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New York state of mind

March 20, 2007

In light of reports on Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's trip to New York with Penguins owner Ron Burkle, the Post-Gazette's Rich Lord is taking a look at an array of ethics questions touching Mr. Ravenstahl and his campaign for re-election. There's the plane ride, first reported by the Tribune-Review's Jeremy Boren, apparent lapses in Mr. Ravenstahl's financial disclosures with the city controller's office, his access to tickets to sporting events and the continuing scrutiny, pressed in particular by several local political blogs, over whether he's appropriated city resources for his campaign. Check it out in tomorrow's Post-Gazette.

Lynn Swann has kept a relatively low public profile since his loss to Gov. Rendell in last year's governor's race. He'll return to the local spotlight next month as the featured guest at the annual celebrity roast fund-raising dinner for the youth home run by his old teammate, Mel Blount. That landslide loss should provide plenty of fodder to rib the roastee. Tickets for the event are $350.

Mr. Swann's running mate, Jim Matthews, is in a tough battle for re-election to his post as Montgomery County commissioner. The local Republcian Party is at war with itself, creating historic opportunites for the Democratic challengers. Montgomery County has become increasingly friendly to Democrats in statewide and national elections, but it has remained secure for the GOP in local contests. If Democrats were to capture the majority in a couthouse that has been in Republican hands for generations, it would mark a true sea change in suburban Philadelphia politics.

The Capitolwire's Christopher Lilenthal has some of the details. You'll need a subscription to the Internet news wire to read the whole thing:

"Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor will stay in the race for county commissioner, even though his chosen running-mate, former state Rep. Melissa Murphy-Weber, didn't get the county Republican Party endorsement.

"Castor and incumbent Commissioner Jim Matthews were endorsed by the county GOP Thursday night. Castor said after the endorsement vote that he was disappointed and that he would consider withdrawing from the race rather than running with Matthews.

"On Monday, Castor said he was in the race but still wasn't sure if he would campaign with Matthews, Murphy-Weber or simply campaign for one of the two commissioner spots himself. Castor has taken issue with Matthews over the county commissioners' decision to grant a $7,500-per-month contract with the lobbying firm run by Montgomery County GOP Committee Chairman Ken Davis.

"Castor said of his decision to stay in the race: 'I think the Democrats are really going to try to win. I think with me running on the ticket, it gives us the strongest anchor on the whole ticket.' "

Incumbent Commissioner Ruth Damsker and Joe Hoeffel, a former congressman and county commissioner, are the Democratic candidates. You'll remember Hoeffel from his unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Arlen Specter three years ago.

Across the border in Philadelphia, the Democratic primary entered a crucial preliminary test yesterday as a judge prepared to rule on whether one of the favorites for the Democratic nomination, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, could stay on the ballot.

The Inquirer has the details:

"A challenge supported by rivals Tom Knox and State Rep. Dwight Evans argues that Brady should be removed because financial-disclosure forms he filed with his nominating petitions this month omitted mention of income Brady received from city and carpenters' union pensions.

"Brady's camp has argued that the information was not required because the form instructs candidates not to include 'governmentally mandated payments' such as pensions. After a spokeswoman initially speculated that the omission had possibly been 'a stupid error,' Brady's attorney said it had been intentional.''

It's not yet clear if Pennsylvania will be a significant battle ground in either party's presidential nomination, but if it does, Sen. John McCain will have a crucial ally in former Gov. and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. The two of them have been friends since they served together in the House, bonding over their mutual history as Vietnam War veterans. Mr. Ridge elaborated on his reasons for supporting his fellow vet in an op-ed piece in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I know John as a good friend, but also as an artful leader, a diplomat, a tenacious legislator, a stalwart conservative, an astute negotiator and a consensus-builder. I know that while partisans think in terms of red versus blue, John thinks in terms of red, white and blue. For him, patriotism is not an ideal. It's a verb. It's a way of life. It's John's way of life, one that has never wavered in steadfast determination to defend the security and freedom of the American people.''

Thomas J. Farrell, who served as an assistant U.S. attorney here during the Clinton administration, indicts the record of the incumbent U.S. attorney, Mary Beth Buchanan, in a strongly worded essay in Tuesday's Post-Gazette. Mr. Farrell views Ms. Buchanan's tenure through the prism of the overall Justice Department controversy over supposed politicization of federal prosecutors.

"Ms. Buchanan has been unique among her predecessors in the extent to which she has looked to Washington for direction and political advancement. I no longer have faith that she can remain independent of the administration's partisanship. Her continued leadership casts a cloud over the public corruption investigations and prosecutions now pending in her office."

The Post-Gazette's Paula Reed Ward assessed the incumbent prosecutor's record in Sunday's Post-Gazette. Andy Sheehan dealt with some of the same issues in a report last week on KDKA.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, has been one of the Senate's loudest critics of the Bush administration in the unfolding controversy around the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Sen. Arlen Specter on Monday sent a letter to "Chuck," his colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asking him, in effect, to put up or shut up on some of his allegations. The Pennsylvania Republican asked his colleague to elaborate on charges he made in a weekend appearance on Meet the Press.

" . . . you remarked that "the evidence is becoming overwhelming that certain U.S. attorneys were fired because either they wouldn't prosecute a case that was politically advantageous to the White Hosue, or [because] they were prosecuting a case that was disadvantageous to the the White House.' In particular, you noted that 'four of the U.S. attorneys who were fired believe that played a role in their removal' because 'they were asked to pursue individual cases that they thought they shouldn't; or they were perhaps pressured to stop.'

"I write to ask you for the evidence that these four U.S. attorneys were dismissed because of any intent to interfere with, or otherwise influence, a prosecution.


"Arlen Specter"

Tome Barnes, the Post-Gazette's Harrisburg bureau chief, takes a look at the Turnpike Commission's effort to preserve its role (its patronage?) in the face of Gov. Ed Rendell's proposal to lease the venerable toll road to private interests.

"The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission today unveiled an alternative plan for raising $965 million to make much-needed repairs to state roads and bridges.

The four-part plan, which, in part, relies on turnpike toll increases set to take effect in 2010, would be an alternative to Gov. Ed Rendell's plan to lease the 530-mile road to a private operator and get $965 million in lease payments for 30 years."

Look for more on post-gazette.com and in tomorrow's print edition.

You may remember Flavia Colgan, former press secretary to Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll and sometime political commentator on a variety of television outlets. Her career of commentary takes off in a whole new direction in an upcoming Travel Channel series in which she investigates a variety of miracles attributed to religious figures throughout the world.