U.S. Senate petition battle gets physical

Democrats, Green Party adversaries in scuffle at state Capitol

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HARRISBURG -- Tension has been growing between Democrats and Green Party members over the validity of the Greens' political petition signatures, and yesterday the rising tempers escalated into a scuffle and shoving match at the state Capitol.

Six Capitol police officers had to be summoned to a room at the Department of State where the two sides were going over thousands of petition signatures the Greens submitted in an effort to get their candidate, Carl Romanelli, onto the ballot for the U.S. Senate race in November.

The process of combing through the signatures "started on Monday and had gone fairly smoothly until [yesterday] morning," said Commonwealth Court staff attorney John Moyer.

"But then it just kind of boiled over. There was a scuffle -- some elbows, some shoving, some name-calling and some people stomping out. No punches were thrown but there was some language that was not nice," he said.

Ed Myslewicz of the Department of General Services, which oversees the Capitol police, wasn't sure how long it took to restore order.

Shortly after 9 a.m., he said, "We got a call about a disturbance on the third floor. Six officers were sent to the scene.

"No one was injured, no charges were filed and no one was arrested. Perhaps there was too much caffeine in the coffee today."

The scuffle followed a war of words that has gone on all week between the Democrats and the Greens. Democrats have filed a challenge with Commonwealth Court over the legitimacy of 69,000 of the 93,000 petition signatures Mr. Romanelli has turned in.

He is seeking to run against incumbent Republican Sen. Rick Santorum and the Democratic candidate, state Treasurer Robert Casey Jr.

Political observers see Mr. Romanelli as much more of a threat to take votes away from Mr. Casey than from Mr. Santorum, which is why Democrats want to get the Green candidate off the Nov. 7 ballot.

Democrats are upset that Mr. Santorum's GOP allies contributed money to Mr. Romanelli to hire a Florida firm to collect petition signatures for him.

Mr. Romanelli and his Green supporters have strongly defended the validity of their signatures. They said they're certain they'll have enough valid signatures -- at least 67,070 -- to gain a place on the Senate ballot. The Greens have assailed Democrats for trying to deny voters a choice.

Each day this week, Mr. Moyer said, nine signature checkers from the Democrats and the Greens, along with lawyers for both sides and one Commonwealth Court security official, have been sitting in a room at the Department of State, slowly going through the petition signatures.

By yesterday morning the checkers had gone through 9,000 of the 69,000 signatures being challenged by the Democrats.

Mr. Moyer said court officials want the two feuding sides to agree on as many signatures as they can in order to simplify the time-consuming process of validating or throwing out thousands of signatures.

The court hopes to make a decision by mid- or late September on whether Mr. Romanelli submitted enough signatures to be on the ballot.

Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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