Before every election, the Post-Gazette routinely sends letters to the candidates seeking material for the Voters Guide. Back in March, as part of that process for the primary, the newspaper sent a letter to Rick Santorum at his home address, at least the one that he claims. Back from Penn Hills came the letter with a sticker from the U.S. Postal Service checked as "Not Deliverable As Addressed -- Unable To Forward."
That is all you need to know about the nasty dispute between the Republican Sen. Santorum and his Democratic opponent, Bob Casey Jr., in the November election. The whole thing is rooted in one inconvenient fact for Sen. Santorum: He doesn't live here anymore.
This is not to say that he doesn't visit Penn Hills from time to time. But while he may meet the legal requirements for residency, his home is in Virginia with his wife and children. This is well-known and it has been for quite a while. Indeed, it was at the heart of the objection by some Penn Hills residents to the local school district paying for the senator's children to be enrolled in a cyber charter school. The theory was that -- let us emphasize it again because it is central to the current problem -- he doesn't live here anymore.
In furtherance of that objection, two local Democrats, Ed and Erin Vecchio, tried to revive the residency issue on primary election day, which was covered by a subsequent KDKA-TV report. A radio ad for Sen. Santorum flagrantly distorts that report, suggesting that "operatives" for the Casey campaign had trespassed on the Santorum property. (It also sneeringly calls Mr. Casey "Bobby" -- as if the Democrat wore short pants.)
First, the couple criticizing Sen. Santorum have denied a connection to the Casey campaign, an assertion confirmed by Mr. Casey. (Perhaps Sen. Santorum thinks that just being a critical Democrat makes people "operatives.")
Second, no one has admitted to trespassing on the Santorum property or peering through windows. The KDKA report merely quoted Mr. Vecchio as saying the house was vacant, with no curtains or furniture. But you wouldn't have to be a trespasser to find that out; you could ask neighbors -- or the local mail carrier. After all, the senator's absence is not in serious dispute because he doesn't live here anymore.
Mr. Casey described Sen. Santorum's claims as "weird" and "bizarre." Actually, they are beyond weird and raise serious questions about the senator's ethics that go beyond the residency question. In a letter to Mr. Casey, he speaks of his "outrage" regarding the actions of the Casey campaign "which have put our six young children at a serious safety risk."
Though that suggestion is far-fetched to the point of absurdity, it would be a potential source of fear only if the senator actually lived in Penn Hills, but -- let us repeat one last time -- the Santorum family is at no risk because he doesn't live here anymore and the family is in Virginia most of the time. So what we have is the senator making untrue and outrageous comments while seeking to hide behind his wife and kids in order to get around an inconvenient fact.
We have a feeling that those who do live here may have something to say about this cowardly tactic at the November polls.