HARRISBURG -- A coalition of Pennsylvania mayors was at the Capitol yesterday to endorse Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, but their talk centered around her opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, and his comments about "bitter" small-town voters.
Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed, who led the group, said Mr. Obama's comments -- made during a high-priced, closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco -- were divisive, condescending and inaccurate.
Mr. Obama has since said he misspoke when he said small-town voters cling to guns and religion because they are bitter about the economy.
Controversy over those comments deflected attention from a Clinton flap several days earlier. Mrs. Clinton had incorrectly said she saw sniper fire in Bosnia, and her husband defended her by saying she made the comment once when she was tired, when actually she said it three times, including in prepared remarks.
Mr. Reed gave the Clintons a pass for that debacle, saying the comments were of no consequence.
"That has no impact on us. It's meaningless to the average person," he said. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama made specific remarks to a private group more than 2,000 miles away that he thought Pennsylvanians would never hear, Mr. Reed said.
Obama supporters, though, say it's important for government leaders to be truthful.
"If you analyze the comments [Mrs. Clinton] made on the sniper fire and the comments Obama made on small-town frustration and bitterness, at least Obama is honest. He is telling it like it is," York Mayor John Brenner said in a phone interview yesterday.
"Nobody is disagreeing that people are frustrated and worried about the economy, about paying for their children's education, about the safety of our kids. I think Obama's comment was honest. We can probably wordsmith it all day and all night, but at the core of what he said is the absolute truth."
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman expressed similar thoughts in a letter to thousands of small-town and rural voters.
"What Sen. Obama said is that over the last 25-30 years, working-class people in places like Pennsylvania have been falling behind, and that politicians in Washington haven't been looking out for them," according to the letter released yesterday by the Obama campaign. "He also said that, as a result, many people have become frustrated, angry and even bitter about all the broken promises. He was right."
Nineteen of the 101 mayors who have endorsed Mrs. Clinton gathered in the Capitol rotunda, pledging to rally support from undecided constituents in the days before the primary.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was the 101st to sign on, saying he waited until he had studied the details of both candidates' platforms and policies. Mrs. Clinton came out on top because of her anti-crime policy, which includes a proposal to provide federal funding to hire 100,000 more police officers nationwide, he said.
Other mayors said they support her because of her plans to invest in the nation's infrastructure, create jobs, reduce dependence on foreign oil and increase veterans benefits.
"We need someone who will stand with us on the issues that matter," Mr. Reed said.
Later yesterday, in an appearance before the Newspaper Association of America, Mrs. Clinton outlined an agenda for her first 100 days in office.
Accusing President Bush of expanding executive power to the detriment of the Constitution and often operating in secrecy, she said, "I'll end the use of signing statements to rewrite the laws Congress has passed. I'll shut down Guantanamo, disavow torture, and restore the right of habeas corpus."
Clinton's 100-day agenda included the start of a troop withdrawal from Iraq and submitting a budget to Congress that rolls back some of Bush's tax cuts. She also promised to sign bills he has vetoed to expand federal embryonic stem-cell research and broaden government-supported health care to millions of lower-income children who now go without.
"In short, starting from Day One, the Bush-Cheney era will be over in name and in practice," she said at a meeting of the Newspaper Association of America.
Western Pennsylvania mayors who have endorsed Mrs. Clinton include John Antoline of Monaca, Anthony Battalini of Aliquippa, Sam Benyi of Clarksville, Ronald Besong of Bell Acres, Thoms Brown of Bentleyville, Peter M. Casini of South Connellsville, Anthony Colaizzo of Canonsburg, Joan B. Derco of Youngwood, Greg Erosenko of Monroeville and Emerson M. Fazekas of Versailles.
Also, John Haberland of Coraopolis, David Haslett of Avalon, Joseph Kazan of New Stanton, Donald L. Kinosz of Lower Burrell, Philip Krivacek of Duquesne, Joseph Daniel Kudlac of Ellsworth, Michael M. Kutsek of Finleyville, Thomas E. Loukota of Masontown, Bernard M. Luketich of Cokeburg, Edward Lyons of North Belle Vernon, Raymond McDonough of North Braddock, Susan O'Connell of Crafton, Louis Payne of East Pittsburgh, Joyce Peccon of Carmichaels and Dennis Pietrandrea of Koppel.
Also, Albert Pipik of Allenport, Dominick Pomposelli of Wilmerding, Luke Ravenstahl of Pittsburgh, Judy Reed of Connellsville, Thomas Smith of Blawnox, Rick Smith of New Brighton, Larry Sprowls of Claysville, F. John Szatkiewicz of Ohioville, Nicki Todaro of Newell, Barbara Wilhelm of Dawson, James E. Wolfe of Tarentum and John Yacura of Elizabeth.
Mr. Obama's Pennsylvania campaign office could not immediately provide a list of mayors who have endorsed him.
Tracie Mauriello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-787-2141.