In a letter sent to Berks County Democratic Committee members yesterday Chair Tom Herman revealed the back room deal making happening to select a single candidate for approval next Saturday. A special election will be held March 15th to elect someone to fill the remaining two years of the late Sen. Michael O’Pake who died from internal bleeding after cardiac surgery at Reading Hospital. Sent from his personal email account the official letter reveals the closed process going on in Berks. This is what I’ve been warning about since news of O’Pake’s death. Ironically Herman makes this statement:
There are no “back room” deals being made.
Everything else in the email contradicts that claim:
It is pretty much common knowledge that the two presumptive front runners are Judy Schwank and Dante Santoni. Both are seriously interested. Both are good friends with each other and good friends of mine as well. This is a quandary for both of them and for the party. We as the Democratic Committee must allow them the time to work it out between them for the good of both of them, the party and the district.
The goal of Saturday’s meeting is to present to you the strongest possible candidate(s) for your consideration. My sincere hope is to present to you the candidate for your unanimous acclamation so we can immediate present to the press that kind of momentum going into the race. Our party rules provide that the County Committee people in the 11th Senate District present a recommendation for consideration by the State Democratic Committee’s Executive Committee. The State Democratic Executive Committee will then vote on a candidate and our hope is the only candidate for their consideration is our selection. In my experience and the experience of others, the State Committee has always supported the County’s recommendation and I would think it would be no different. What that means is that we have the obligation to select the strongest candidate.
He even has the unmitigated gall to include this:
It is imperative that we be fair to everyone in this process.
Fair? I know one serious candidate has been totally shut out of the process. There will be NO public forum for Democrats in the 11th Senatorial District to question candidates, the selection process is being closed to all but County Committee persons and even they are being denied any chance to question the candidates.
Why? Because Herman and the power brokers in Berks are going to decide on one candidate and present that person for approval:
The goal of Saturday’s meeting is to present to you the strongest possible candidate(s) for your consideration. My sincere hope is to present to you the candidate for your unanimous acclamation so we can immediate present to the press that kind of momentum going into the race.
So there will be a back room deal made with one person offered, and only one, for consideration Saturday morning. This is why the Berks and Pennsylvania Democratic Parties are violating this section of the national charter:
Section 12. All meetings of the Democratic National Committee, the Executive Committee, and all
other official Party committees, commissions and bodies shall be open to the public, and votes shall not be
taken by secret ballot.
A closed meeting Saturday is a violation of the Democratic Party Charter.
The above was copied directly from the website of the Berks County Democratic Committee so they are well aware they breaking the rules. News that this will be a closed meeting have been publicized three times by The Reading Eagle quoting Tom Herman.
In another unsavory move today’s Eagle quotes him as seemingly trying to shake down the O’Pake campaign committee for money.
Here is the entire text of the Herman email which I obtained anonymously:
> From: THsidebar@aol.com [mailto:THsidebar@aol.com]
> Sent: Saturday, January 15, 2011 3:13 PM
> To: THsidebar@aol.com
> Subject: 11th Senatorial District Special Election
> Dear County Committee:
> I understand a whole lot of discussion is going on concerning the filling of Mike O’Pake’s vacant Senate Seat. Let me assure everyone that there is no “back room” deals being made nor is the County Committee being excluded from the process.
> This seat is to (sic) important to our Democratic Party and to Berks County to not do a great deal of work to present to the Committee the strongest candidate for consideration. I can tell you that all our Principals from the National level on down are doing everything they believe necessary to persuade the strongest candidate to come forward for consideration to keep this district in Democrats (sic) hands. I have had numerous discussions with potential candidates and State Party leadership on these issues.
> I was able to persuade the State Senate Campaign Committee to do professional polling on the most likely choices in the 11th at their cost. It was their poll and I did not have ability to tell them how to do their poll. The results are proprietary to the SSCC and I’m not permitted to release the entire document. However, I am permitted to release this from the memorandum,
> “when all the factors are evaluated, including favorable ratings, head-to-head match-ups against Madaglia and potential comparative attacks, Judy Schwank emerges as the candidate with the best chance to keep the 11th State Senate district in the Democratic column.” *
> I wish I was permitted to provide more of the report but, I am not.
> Factors that are foremost in leadership’s minds are support of the electorate, the supportive institutions and the Democratic financial community. It is supposed that this Special Race will cost well over a half million dollars, probably closer to three-quarter’s of a million. I have been working with the party to insure (sic) that the funds will be there but, I’ve been told the big money contributors are adamant that the candidate be the strongest possible to gain their full financial backing. Who knows what that really means. (sic) Will they back out if it is not the strongest possible candidate, in their eyes? I hope not and am working diligently to keep everyone moving forward to winning this seat. (sic) We need the strongest person to run.
> It is pretty much common knowledge that the two presumptive front runners are Judy Schwank and Dante Santoni. Both are seriously interested. Both are good friends with each other and good friends of mine as well. This is a quandary for both of them and for the party. We as the Democratic Committee must allow them the time to work it out between them for the good of both of them, the party and the district.
> The goal of Saturday’s meeting is to present to you the strongest possible candidate(s) for your consideration. My sincere hope is to present to you the candidate for your unanimous acclamation so we can immediate present to the press that kind of momentum going into the race. Our party rules provide that the County Committee people in the 11th Senate District present a recommendation for consideration by the State Democratic Committee’s Executive Committee. The State Democratic Executive Committee will then vote on a candidate and our hope is the only candidate for their consideration is our selection. In my experience and the experience of others, the State Committee has always supported the County’s recommendation and I would think it would be no different. What that means is that we have the obligation to select the strongest candidate.
> At this point, the candidate(s) will be nominated by County Committee members who reside in the 11th and the vote will be from those who reside in the 11th. It is imperative that we be fair to everyone in this process. Each Candidate will have a three minute period to present themselves to the Committee. I have heard some folks want to ask the candidates questions. This cannot be fair unless every candidate is permitted to respond to every question. That is a laborious process that provides ability to lengthen the time as well as potentially give one candidate unfair advantage over another by being able to address a response. We will not do that. The Candidates will be at the meeting and folks should ask specific questions directly to the candidates prior to the start of our meeting. That is the only fair way to proceed. Once the vote is taken, the candidate will be announced and presented to the press. The State Democratic Party leadership will also be present to provide any expertise necessary.
> This has been a difficult time for all of us. Losing Senator O’Pake was a tragedy that will be felt for years to come. We all mourn his untimely loss. Moving forward, we cannot permit the Republican’s (who smell blood) to take this seat away from us. I trust you all understand the seriousness of this issue within the Democratic Community.
> In closing, let me reiterate that we are the ones who will make the recommendation to the State Democratic Committee Executive Committee. Work is being done to find and field the strongest possible candidate to present to you for your consideration. There are no “back room” deals being made. Because of our process, I do not have that kind of authority or power. None of you are naive; you all know there are conversations occurring to find the best candidate and I am working closely with the potentials mentioned to make this the easiest possible process for all of us. I constantly am asking myself, what would Mike do? I am constantly questioning the potentials, the leadership and mostly myself that we are doing the best possible decisions on behalf of the district and the Democratic party. Let’s let the potentials have the necessary discussions so we can make the best decisions.
> I can let you know, I find solace in the belief that a higher power provides me and us guidance in this process. Sorry for the lengthy email but, you deserve to know what I can share at this point. Thank you for your considerations and your understanding.
> Warmest Regards,
> Tom Herman, Chairman
> P.S. This email is sent to the Committee people who have provided us with their email address.
> * excerpt from Thrity-Ninth Street Strategies, 3511 39th St, NW D-490, Washington, DC 20016
I also have questions concerning the poll mentioned above. First of all who was polled? Unless only those voters with a very strong voting history (8 of 8, meaning they voted in all eight elections the past four years) the responses are irrelevant. In a winter special election they are the only likely voters. Secondly I understand only three candidates were mentioned one of whom has expressed no interest in the race, DA John Adams. This means only Dante Santoni Jr and Judy Schwank’s numbers were polled. Did the poll ask voters how they would react if Republicans campaigned heavily against Schwank on the 34% tax increase? That was enacted when she was Chair of the County Commissioners. I suspect this would be their majoe issue were she the candidate. Do you think that would be relevant information on which to poll? I do.
Why were no other potential candidates included? At least one is being systematically shut out of the process by Mr. Herman according to my information.
As to the explanation as to why committee people will be denied a chance to ask questions Saturday I think this is pure BS. It would be very easy to incorporate an hour where questions can be presented and each candidate given 3 minutes to respond. Questions could be written down on cards as Committee persons enter Sinking Spring Fire Company then an organized response session held. Candidate forums do this all the time.
So why refuse to do this? Because the powers that be are busy behind the scenes in their back room sorting things out between Santoni and Schwank. They want to present one candidate as a done deal for unanimous acclamation just as Herman presents in his email. No one else will have any effect on the process or selection. If you’re a committee person you’re nothing more than a mushroom.
Democrats have already lost the press war in this race. While the area news organizations have widely reported on the open process being used by Republicans they have also widely reported this closed process of the Democrats. If the press is kept out of a closed meeting Saturday they won’t be happy and the Democratic candidate will be greeted out of the gate by a hostile media corps. If someone shut out of the process takes that opportunity to hold a session with the press outside the event outlining the crooked ways seemingly used in the selection process this race will be over at the outset.
Update: Let’s be clear about one thing: state and local by laws do NOT trump national by laws and the national charter. Simply because the Pennsylvania Democratic Party has a clause which is in violation of the DNC National Charter doesn’t mean it is legal for Tom Herman to close Saturday’s meeting. Anyone who is kept out of this meeting has the right to challenge both Berks and Pennsylvania by laws with the DNC. Ask that their statuses as Party organizations be revoked for willfull violations.