DeWeese's constituents indifferent to scandal link
Share with others:
Some observers in Greene County, home of state House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, saw little ripple effect from yesterday's testimony linking him to the ongoing scandal over taxpayer-paid bonuses for political work.
"I really get the sense that people don't understand exactly what the big deal is," said Cindy Bailey, publisher of GreeneSpeak, a monthly newspaper.
She said the perception of Mr. DeWeese as a major Harrisburg power broker who brings home the bacon to his district of Greene and Fayette counties has consistently trumped any peccadilloes, including the bonus allegations and the controversial 2005 pay raise for legislators.
"There are diehard Democrats down here who will vote for him no matter what," she said.
Mr. DeWeese was one of the few top legislators who supported the later-rescinded pay raise and still managed to get re-elected in 2006, as he narrowly defeated Republican Greg Hopkins. Mr. Hopkins again is challenging Mr. DeWeese on Nov. 4.
"All along, I have stated that DeWeese is not telling the truth or he is an incompetent leader," said Mr. Hopkins in a statement. "So according to Mr. [Michael] Manzo's statement, I guess he is both. A competent leader does not take his entire caucus down a murky street of corruption."
He was referring to testimony by Mr. Manzo, Mr. DeWeese's former top aide, that Mr. DeWeese was aware of the use of public money to pay bonuses for campaign work.
Mr. Hopkins said that Mr. DeWeese has been in office for too long "and his behavior exemplifies that he feels he is above law."
"He is accused of taking taxpayer dollars by his own chief of staff. This scandal is going to cost us, the taxpayers, in excess of $5 million. The hardworking families of our 50th District deserve better than this."
Unless Mr. DeWeese is charged in the bonus matter -- which he isn't now -- Ms. Bailey thinks it's unlikely local voters will punish him. Many district people think the current fuss over what's been termed Bonusgate "is splitting hairs," she said.
Dr. Joseph DiSarro of Washington & Jefferson College's political science department said district voters put a premium on the legislative seniority Mr. DeWeese has.
"I do not believe that Bonusgate will be the issue that will unseat him," Dr. DiSarro said.
In Harrisburg yesterday, normally talkative legislators clammed up when asked for reaction.
"It's tragic,'' said Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, declining to elaborate.
House Republican leader Sam Smith, who has often crossed swords with Mr. DeWeese on the House floor, said it wasn't the time to call on the majority leader to step down.
He said any leader who is indicted would have to step down from leadership, "but that bridge hasn't been crossed yet.''
Mr. DeWeese is facing no charges, and Mr. Smith said officials should "let the judicial process play out'' for Mr. Manzo and other Bonusgate defendants.
"The presumption of innocence until proven guilty kind of prevails,'' he said.
First Published October 9, 2008 12:00 am