HARRISBURG -- Two contenders for state attorney general sparred over independence and experience Monday night during the first and only debate of the contest.
Democratic former Lackawanna County prosecutor Kathleen Kane criticized her opponent, Republican David Freed, for failing to call for a halt to an outside advertisement attacking her, and repeatedly called him the "hand-picked" candidate of Gov. Tom Corbett, former attorney general.
Mr. Freed replied that his record as Cumberland County district attorney shows that he is willing to prosecute popular figures. He reiterated his past comments that he had no connection to the Republican State Leadership Committee ad depicting her as a weak prosecutor and would not have aired it.
An audience of more than 150 people -- many sporting Kane or Freed stickers -- were on hand for the debate, held at Widener University School of Law here. Also on the Nov. 6 general election ballot is Libertarian Marakay Rogers of York, who did not participate due to a scheduling conflict.
On the question of how each would conduct a review of the investigation that resulted in Jerry Sandusky being sentenced to at least 30 years in prison, the candidates contrasted their remarks on the case and how they would treat it as attorney general.
Ms. Kane, who served 12 years as an assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County, said she has questions about why a grand jury was used in the Penn State probe, whether adequate resources were allocated, and why a narcotics agent was involved instead of a child-abuse specialist.
"I was a child-abuse prosecutor," she said. "It has never taken me 33 months to get a predator, a pedophile, off of the streets."
She added that the difference between the two candidates is that she wasn't chosen by Mr. Corbett to run for the office, a barb she threw at least three times.
Noting that Ms. Kane appeared on news shows talking about the Sandusky case, Mr. Freed said he as a sitting prosecutor had to be cautious in his comments while the case was ongoing. He added that he has used the term "review" for following up the controversial case, while she has pledged an "investigation."
Mr. Freed repeatedly referred to his resume to defend his independence, saying anyone with questions can look to his record of making tough decisions in past cases.
"I must have missed the phone call when Gov. Corbett called and picked me," he said, adding afterward that his tenure as DA has shown that "nobody calls the shots in my office but me."
The pair also contrasted when asked about their first steps in office. Ms. Kane said she would "clean up" Harrisburg by beefing up the public corruption unit: "The people of Pennsylvania do not have trust in our government anymore. They have seen too often good-old-boy politics being played."
Mr. Freed said he would make sure the budget is being used as efficiently as possible. "You can best believe the budget of the attorney general's office is not going up, no matter which one of us is elected," he said.
In a later question, Ms. Kane said she might take certain cases to trial herself if she has the best experience. Mr. Freed said it is "not realistic" for the head of that office to set aside other duties in order to properly prepare for trial.
When the moderators noted that three of the state's four elected attorney generals have later run for governor, both candidates replied that they would not do so while serving as attorney general.
Ms. Kane left open the possibility of future campaigns after her time as attorney general, while Mr. Freed said he does not intend to embark on further political bids.
The debate will be rebroadcast on Pennsylvania Cable Network this morning at 9.
Bureau chief Laura Olson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-787-4254. First Published October 23, 2012 4:30 AM