, dropped off the pills.

At 12:36 am on August 9, Rivera texted Heckenberger to ask, "How they make you feel?"

After getting the pills, Heckenberger returned to her parents' home in Lower Nazareth Tp. She had a brief conversation with her mother, then went to bed.

At 10:15 pm, Koehler texted Heckenberger to warn her, "Be careful taking those gus [Gustavo] is messed up." 

Gustavo Rivera
Heckenberger answered, "I only take half at a time & Only when I need them for my stomach. ... I don't take them for the effect of getting f---ed up."

But at 10:42 pm, Heckenberger texted Koehler to say, "S--t Gus [Gustavo] wasn't lying. I only took half of one & I could Probably fall asleep standing up tell him to be careful with Them too."

At 12:36 am on August 9, Rivera texted Heckenberger to ask, "How they make you feel?"

She never answered.

In the meantime, Heckenberger's mother had fallen asleep on the couch and woke up on August 9 at 2:30 am. She decided to check on her daughter before going to bed. Her daughter had turned blue and was non responsive.

Colonial Regional Police arrived as her parents and brother tried to revive her. Emergency medical personnel continued the CPR that had been started by her parents,and relayed data from an AED device to St.Luke's Hospital. The hospital instructed first responders to discontinue CPR, and Heckenberger was pronounced dead at 3:30 am.

Bill Blake and John Morganelli
Police found no evidence of foul play They did find a blue speckled round pill with a "30" on one side and an "M" on the other. This resembles a standard 30 mg Percocet tablet. The pill was inside an unmarked bottle

An autopsy that day revealed that Heckenberger died as a result of  "acute intoxication." Coroner Zach Lysek ruled that the manner of death was accidental. He told the grand jury that Heckenberger's death was a direct result of the fentanyl and heroin in her system.

The pill discovered by police. Forensic analysis revealed that, instead of Percocet, the pill was a combination of heroin and fentanyl. In Mexico, this is called "El Diablito," or the little devil.

Fenanyl is 25 to 40 times more powerful than heroin. It is so strong that the Centers for Disease Control recommends that first responders avoid skin contact. It is cheap to produce, and comes primarily from Mexico and China. It killed 20,000 people last year, including Tom Petty and Prince.

The Northampton County Investigating Grand Jury recommended criminal charges against Rivera, and District Attorney John Morganelli on Friday approved a criminal complaint accusing Rivera of delivery of a controlled substance, delivery of a counterfeit controlled substance and a drug delivery that resulted in the death of another person. All three charges are felonies.

Rivera faces a maximum sentence of 70 years, as well as maximum fines of $500,000

Will Koehler be charged? DA John Morganelli declined comment on that possibility. She did testify before the grand jury, and described the procedure under which Heckenberger deposited money in Koehler's mailbox, which Rivera would then use to buy pills. Once or twice, Koehler admitted that she helped transfer money from Heckenberger to Rivera. Koehler also testified that Rivera admitted to her that he thought he had purchased Percocet pills and that the lookalike she took must have killed her.

Morganelli said the investigation is by no means over. Rivera's cell phone texts reveal that he has a source - "my boy that has em."

What happened to Heckenberger is one of at least three fatal lookalike overdoses over the past year. Two of these occurred in Bethlehem. Assistant DA Bill Blake, who oversees the investigating grand jury, believes there are more.

Morganelli is warning purchasers of illicit street drugs that they may be in "real peril and danger." He urged those with addictions to seek help. "Our goal is to save lives," he said. "Those who are involved in the sale of street drugs do not care about your safety. They care only about their profits."

Addendum: Det. Michael Melinsky of Colonial Regional Police Department arrested Rivera Oct. 29, when he turned himself in. Magisterial District Judge John Capobianco. Bail was set in the amount of $200,000, and Rivera is currently incarcerated at Northampton County jail. Rivera is represented by Scott Wilhelm, a lawyer from Phillipsburg, NJ.

NorCo Publishes Poll Locator

If you live in Northampton County and are confused about where you need to vote, the GIS Department that will give you the location of your polling place. What's more it will provide directions. It even includes a map of the district. Just click here.

The general election will be held on Tuesday, November 6th. The polls are open from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Any registered voter in line at 8:00 PM will be allowed to cast a ballot. Any voter who needs assistance can ask for help. No identification is required unless you are a first time voter or are voting for the first time in your precinct. Voters who are denied voting machine access can still cast what is known as a provisional ballot.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Star of Wild's Cancer Ad Works For Her

Earlier this month, Congressional wannabe Susan Wild ran a TV ad starring a cancer survivor named Jo Ann Connors. "I don’t understand why Marty Nothstein wants to take away our insurance," worries Connors. "It keeps me awake at night. What would we do? What would my children do? It’s terrifying."

It's also bullshit.

Nothstein has made clear on several occasions that he supports continued coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

“I am on record as supporting current law that requires insurers to cover preexisting conditions. Likewise, I am in favor of policies that would ensure health care for every citizen who wants it,” Nothstein said in a statement released to the press. “What I oppose is government forcing people to purchase policies they do not want and imposing plans that take away a patient’s choice of doctor.”

Nothstein was particularly upset by that ad because members of his own family are cancer survivors.

As it turns out, Jo Ann Connors is actually employed as a certified paralegal in Susan Wild's law firm.

Nothstein mentioned this at a WAEB-790AM interview last week. The proof that he is accurate is in the link provided above.

So basically, Wild used a firm employee as a prop in a fake ad.

She's worried Nothstein wants to take away her insurance? What about a law firm with 34 employees? Is Connors saying that Wild's law firm provides no health insurance for their employees?

This is precisely what I mean when I say Wild is dishonest.

I'll have another story about a case in which she was involved, but need to finish my research.

NorCo Jail Passes State Inspection

One of the reasons why former Exec John Brown wanted to spend a gazillion dollars at the jail and move it to Gracedale is because he was sure it would never pass state inspection. It just did.

Both the Jail and the West Easton work-release facility earned full compliance during the 2018 inspection by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. No deficiencies or citations were cited within the report.

Due to this achievement, the Northampton County Department of Corrections is exempt from the normal one-year inspection cycle and won’t be inspected again until 2020.

“We’re very proud of the men and women who work at these facilities,” says Executive Lamont McClure. “This report shows that, by their adherence to safety protocols, our employees are keeping the inmates, the public, and themselves as safe as possible.”

Fortunately, this inspection was done before Ken Kraft got there. That alone should justify about 100 citations.

Monday, October 29, 2018

My Own Anti-Semitism

In yesterday's story about the senseless slaughter of Jews in Pittsburgh, I quoted Wayne Woodman. He compared Jews like himself to "the canary in the coalmine." When they are vilified, our Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom is threatened.

Some of those reacting to this tragedy attempted to minimize the perceived rise in anti-Semitism, saying it's being confused with criticism of Israeli policies. Here's what I know. As a Lehigh Valley product raised in a Lehigh Valley community, I was taught to be an anti-Semite myself.

I grew up in Hellertown, and at a time when Jews and black people were held in low regard. I was told black people were not allowed to use the pool because they smell very bad in the summer.

If a person felt he made a bad trade or was cheated when buying something, he claimed he had been "jewed." I remember saying that myself.

In the seventh grade, I remember saying at recess that Sister Raymond's nose was as big as a Jew's. One of the girls dimed me. Sister Raymond grabbed me and beat the shit out of me, something that happened often. Was she upset at me for my anti-Semitic remark? Not at all. "My nose is not as big as a Jew's," she shouted as she laid into me, which I kinda' liked.

This prejudice did not come from my mother or father, but the community. My mother was very tolerant. After all, she married my father. As for him, he ridiculed every ethnic group. Jew, black, Pennsylvania Dutch, Italian. It made no difference. I eventually realized, as I grew older, that he was probably more tolerant as my mom, but in his own twisted Irish way.

He once told a story at the dinner table about a farmer who had retained him. At that time,there were only two lawyers in town - my father and Leonard Cohn, a Jew.

This Pennsylvania Dutch farmer did not want to use my dad, who was at least on paper a Catholic. But the other lawyer was a Jew. The farmer concluded Catholics were not as bad as Jews.

It was not until I reached high school that I was enlightened by nuns (from a different order) and brothers who really knew what they were doing. I know my mental programming is to be anti-Semitic. It has diminished as I have aged and have learned that much of what was drummed into me as a child was simply wrong. But it's still there.

I know many in my community, especially older people like myself, were raised exactly like me. I hear the remarks. For years, I let it go. Now I correct these people, unless it's humor. They get very indignant, denying their prejudice.

Bizarre Anti-Wild Robocall

One of my readers got a robocall on Sunday, the day of rest, that begins "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The most ungodly congressional candidate ever is Attorney Wild ... ."

What I consider ungodly is an ugly attack like that, and on a Sunday.

Interfaith Community Vigil

There will be an Interfaith Community Vigil on Wednesday, October 31, 2018, 7 p.m., at the JCC of the Lehigh Valley to mourn the tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue, pray for the victims and survivors, and show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh.

One of the most hopeful things I have seen from this tragedy are the statements of support from Muslims all over. One group calling itself Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue have raised $75,00 as of 7 pm for funeral and medical expenses.
We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: "Show mercy to those on earth, and the One in the Heavens will show mercy to you." The Quran also teaches us to "Repel evil by that which is better" (41:34).

McClure: Your Vote Will Count

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Canaries in the Coal Mine

Earlier this year, during a Congressional debate at Congregation Brith Shalom, I was surprised when Moderator Barry Goldin said that anti-Semitism has seen a 60% increase in the United States, Britain and France. It's 80% on college campuses, and includes professors. As a result, Jewish institutions like Brith Shalom must spend money on security that could be devoted to other needs.

Wayne Woodman was standing in for Marty Nothstein because he was at a Commissioners' meeting. Woodman is Jewish. He said he experienced a lot of anti-Semitism growing up. He agreed that anti-Semitism is on the rise in a way that has not been seen since the '30s. He suspects identity politics is at least one of the root causes. "We're the canary in the coal mine," he warned.

Tragically, the canary in the coal mine has keeled over. According to CBS Pittsburgh, a loan gunman has killed at least 11 people at The Tree of Life synagogue.

This should be a warning to us as a nation that we have a serious problem.

The Anti Defamation League has released this statement:
"Our hearts break for the families of those killed and injured at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and for the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh. This is likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. We are actively engaged with law enforcement to support their investigation and call on authorities to investigate this as a hate crime.

"It is simply unconscionable for Jews to be targeted during worship on a Sabbath morning, and unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age. Unfortunately, this violent attack – the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the United States since 2014 – occurs at time when ADL has reported a historic increase in both anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Semitic online harassment. As we mourn those lost and search for answers, ADL will remain steadfast in its mission to fight anti-Semitism wherever and whenever it may occur." 
I have seen and delete it on this blog.

This country and this state in particular were founded on the principle of religious tolerance. I want to express my condolences to one and all Jews.

Friday, October 26, 2018

An Ugly Debate

Sue Wild, Marty Nothstein & Tim Sifies
Gracedale's tiny chapel is going to need an exorcism after last night's Pa-7 Congressional debate starring Tim Silfies, Susan Wild and Marty Nothstein. The 200 people jammed inside had no interest in Divine guidance or spiritual inspiration. They were there to see the other side bashed in an ugly display uncharacteristic of League of Women Voter sponsored debates. LWV official Beverly Hernandez asked the audience for civility before the show got started. "We're all Americans," she reminded everyone. Moderator John Kincaid asked the audience to hold applause until the end. These requests were ignored.

LWV's Beverly Hernandez
Wild and Nothstein supporters were both guilty of poor behavior, applauding and jeering answers. At the end of the night, Silfies remarked on the divide within the room, saying the audience "was not so much listening as rooting for a team."

I expected this immature behavior at the NextGen America debate, but not in a crowd of geriatrics who themselves are one step away from being Gracedale residents.

The debate itself started off with Wild predicting that she would be attacked that night with untruths about her from her opponent. Nothstein began by claiming that almost all of his campaign money comes from Pennsylvania, while Wild is getting her money from Nancy Pelosi. He said he stands for freedom and liberty. To find out what Wild stands for, "just follow the money." Silfies portrayed Nothstein and Wild as two sides of the same coin. He's tired of endless war, mountains of debt and broken government, and promised to bring common sense and an independent voice.

The maddening crowd
The first question of the night was the two top priorities of each candidate.

Wild answered that her two top priorities are health care reform and infrastructure. Nothstein agreed. Silfies said his top priority was figuring out a way to pay for these things with $21 trillion in debt.

Just a few weeks ago, at the Business Matters debate, Wild said her top priority was campaign finance reform. Nothstein said it was the national debt. Silfies agreed with the $21 trillion debt.

Susan Wild
The only candidate who gave consistent answers to the top priority question was Silfies.

Speaking of campaign finance reform, I can understand why Wild dropped that as a top priority. Her campaign has received over $2 million in PAC money, most from out of state. Silfies hit her pretty hard on this point.

"She talks about representing the common man, but then she takes more than a quarter million dollars from one PAC composed of Wall Street big wigs who want power and influence. She talks about sensible policy in the Middle East, and she takes PAC money from PACs that get their money from Boeing, Lockheed Martin. These are the backbone of the military industrial complex. These are companies that profit from selling arms for wars."

Tim Silfies
Wild responded weakly she takes money from value-based PACS, not corporate PACs.

Nothstein was at his strongest when he talked about his support for tax cuts. He wants them made permanent.

"Right now we see a booming economy in the Lehigh Valley. That's a direct result of the tax cuts. Speak to anybody. Speak to anyone who owns a small business. I'm one of them. I'm washing more cars. Right now the tax cuts are very important to every day working people and to small business owners like myself, who now have confidence to invest in the business. This is the type of stuff we need to make permanent and keep the money in your pocket and less in the government's pocket."

Wild is opposed, saying most of the tax cuts go to the wealthy one per cent and major corporations. But she agrees tax reform is needed. She called the proposed tax cut is an "election year stunt."

Nothstein meets LWV officials
Nothstein took issue with the one per cent argument.

"Sounds like my opponent is not for the tax cuts to put more money in the working man's pockets. You talk about one per cent. I met a lot of truck drivers, construction workers, who have seen more money in their hard-earned paycuts. I ask them, 'What do those crumbs get you?' 'Marty, for the first time in seven years, I was able to take my family to the shore. Marty, for the first time I've been able to take my kids to Hershey Park.' These are positive results of these tax cuts. More jobs, lower taxes, better future. Unemployment right now is at the lowest level since 1969. Wages grew nearly three per cent, the highest since 2009 and nicely outpacing inflation. A record seven million jobs are on the market, more jobs available than people willing to work. Pennsylvania has added more jobs this year than at any time over the last 18 years. Record job growth in Pennsylvania, also right here in the Lehigh Valley. Why? Tax cuts. More money.People are motivated. USS has reported that middle class income rose to record levels. Last time I checked, middle class wasn't one per cent. So I don't know who you're hanging around with, aside from your donors. These tax cuts are helping people. These are hard working, hard hat wearing, backhoe driving people who are seeing more money in their pockets, and they like the tax cuts."

Wild was at her strongest when she defended a woman's right to choose against pro-life candidate Nothstein.

"I do not believe the government belongs in anybody's medical examination room.It isn't there in men's examination rooms; it doesn't belong in women's. The decision about whether to terminate a pregnancy is a decision that should be made between a woman,her partner and a physician. ... It's a misconception that Planned Parenthood uses federal funding for abortions. they do not. Planned Parenthood provides vital, comprehensive health services for many, many women across all income sectors across the country."

I'm still trying to understand what Silfies said on that point.

At the end of the debate, when candidates were given the opportunity to question each other, they all did a pretty lousy job. Silfies managed to get Wild to say some nice things about Trump. I still haven't figured out what point Nothstein was attempting to make about Wild's legal career. He's no cross-examiner. But neither is Attorney Wild. She attempted to blast Nothstein for trying to tie her to disgraced Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski, now serving a 15-year sentence for political corruption. She opened the door to this response:

"I find it hard to believe that when you were asked about the contract process with your job as Solicitor, that [you said], 'We believe there is no wrongdoing here.' There obviously was a lot of wrongdoing. So you were either incompetent or you were just completely unaware or complicit in what was going 30' down the hallway from you."

Wild responded that all the wrongdoing took place before she became City Solicitor.

"Susan, it's your quote. 'We believe there is no wrongdoing here.'"

It was a strange debate in which the Republican candidate claimed with some justification to be the voice of average Americans while the Democrat was tied to the one percenters she disdains. The Libertarian made a point of distinguishing himself from the two major party candidates, but pretty much gave the same answer to every question. No candidate could claim to be the winner or labeled the loser.

The losers were the audience. I have no idea why people from Central America would walk thousands of miles to have those kinds of neighbors.

NorCo Retirees To Get 1.7% COLA in 2019

John Spagnola
At the request of Executive Lamont McClure, Northampton County's Retirement Board voted 6-0 at their October 25 meeting to grant a 1.7% cost-of-living increase (COLA) to retirees, effective January 1, 2019.
Voting for this increase were McClure, County Council members Ron Heckman and Bill McGee, Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron, employee representative Thomas Guth, Jr., and retiree representative Gerald E. "Jerry" Seyfried. It will be the first COLA granted to retirees since John Stoffa was Executive.

Under state law, a COLA is currently limited to the increase in the Consumer Price Index for the 12-month period ending August 31, 2018. The Board has no longer has discretion to award a COLA for prior years.

The COLA will apply to all employees who retired in 2017 or in prior years. It will have no application to employees who retire in 2018.

The amount required to fund this increase is $3,451,553.

Fund Manager and former Philadelphia Eagle John Spagnola warned the Board that the stock market is undergoing a period of volatility right now. He attributes this to the trade war with China, rising interest rates from the Federal Reserve and the upcoming mid-term elections.

The pension fund was at $416 million on September 30, while the OPEB (other post employment benefits) was at $42 million.

Spagnola predicts slower growth ahead, saying the economy was on a "sugar high" as a result of the tax cuts

What if the House flips? Spagnola said that the stock market liked mixed government.

Erratum, 2:44 pm: My story originally stated that Bill Guth was the employee representative. It is, in fact, Thomas Guth, Jr. I apologize to both Guths and my readers for my error.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Morganelli Designates $5,000 For Youth Mentoring Program

Tina Queen
NorCo DA John Morganelli yesterday presented Shiloh Baptist Church Senior Pastor Phil Davis with $5,000 to help fund The Next Mentoring Program for area children ages 7-18. The current class of 95, which meets on Wednesday nights, runs from October until May. There are 50 adult mentors, who help these kids avoid the danger of drugs, gangs, alcohol and crime.

Morganelli is using the drug forfeiture fund for this grant. Seventy-five percent of that fund goes to law enforcement, but Morganelli has been travelling to different municipalities within Northampton County to determine worthy projects to support.

In addition to providing classes every Wednesday night, the students are also fed.

In addition to providing gang awareness and drug prevention workshops, Lehigh University and Easton Area School District have agreed to provide SAT preparation for juniors and seniors at no cost to the students.

Minister LaVar Landers
According to a 2014 study of Lehigh Valley education, only 13% of Latino Americans and 18% of Black Americans earn a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

Rev. Davis said the mentorship program is "preventative maintenance" designed to help children before hey get into trouble.

Davis said his wife Kristina is actually the originator of the program, which began 15-20 years ago. He also introduced Jason Vanderburg, who handles community outreach, the food pantry and homeless shelter; and Minister LaVar Landers, who oversees the teen portion of the program. . 

A highly respected member of Morganelli's staff, Ms.Tina Queen, is herself a mentor. In addition to her work for the DA, she also works at a local retailer to help ends meet, like many county employees. Yet she makes the time to be a mentor.

Lavar Landers described a mentor as someone "who has a heart for children." He said mentors "sharpen themselves while they sharpen others."

Morganelli said that this program has operated "under the radar," but is precisely what is needed throughout the Lehigh Valley.

Easton NAACP President Lance Wheeler has alsooffered his organization's assistance.

Fuel Assistance Available to NorCo Seniors

Exec Lamont McClure and the Northampton County Area Agency on Aging will begin the Emergency Fuel Assistance Program on Nov 1. This program is for once-a-season fuel assistance of $380.

“Last winter was brutal, especially for people who had to struggle to pay the costs of heating their homes,” says Lamont McClure. “I would encourage any eligible senior to sign up for the Emergency Fuel Assistance Program. No one should be without heat when the weather turns

In order to be eligible, an individual needs to be 60 years of age or older, reside in Northampton County, and have already applied for and received or been denied Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) benefits. Their fuel tank needs to be at 1/8 full or
less and, for non-oil heat, the individual must have received a shut-off notice.

Referrals can be called in to Northampton County Information & Referral 610-559-3270.

When a referral is received, a Northampton County Area Agency on Aging Caremanager will contact the individual to determine eligibility.

NorCo Prothy, Clerk of Criminal Courts, Claim Staff Is Underpaid.

NorCo's Liberty Bell
At yesterday's budget hearing, Northampton County Council heard from the row officers. These include the Prothonotary (a fancy name for the person who manages the office in which civil cases are filed), Clerk of Criminal Courts, Clerk of Orphans Court/Register of Wills and the Archivist.

Council member John Cusick has been making a point of asking each department head (1) if more people are needed and (2) whether compensation is adequate.

Gina Gibbs, the combination Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans Court, told Council there is no problem in her office, which has had the same people for the past six years. "They love me, I love them," she said. The managers of both Civil and Criminal Divisions,however, said their staff is underpaid.

"Our office is very busy," noted Prothonotary Holly Ruggerio. Her office is ground zero for all civil matters, from mortgage foreclosures to protection from abuse act petitions. She said her staff must familiarize themselves with both state and county rules of civil procedure, and that their work is "complicated" and "fast-paced." Though she failed to mention it, her office also handles numerous passport applications. Yet the salary paid to Civil Division employees is lower than what is paid to clerks in other, less stressful, offices. As a result, she is plagued by "constant turnover." Though most of the employees stay with the county, she is constantly forced to train new people.

Cusick called the Civil Division a "core function of county government. It is vital that we be adequately staffed there."

Another core function of county government is the Criminal Division. That's ground zero for all criminal filings, from bad checks to murder. Leigh Ann Fisher is the Clerk. Though she said she's been able to retain staff, they are underpaid. "We should be on the same level as the MDJ (Magisterial District Judge) offices," she argued, adding that her employees spend 75% of their time in court.

Archivist Renee Drago seems content with her staff of five, but said her department is slowly becoming engulfed in paper coming primarily from Gracedale. She noted many departments are failing to scan these records, which would make paper retention unnecessary.

Administrator Charles Dertinger agreed with Drago, informing Council that at the current rate, the archives building will be engulfed in unnecessary paperwork within two years. Departments are being encouraged to scan documents. He noted that the county did have a lease to store Gracedale documents at another building,but it was ended by the previous administration.

In addition to the row offices, Northampton County Council reviewed the budgets for the District Attorney and Public Defender, with little comment. Neither department seeks additional staff or major increases. Council VP Ron Heckman commended Chief Public Defender Nuria DiLuzio and her staff of 18 assistants with providing legal assistance to those without means.

"The DAs get the ink, but the PDs do the work," he bellowed. Of course, he waited until DA John Morganelli was gone before making this ridiculous statement. Not only does Morganelli spend most weekends at the courthouse, but he is the man police call when someone is arrested for murder at 3 am.

It's more accurate to say that both offices work hard.

Council also heard from Corrections Director James Kostura, who wants to add six guards to his staff. He said it's to combat turnover, injured officers and overtime. Though no one questioned him on this point, I sure would.

If he's unable to keep the officers he has now, what on earth makes him think that adding six more will make a difference?

If you wish to stop the mandated overtime and turnover, start paying officers what they are worth, and stop the salary compression.

Sheriff Rich Johnston explained that there's been an increase in overtime this year because deputies have been assigned to 72 hospital visits so far this year, as opposed to 60 last year. 

Coroner Zach Lysek predicts that the number of fatal opiod overdoes this year will be close to the 109 deaths reported last year. He added that Narcan doses cost between $400-$1,000, but the Department of Health purchases them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Fed Ed's Tragic Finale

I skipped the sentencing hearing yesterday for former Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski. His hubris did him in long before Judge Juan R. Sánchez imposed a 15-year sentence. Remember, this is the man who admitted at his trial he "wasn't correctly telling the truth" during his FBI interview. Yet he tried to foist one last lie on Judge Juan R. Sánchez. Since the federal investigation became known, he has tried very hard to reinvent himself as the nice guy who tells us to be kind to one another. He's become a man of the downtrodden. I know a much different Fed Ed.

In 2007, when LANTA decided to remove bus stops between 7th and 10th on Hamilton Street, the mostly minority merchants reached out to Fed Ed for help. He refused to even speak to them. He refused to speak with me, too.

One of those he ignored was Bibi Hazra, who then operated the Loco Dollar Store in downtown Allentown. I'll never forget her words.

"He's our father. He's the father of our house. He's supposed to take care of us. If he doesn't take care of his children, who can he take care of?"

The rich.

His campaign finance reports and city contracts tell us who he was really serving.

Judge Sánchez saw through the bullshit.

Press reports indicate he's on his way to the Federal Detention Center in Philly until he's classified. He'd be better off on a slave ship being used as an oar.

What's most remarkable is his complete absence of remorse.

His unwillingness to face his own flaws and be honest with himself paved the way to federal prison for him.

I take no satisfaction in seeing him incarcerated. His years in office haven done great damage to the city he claims to have served. Now he's serving 15.

NorCo Liberty Bell Finally in Courthouse Rotunda

Liberty Bell finally in rotunda
One of my first stories as a blogger was about Northampton County's forgotten Liberty Bell. It was tucked away in some forgotten hallway. In response to numerous complaints from yours truly, former Executive John Stoffa had it moved next to some courtrooms. That way some people would see it. I felt the best spot was the rotunda, where every visitor would see it. Guess what? It's finally there, where it belongs.

I understand that Administrator Charles Dertinger is the reason this finally happened. 

The iron tongue of Northampton County's Liberty Bell proclaimed Independence on July 8, 1776, in Easton's circle. It tolled from our first courthouse. In fact, that bell is all that's left of the original courthouse.

It was first forged in 1768, and summoned the people of Easton to fight fires, rang out the opening of court sessions, and was also used to announce news. The bell tolled to announce courthouse sessions when the courthouse moved from Easton's Centre Square to its current location in 1861.

Thousand of county residents lined Easton's streets at the end of WWII to tug on the Northampton County Liberty Bell, which rang out for twenty-four hours.

Northampton County's Liberty Bell is a symbol of independence and a warning against tyranny

There is a terrible poetry in the sound of that State House Bell at dead of night, when striking its sudden and solemn — One! — It rouses crime from its task, mirth from its wine-cup, murder from its knife, bribery from its gold. There is a terrible poetry in that sound. It speaks to us like a voice from our youth — like a knell of God's judgment — like a solemn yet kind remembrancer of friends, now dead and gone.

There is a terrible poetry in that sound at dead of night: but there was a day when the echo of that Bell awoke a world, slumbering in tyranny and crime!

Yes, as the old man swung the Iron Tongue, the Bell spoke to all the world. That sound crossed the Atlantic — pierced the dungeons of Europe — the work shops of England — the vassal-fields of France.

That Echo spoke to the slave — bade him look from his toil — and know himself a man.

That Echo startled the Kings upon their crumbling thrones.

That Echo was the knell of King-craft, Priest-craft and all other crafts born of the darkness of ages, and baptized in seas of blood.

Morning Call Refuses LTE Critical of State Rep.Gary Day

I often hear that The Morning Call is a biased rag. I agree it's biased, but believe the bias is neither liberal nor conservative. It is instead slanted to support crony capitalists. That's why it was so unwilling to take a hard look at Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski over his years in office. It finally started when the feds were knocking at the door. This paper has always cast its lot with whomever it identifies as the ruling elite, no matter which party. So it's no surprise that this supposed guardian of free expression declined to publish Richard Horton's LTE criticizing Republican State Rep. Gary Day.

As a nerd, I actually look at campaign finance reports of my elected representatives to find out who they really represent

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my State Rep Gary Day (PA 187th) has received $25,000 from each of the two top people with the Rothrock automobile dealerships. That was two years ago, when he did not even have an opponent in the general election.

$50,000! Wow! That is potentially more than many people at the dealership earn annually - and more than half the salary of a state representative.

It kind of makes me wonder whom Gary Day is working for. I don't think it is me.

Richard Horton

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

DA: Lookalike Percocet Pills Killing People

lookalike prescription drug
Lookalike Percocet pills sold on Lehigh Valley streets are killing people. That's a warning from NorCo DA John Morganelli. At a Oct 22 news conference, he discussed three fatal overdoses over the past year. Victims took heroin and fentanyl disguised as Percocet.

Fenanyl is 25 to 40 times more powerful than heroin. It is so strong that the Centers for Disease Control recommends that first responders avoid skin contact. It is cheap to produce, and comes primarily from Mexico and China. It killed 20,000 people last year, including Tom Petty and Prince.

Morganelli described one case involving a 27 year old Lower Nazareth woman. She suffered from gastroparesis, a painful abdominal condition. Opioids actually worsen this condition. She nevertheless obtained what she thought were two Percocet pills, stamped with a "30" on one side and an "M" on the other.

The "30" refers to 30 milligrams, and Assistant DA Bill Blake said it's also the cost in dollars on the street. The "M" should be a reference to Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures Percocet.

With a prescription, it costs about $70 for 35 pills.

She took one pill. She never needed to take another. The first pill killed her in what an autopsy later determined was "acute intoxication."

Analysis of the remaining blue speckled round pill revealed it was fentanyl mixed with heroin. In Mexico, this is called "El Diablito," or the little devil.

Morganelli announced that his office is investigating all of these fatal overdoses. He expects to announce an arrest soon. In the meantime, he is warning purchasers of illicit street drugs that they may be in "real peril and danger." He urged those with addictions to seek help. "Our goal is to save lives," he said. "Those who are involved in the sale of street drugs do not care about your safety. They care only about their profits."

Could Wild and Nothstein Both Win?

That's a possibility. Most analysts are predicting a that Sue Wild will beat Marty Nothstein by a comfortable margin in the new Pa. 7th CD. But they are forgetting the old 15th? There's a special election going on in that district, too. That district is far more conservative. Do not be surprised if Nothstein gets to serve the last weeks of Dent's term.

Delano's Den: Midterm Analysis

Jon Delano, Money and Politics editor at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, can be reached here. Here's his analysis.

In just two weeks, some 90 million Americans are expected to go to the polls in the 2018 Mid-term Election. Sadly, that's still only 42 percent of the electorate, and, of course, voter turnout will dip and rise depending on the state and the contest. I have seen reports that turnout could be larger than normal, so who knows.

Once again, Pennsylvania is critical in whether there is really a "blue Democratic wave" sweeping the country or whether Trump Republicans & Trump Democrats will turn out to stem what everyone assumes will be GOP electoral losses on November 6.

Will Republicans maintain control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress and the vast majority of governorships? Or will some outpouring of anti-Trump fervor sweep the Democrats into at least partial control of parts of the government?

As a TV and radio political analyst for nearly 25 years and public policy graduate school professor for almost as long, this is my periodic report to you. If you are new to receiving this, welcome. I hope you stay on board. If you are a regular, thanks for your loyalty.

As always, if you need a speaker or moderator for a public policy program or a review of what happened in this election and what it all means, send me an email at jon@jondelano.com. I love to talk politics!

My focus in this newsletter is Pennsylvania and its unique role in this unfolding political drama. A lot is at stake on November 6. Do Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who oppose President Trump and a Republican Congress (that hardly ever stands up to him) show up to vote in record numbers? Or do Republicans, Democrats, and Independents who like what the President is doing say "more of the same" for the next two years?

As I outline below, Pennsylvanians will play a key role in answering those questions.

Feel free to share this newsletter with others, and let me know what you think, give me your comments, or send me off-the-record insights at jon@jondelano.com.


For the Democrats to have the slightest chance of a majority in the U.S. Senate, Bob Casey must be reelected by Pennsylvanians. For the U.S. House of Representatives to go Democratic this fall, Democrats must pick up at least four Pennsylvania congressional seats in the House. And, finally, for state Democrats to have any say in Harrisburg, especially with respect to redistricting following the 2020 Census, Gov. Tom Wolf must be reelected.

For those convinced Democrats will sweep, I would suggest a gentle reminder that this state voted for and elected Donald Trump president of the United States in 2016. Although his margin was just 44,000 votes out of 6.1 million cast, his victory, especially in western PA where he won every county except Allegheny, was impressive.

This state is always up for grabs, and the margin of victory (for either party) is almost always in the single digits. In former PA Sen. Scott Wagner and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, the Republicans have two credible candidates for governor and Senate, although each has flaws like the incumbents they challenge. I would not write them off just because national pundits think this will be a "Democratic" year. Pennsylvanians will make up their own minds in the next two weeks, and depending on voter turnout, the margin is likely to be closer than many think.

So let's take a better look at these contests.



If anyone thought this was going to be an exciting race between two highly charged candidates for the top office in the Commonwealth, they didn't really know Gov. Tom Wolf, the Democratic incumbent. In my view, he has done everything possible to keep this race -- and his Republican opponent Scott Wagner -- below the radar screen, and Wagner has been complicit.

Oh, sure, we've seen plenty of TV ads, predictably hailing the state's top executive and attacking Wagner -- and, of course, Wagner is doing the same to Wolf, although with much less money to do so.

But the governor's strategy from the get-go was to deny Wagner any kind of "free media" platform, and that has largely worked. For his part, Wagner's free media has not really helped the challenger (e.g., "I'll stomp all over his face with golf spikes.").

Wolf broke with tradition to deny Wagner any legitimate public debate (unless you count the ludicrous Alex Trebek show at the PA Chamber of Business & Industry a "legitimate" debate when Trebek used more time to talk than either Wagner or Wolf).

Former Gov. Tom Corbett gave challenger Wolf the "traditional" three debates in 2014, but Wolf was of no mind to accord the same to Wagner. So other than their paid advertising and periodic print & broadcast stories, this race has been surprisingly docile.


That has to be good news for Wolf.

Only one incumbent governor has lost reelection since1970 when PA governors were given the right to serve a second term, and that, of course, was Corbett in 2014. All the others were reelected. Some were reasonably close. Gov. Milton Shapp beat Drew Lewis by 300,000 votes in 1974; Gov. Dick Thornburgh beat Allen Ertel by just 100,000 votes in 1982.

But others were landslides. Gov. Tom Ridge beat Ivan Itkin by nearly 800,000 votes in 1998; Gov. Ed Rendell beat Lynn Swann by 830,000 votes in 2006; and Gov. Bob Casey beat Barbara Hafer by 1.1 million votes in 1990.

It's not that Wolf's been the perfect governor. Democratic insiders complain that he is rarely strategically "political" and gets "jerked around" by the Republicans who control the General Assembly. But, in fairness, it's hard to be a Democrat in Harrisburg when the party is so weak in the state House and Senate. What surprises many is that Wolf has actually been able to make some progress on some issues with the legislature, and he has been unafraid to use "executive" power to achieve other goals.

But on the issues that Wagner complains most about -- taxes, deficits, school funding, etc. -- whatever Wolf has done (or not done) has been because of the Republican-controlled legislature.

In the larger scheme of national politics, what matters most to Democrats is that Tom Wolf be in place to veto Republican bills, especially those that pertain to reducing voting rights, limiting health care, and gerrymandering districts after the 2020 census. That's why if this is a Democratic "wave" election, Wolf will win a second term.



Democrats would love to control the U.S. Senate. After all, that's the body that has given President Trump a record number of judges and other appointments that many have criticized, including the 50-48 confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, which almost certainly means a "scaling back" in some way of abortion rights in the years to come.

The Republicans only hold the Senate 51 to 49 (counting the two Independents, Bernie Sanders & Angus King as Democrats with whom they caucus), so it would seem very do-able at first blush.

But Democrats are defending 26 of the 35 Senate seats on the ballot, and 10 of those are in states that Trump won in 2016. Five of these Democratic incumbents are running in states that the president won in a landslide: Claire McCaskill (Missouri +18); Joe Donnelly (Indiana +19); Jon Tester (Montana +20); Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota +35); and Joe Manchin (West Virginia +41).

Besides these five presumed "vulnerable" Democrats, there is at least one other Democratic incumbent in the "toss up" category. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida is facing a strong challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott in another state won by Trump.

To win control of the U.S. Senate, it's not enough that Democratic incumbents win reelection everywhere in the country. They must also defeat Republicans or win open seats in at least two other states, three if Heitkamp loses in North Dakota, as many predict. [Don't forget. Vice President Pence breaks the tie in a 50-50 body].

Right now, Democrats have three (maybe four) states that (maybe) could elect a Democratic senator: Arizona where U.S. Rep. Krysten Sinema (D) will face off against U.S. Rep. Martha Sally (R); Nevada where U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) is trying to upend U.S. Sen. Dean Heller (R); Tennessee where former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) has a shot at beating U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn(R); and Texas where U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D) is running uphill but stronger-than-expected against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R).

With just two weeks to go, some polls show Democrats behind in all four of these states, although at this stage I caution that what really counts is the Get-Out-The-Vote effort of each campaign. For example, if every Hispanic American in Texas turned out to vote for O'Rourke over Cruz to protest President Trump's immigration policy, O'Rourke would win. That seems unlikely, but theories like this will make Election Night interesting for many of us political addicts.

The number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight say the Democrats have a 19.8 percent chance of taking control of the Senate. A long-shot, yes, but do-able if there really is a turn-out wave for Democrats.

Into this mix is the race for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania where President Trump and state Republicans think they see a particularly vulnerable incumbent in Bob Casey.

Can a Casey be Defeated in Pennsylvania?

"He's not like his father," says President Trump and many other GOP leaders in Pennsylvania.

By that they mean, of course, that U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is not the ideological conservative Democrat that his late father, Gov. Bob Casey, was, a man often at odds with the national Democratic establishment of his era.

But if Casey the Younger is in step with his party of the 21st century, why should that surprise anyone?

The more important question is, has Casey given voters any reason to deny him a third term in 2018? At this stage, most polls suggest not. The most recent poll has Casey up by 14 points. Considering he won in 2012 by just 8 points over an even lesser known GOP candidate (Tom Smith), many suspect this race is closer than the polling shows a few weeks out.

Still, the incumbent Democrat starts off with huge advantages. Name recognition, for one. A Bob Casey, often unrelated, has been on the state ballot since the 1966. Everybody knows Bob Casey.

Second, money. As of September 30, Casey had cash-on-hand of $6.7 million, having raised $20.9 million in the cycle, while his Republican challenger had $1.3 million on hand with an overall take of $6.2 million.

Third, message. Casey has been increasingly critical of the President with stronger words and louder rhetoric than the soft-spoken senator usually utters. There's nothing wishy-washy about his positions on issues these days, a clear sign that he thinks Pennsylvanians want someone who will stand up to the President.

Enter U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta of Hazleton PA in Luzerne County, not far from where Casey grew up in northeastern PA.

Barletta is President Trump's favorite candidate in Pennsylvania, urging him to run for Senate from the get-go. No surprise there. Barletta was an early supporter of Candidate Trump in 2016, and co-chaired the president's ultimately successful campaign in this state.

Most people don't know Barletta, as he doesn't come from the mega-media markets of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Still, he was a small town mayor who made big waves with his opposition to illegal immigration in Hazleton. It's obviously one of several issues that unites him with Trump.

In fact, when I asked Barletta where he disagreed with the president, he could only offer one -- he supported the Eagles in the Super Bowl, while Trump backed the Patriots. By the way, in a sign of how tight Trump and Barletta are, Barletta was one of the few invited to Mar-a-Lago to watch the Super Bowl with the president.

So if you're looking for a referendum on Donald Trump, the Casey-Barletta race is clearly one.

Trump is taking significant personal interest in this race, already campaigning for Barletta in Erie and earlier in Wilkes-Barre where he called the soft-spoken Casey "Sleeping Bob." A month or so later, that evolved into a rather well-made TV ad showing a Casey look-alike sleeping.

Of course, when it comes to most things Trump, Casey has found his voice, which is usually strong and sometimes strident. There is little doubt that Barletta is right that Casey has taken a turn to the left over the last few years. The question is, in the era of Donald Trump, do Pennsylvanians care?

If Casey loses to Barletta -- still thought by most to be unlikely -- there is no hope at all of the Democrats winning control of the U.S. Senate.



With 435 members in the U.S. House of Representatives -- and 18 elected here in this Commonwealth -- Pennsylvania will play a larger role than ever in determining whether Democrats can retake control of that body.

Democrats must pick up a net of 23 seats to win control of the U.S. House, and 4 of those pick-up seats (17% of the gain needed) must come from Pennsylvania.

As I will outline below, many of these 18 seats are now in play, primarily because the state Supreme Court ruled "unconstitutional" the political gerrymandering of state Republicans in 2011. Those old district lines essentially guaranteed Republicans 13 of the state's 18 seats even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by 4.0 million to 3.2 million (with 1.2 million in other parties or independents).

In my view, Democrats need to split the PA seats, 9 to 9, to take control of the U.S. House. Some of the new districts are more competitive, allowing both parties the chance to pick up seats. And both parties have nominated credible candidates.

The national historic trend cannot be ignored. Traditionally, the party in the White House tends to lose seats in the U.S. House during the president's first term. Since the Civil War, that party has lost seats in the midterm 36 out of 39 elections, losing an average of 33 seats. In modern times (since World War II), the average number of seats lost is 26.

Of course, there are exceptions: 1998 and 2002 stand out. When House Republicans sought to impeach Bill Clinton in 1998, the country reacted by electing more Democrats. Similarly, George Bush's performance after 9/11 allowed his Republican Party to pick up seats in 2002.

But unlike those years, most pundits think the Democrats have a better than 50-50 chance to win the House, especially if President Trump's overall popularity remains static. Real Clear Politics has the president's favorable average at 43.2, nearly 10 points below is unfavorable average at 53.0. If Trump's approval rating stays in the low 40's, it's hard to imagine Republicans picking up seats. But, remember, the GOP goal is to keep the losses to under 23, allowing them slender control, but control nonetheless, of the House.

Pennsylvania's "Safest" Districts:

No matter how "compact, contiguous, and fair" you draw congressional district lines, some districts are inherently one-party simply because they are mostly urban or rural. That is true in Pennsylvania, too, where political battles in these districts will be within the party primary, not the general election.

Of the 18 districts in this state, at least eight can be classified as "safe" for the majority party. These include the 2nd & 3rd Districts in Philadelphia, represented by Democratic U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle & Dwight Evans, the new 4th District in Philadelphia & Montgomery County now represented by retiring U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, but likely to be retained by PA Rep. Madeleine Dean, the Democratic nominee; the 11th District in York & Lancaster Counties represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker; the 12th District that includes all or part of 15 counties in north-central PA represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Marino; the 13th District in southwest-central PA now represented by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster and likely to be retained by Dr. John Joyce, the Republican nominee; the 15th District in northwest-central PA represented by Republican U.S. Rep. G.T. Glenn Thompson; and the Pittsburgh-based 18th District represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle.

In addition to these eight reasonably safe districts, I know some political cognoscenti would toss in a couple of other districts listed below. But I am using an expansive definition of "competitive" just in case that "blue wave" becomes a tsunami.

Let's take a brief look at each of the other ten districts, which I have broken down into two categories: "competitive" and "possibly competitive."

Pennsylvania's "Competitive" Congressional Districts

1st Congressional -- Fitzpatrick (R inc.) v. Wallace (D)

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is hoping his mostly Bucks County constituents see him as a very moderate Republican. He did vote against the GOP bill to repeal Obamacare and is endorsed by Gabby Giffords' gun control group, but his Democratic opponent, philanthropist Scott Wallace (grandson of FDR's vice president Henry Wallace) wants voters to think "Trump-enabler" when you think Fitzpatrick. Wallace has had problems of his own. His philanthropic fund donated to groups that support the BDS boycott of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, although Wallace calls himself pro-Israel and blames other fund directors for those donations. With roughly 215,000 Democrats & 204,000 Republicans & 82,000 Independents, just about everyone thinks this district is a toss-up and up for grabs.

5th Congressional -- Open -- Scanlon (D) v. Kim (R)

Accused of sexual harassment, Republican U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan chose to resign, leaving this seat a likely pick-up for the Democrats. The newly redrawn district in Delaware County favors the Dems, roughly 255,000 to 176,000, where Hillary Clinton won by 28 points. Attorney Mary Gay Scanlon is the Democratic nominee against former prosecutor Pearl Kim, a Republican. Scanlon's career has focused on children and education, but she has embraced Democratic progressive positions on most issues from immigration to healthcare. Republican Kim, whose parents immigrated from Korea, has an equally impressive resume, working in both the PA Attorney General's office and local District Attorney's office with a special focus on human trafficking. Most pundits see this district "likely" Democratic. By the way, the same day voters elect a new representative for the 117th Congress starting in January, they will elect one to serve out the term of Meehan, giving the winner a leg up on seniority.

6th Congressional -- Open -- Houlahan (D) v. McCauley (R)

This district has often been a battleground between the parties with Republicans like U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello eking out victories. But the new district lines in Chester and part of Berks County makes this a slightly more favorable district for the Democrats, with Hillary Clinton winning by 10 points instead of just 1 point. Costello decided to retire at the last minute, leaving the GOP nomination in the hands of Greg McCauley, a tax attorney and former Wendy's franchise owner. McCauley had filed to challenge Costello for not being pro-Trump enough. The Democrats already had their candidate in Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force veteran and businesswoman who has simply out-fundraised McCauley. Latest reports show her with $2.6 million cash on hand and McCauley with $129,000. Most expect this district to be a relatively easy pick-up for the Democrats.

7th Congressional -- Open -- Wild (D) v. Nothstein (R)

This district in the Lehigh Valley (Allentown/Bethlehem) has been another one of those battleground districts with moderate Republicans like former U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a frequent Trump critic, usually beating the Democrats. But Court-mandated redistricting has made the 7th a bit more Democratic, turning the district from a +8 Trump district to a +1 Clinton district. Dent resigned his seat, and Republicans nominated Lehigh County Commission chair Marty Nothstein, while Democrats opted for former Allentown solicitor Susan Wild. Democrats do outnumber Republicans by 60,000, but Independents represent about 83,000 of the registered voters. Nothstein, a gold medal Olympics cyclist and an elected official, may have started with better name ID , but Wild has out-fundraised Nothstein two-to-one. Most analysts say this district leans Democratic.

17th Congressional District -- Rothfus (R inc.) v. Lamb (D inc.)

This is probably the most watched race in Pennsylvania this year, where two well-funded incumbents are battling in the suburbs of Pittsburgh: Republican U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus v. Democratic U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb. It is the only race in the nation where two incumbents are running against each other. The district includes major suburbs in Allegheny County and a small part of Butler County and all of Beaver County, a district that voted for Trump over Clinton by just 2 points. In terms of registration it's about 256,000 Democrats, 187,000 Republicans, and 70,000 Independents. In a "wave" year, Lamb should win this seat, and one poll has him up by 12 over Rothfus. That may be one reason that the NRCC (National Republican Campaign Committee) pulled its TV money from Pittsburgh. But Rothfus seems to be on TV as much as Lamb, so maybe he has enough money to win. As October began, he had $400,000 cash-on-hand to Lamb's $880,000. Bottom line. If suburban women stick with Lamb (as they did over PA Rep. Rick Saccone in Lamb's special election in March), Lamb ought to win this seat, which is why most pundits now think this district leans Democratic.

Pennsylvania's "Possibly Competitive" Congressional Districts

8th Congressional -- Cartwright (D inc.) v. Chrin (R)

Based in Luzerne (Wilkes-Barre) and Lackawanna (Scranton) counties, Republicans think U.S. Matt Cartwright is vulnerable, even though the Democrat won in 2016 despite a Trump win of 10 points that year. The new district isn't a whole lot different, but Republicans have a very wealthy former banker from JP Morgan Chase and Merrill Lynch named John Chrin, who can self-fund a competitive race. It's a classic white working class district that liked Trump in 2016 while voting for Cartwright at the same time. The district has at least 75,000 more Democrats than Republicans, but in 2018, Trump voters are being asked to vote for Chrin, not Cartwright. If they do, that augurs well for Trump in the state in 2020, but so far this district seems likely to reelect Cartwright the Democrat.

9th Congressional -- Open -- Wolff (D) v. Meusser (R)

This district, now represented by U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta who gave up his seat to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate is probably a relatively safe seat for the Republicans in 2018. After all, the district in 8 counties including Berks, Lebanon, and Schuylkill Counties, is overwhelmingly GOP, roughly 298,000 to 162,000. What makes it somewhat interesting is that the Democrats have nominated a conservative "Blue Dog" Democratic dairy farmer in Denny Wolff. Wolff, a former state secretary of agriculture under Gov. Rendell, is facing Dan Meusser, a wealthy businessman and former state secretary of revenue under Gov. Corbett. Meusser is a strong Trump supporter, which should play well in the 9th district. It's hard to imagine a Democratic upset in this district. If there is, you know the "blue wave" is beyond the current dreams of the most partisan Democrats.

10th Congressional District -- Perry (R inc.) v. Scott (D)

The 10th district in south-central PA includes Dauphin County (Harrisburg), York, and Cumberland Counties and should be reasonably safe territory for the reelection of U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, a strong conservative and Iraq War veteran. Perry, a member of the House's Freedom Caucus, is being challenged by George Scott, himself a 20-year Army veteran and now a Lutheran minister. The district favors Republicans with around 219,000 Republicans, 197,000 Democrats, and 77,000 Independents. Perry, who was quasi-punked by Sasha Baron Cohen [he accepted a fake pro-Israel award but smartly turned down an 'interview' with Cohen], should prevail, but the redistricting has moved the 10th from a +22 Trump district to a +9 district now. And Democrat Scott has surprised many with his fund-raising. At the end of September, he had cash-on-hand of $520,000 to Perry's $540,000. That gives Democrats hope that in a "wave" year, they can knock off Perry. Maybe, but despite the strong challenge from Scott, many pundits still think Perry will pull this out.

14th Congressional District -- Open -- Boerio (D) v. Reschenthaler (R)

Most analysts put this southwestern PA district in the "likely GOP" category, and they are probably right to do so. But the open seat (once represented by former Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy and essentially the district Lamb won by 3/10ths of 1 percent over PA Rep. Rick Saccone) gives Democrats the dream of a pick-up with their businesswoman candidate Bibiana Boerio (rhymes with Oreo). The numbers can be misleading. This 4-county district has roughly 221,000 Democrats to 185,000 Republicans with 52,000 Independents, but this is strong Trump country (+29). In a hard-fought primary, Republicans chose PA Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, a young protege of Murphy, over Saccone, who narrowly lost the special congressional race to Lamb. When Lamb's hometown was put into the new 17th District, he chose to run there, leaving the 14th District wide open. Democrat Boerio, who comes from vote-rich Westmoreland County, was a former Ford Motor Co. executive who later served a stint as chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak. Republican Reschenthaler did not live in the district until a month or so ago, but he just moved to Washington County from Allegheny County, and portrays himself as a moderate-to-conservative veteran with a stint as a Navy lawyer. This race has been under the radar, in part because the Democrats failed to put any money into it. On her own, Boerio raised some money, going into the last weeks with $234,000 cash-on-hand to Reschenthaler's $253,000. Still, most think Reschenthaler will prevail, returning this seat to the GOP after Lamb, although if this is really the "year of the woman," who knows.

16th Congressional District -- Kelly (R inc.) v. DiNicola (D)

Democrats think that redistricting gives them a shot at beating Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, who hails from Butler County, the southern-most part of the 16th District. The Democrat is attorney Ron DiNicola, an Erie attorney in the northern-most part of the district with 190,000 voters, while Kelly's home county has just 90,000 voters. But the 5-county northwestern PA district still votes Republican even though the registration is practically even between the two major parties, and every county, including Erie, voted for Trump in 2016 by 20 points. Kelly has been closely allied with the president, which makes this district a good test for how far the "wave" extends in 2018, and another reason the president came to Erie recently. But seeing a possible pick-up, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has spent money here. Kelly is the odds-on favorite to win, but DiNicola, who raised and spent money and is getting outside Democratic support as well, is well-positioned to ride the wave if the blue waters sweep south from Lake Erie.


When the dust settles after all the ballots are counted in Pennsylvania for the U.S. House of Representatives, instead of the current 12 Republicans & 6 Democrats, Democrats hope to see at least 9 Democrats in their 2019-20 delegation: Boyle, Evans, Dean, Scanlon, Houlahan, Wild, Cartwright, Lamb, and Doyle. Anything less than that is probably a decent night for state Republicans.

But if Democrats pull off wins in any of the other PA congressional districts with Wallace, Scott, DiNicola, Wolff, or Boerio, you know it's a very strong Democratic night across the country. In short, Pennsylvania voters will have a lot to say about the make-up of the Congress next year. Stay tuned.

If you made it to the end of this epistle, five gold stars! I hope you found some of this helpful and informative, especially as you plan to watch the November 6 returns come in. I won't remind you to vote because you wouldn't be on this mailing list if I thought you didn't care about this nation's and the state's future. As always, I welcome your feedback!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Car Crashes Up in States with Recreational Marijuana

Four states that allow recreational marijuana - Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington - have seen car crashes increase by 5.2%. While it's unclear whether this is the result of increased marijuana use, it'slikely insurance rates in those states are on their way up. Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana.

NorCo Receives Pittance For New Voting Machines

Fyodor Dostoevsky displays new voting machine. 
Pennsylvania's Department of State has mandated all 67 counties to have new voting machines in place - with paper trails - in time for the next Presidential election. But it only has $14.1 million in grants available for voting systems expected to cost $147 million. The counties will have to pick up the slack. Also, only one system with a paper trail has been certified, and NorCo officials like another system.

That system is the ExpressVote XL — a full-face Universal Voting System that includes a 32" HD screen and an independent voter-verifiable paper record that is digitally scanned for tabulation.

County Council on Thursday night voted 8-0 to accept a $341,969.77 grant earmarked for the purchase of new voting machines with a voter-verifiable paper record.

That's a drop in the bucket. Delaware recently voted to spend $13 million for 1,500 ExpressVote XLs. That's $8,666 per machine.  There must be two and sometimes three machines at NorCo's approximately 160 precincts. That means a price of at least $4.1 million.