Hafer attacks opposition in bid for Murtha seat
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Congressional hopeful Barbara Hafer today launched a three-pronged broadside at opponents in her bid to succeed the late U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha and, in the process, raised questions about the late congressman's conduct in office.
Ms. Hafer demanded that a nonbinding preference vote by 100 Democratic conferees from the 12th District be tossed out, calling it undemocratic because of what she said is the presence of 57 "hand-picked" delegates chosen by county party chairs.
At the same time, she also laid into her major opponent for the nomination, former Murtha district Director Mark Critz, demanding the release of his interview with investigators from the Office of Congressional Ethics, an investigative panel created to make referrals to the Ethics committee, from the probe into earmarks last year. At the same time she said she also wants to see interview details from Mr. Murtha himself. Mr. Murtha was questioned by the investigators in November, three months before his death.
"We want to know what he testified to and what documents did he hand over to the House ethics committee when he testified recently," Ms. Hafer said of Mr. Critz. "We also want him to explain his relationship with Coherent Systems."
Coherent Systems was a defense company later acquired by Argon ST, a larger defense firm. Both were represented by PMA Associates, a now-defunct defense lobbying firm headed by Pittsburgh native and Murtha friend Paul Magliocchetti.
Coherent's former CEO, Rick Ianieri, later pleaded guilty to various fraud charges including allegations that he received a kickback from officials at another defense firm, Kuchera Defense Systems, located in Windber, Somerset County.
Kuchera remains the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. Both its plant and PMA's Virginia headquarters were the subjects of separate raids by federal agents as part of separate probes. PMA did not represent Kuchera.
Ms. Hafer offered nothing concrete to tie Mr. Critz to any of those investigations beyond a final ethics committee report that cleared Rep. Murtha and several of his House colleagues last month.
Asked if she was suggesting that that Mr. Murtha might have been involved in improper activities, Ms. Hafer remarked: "We don't know. That's why we're asking him to turn over the transcript of the House ethics committee."
Of Mr. Murtha's statements to investigators, she said, "I would like to see that also. We know that he was exonerated, but the contractors who received the earmarks thought the money they gave increased their chance of earmarks. All we're asking is to turn over the documents."
The ethics panel later cleared all members of who were under investigation, saying that while some contractors and lobbyists might have believed they had a better chance of funding for their projects if they donated to the political campaign of appropriations committee members, there was no evidence to suggest members themselves were influenced by the donations.
Ms. Hafer's other complaint centered on the non-binding committee vote set for Saturday at the Lamplighter Restaurant in Delmont, Westmoreland County.
The vote is non-binding. Under state Democratic party rules, the 50-member state party executive committee, which comprises members from across the state, determines who will get the nomination in the May 18 special election to fill the remaining 8 months of Mr. Murtha's term. But the vote by the 100 conferees set to attend on Saturday is considered a significant window into the mood of the district's party members and could weigh heavily in the state committee's decision.
"I think the southwest caucus vote is flawed and non-transparent and non-democratic," Ms. Hafer said.
Under rules set by the state committee, in addition to 43 state committee members residing in the 12th District, the party has also allowed for an additional 57 conferees, all appointed by their respective county chairs.
Ms. Hafer today said that the decision to appoint those conferees was made by Gov. Ed Rendell.
"The governor has elected to put 57 more people into the vote. Those 57 people are hand-picked by the chairmen," she said.
The third prong of today's Hafer attack centered on her claims that Mr. Critz was listed as corporate secretary of a concrete company run by Barbara and Lynn Parkins. Lynn Parkins is a former in-law of Mr. Critz's.
Mark Pasquerilla, a prominent Johnstown Republican and heir to the Crown American construction fortune, said today that Mr. Critz had been asked to intervene with the Parkins concrete business in an effort to save it.
Mr. Pasquerilla, who is supporting Mr. Critz, said Mr. Critz later resigned from the company in a disagreement over Mr. Parkins's business practices.
Mr. Parkins did not return phone calls today and Mr. Critz promised a statement later.
Mrs. Parkins, who is the superintendent of schools in the Johnstown School District, said today that she and her husband divorced in 2005 and that she had no idea she was listed on any corporate papers with her ex-spouse's now-defunct concrete business.
First Published March 3, 2010 2:15 pm