The Spencer Corruption Saga

As Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer sits facing imminent arrest for public corruption I hope he enjoys his current vacation.  It is obviously the precursor for one he’ll be having quite soon:  a lengthy stay in a federal prison.  Alright, so that won’t feel like a vacation.  He is the obvious person identified in Department of Justice documents as “elected official #1 in yesterday’s conviction of City Council President Francis Acosta.  Elected official #2 is reportedly Acosta’s wife Rebecca President of the Reading School Board.  Who else would he funnel bribe money through?  The charge yesterday was that Spencer gave Mrs. Acosta’s campaign $1,800 in exchange for Mr. Acosta getting a city ethics law repealed preventing the Mayor from collecting illegal campaign contributions for his failed re-election campaign.

I examined the campaign finance reports for April, the period covered by the payment according tot he FBI document, and neither candidate reported the exchange of money.  No disbursement of $1,800 to any elected public official exists in Spencer’s report and no expenditure to Mrs. Acosta is reported.  Her report doesn’t disclose any such contribution for that period.  These omissions would be a violation of Pennsylvania election law though that’s the least of their worries at this time.

Did both campaigns consciously omit the transaction?  Spencer’s campaign treasurer is/was his chief aid Eron Lloyd.  Interestingly his reports also had a glaring deficiency.  His ending cash balance of $23,343.39 mysteriously became a cash forward balance of just $12,665.54 in his next report.  This was corrected in an amended report dated June 19th but I can’t imagine how the error occurred.  Spencer’s campaign was using NGP Van software.  I’ve used NGP software before and all you do is continuously input your contributions and expenditures and it spits out your report when it’s due.  If you submitted a report with this error in it, even if it’s off by a few cents, the software will alert you that two figures are not compatible.

If you end one reporting period with $23,343 cash on hand you have to begin the next one with same amount.  Their report reduced it to $12,665.  For the software to allow that expenditures of about $10,678 happened somewhere.  Maybe $1,800 of it went to Rebecca Acosta?

I’ve known Mayor Spencer for quite a while.  While I like him personally I never liked him as a public official.  As City Council President prior to being elected Mayor he was a crony of State Representative Tom Caltagirone with whom I’ve had disagreements.  When Spencer was attempting to ram through the sale of Antietam Lake and the surrounding land to MB Investments it was obvious he’d been bought off somehow.  Another City Council ally of the sale mysteriously wound up with a nice new house.  No one could ever prove the corruption but we all smelled it.

City Council members Donna Reed, Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz and Jeff Waltman united to block that deal.  The land was finally sold to Berks County and developed into a park.  At one fateful meeting at the Berks County Services Center I recall Spencer referring to John Fox, the Mascaro lawyer, as “our attorney.”  Following the faux pas he quickly left the Commissioners Chambers in embarrassment.  It was further evidence he was in their pay.

It’s funny how chickens sometimes come home to roost.  After becoming Mayor Spencer attempted to get around the City Charter and other rules.  Honest City Council members called him on his illegal shenanigans and it all resulted in prolonged legal battles.  For a city unable to provide basic services and in Act 47 the expenditure of a million dollars in legal fees was inexcusable.

I’m also intrigued by Spencer’s relationship with retailer Albert Boscov.  Boscov is also a major developer in Reading and recently was awarded a contract to renovate four city owned properties along Penn Street.  Developer Alan Shuman, someone with far more experience developing properties, was denied the work.  Boscov is finishing construction of his new Doubletree Hotel in downtown Reading, something for which he obtained tax abatements for.  He gave a $70,000 loan to Spencer’s re-election campaign.  Is this pay to play?  I suppose we’ll find out all the answers once the indictments are handed down.

The Reading Mayor’s Inaugural Ball

This is going to sound like the blog morphed into a society column.  Last night I attended Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer’s inaugural ball at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center where one entered three floors of ballrooms and suspended belief.  Suspended belief that one was in the poorest city in the nation.  For four hours I was surrounded by opulence, men in tuxedos and suits, women in gowns, drinking, eating and dancing to live entertainment on each level.  Entering the ground floor there sat a massive ice sculpture of the famous pagoda, Reading’s landmark.

Dumping my outer garment at the coat check room I sidled past the long line for the bar and was escorted upstairs by Mick Dee, the Mayor’s new Communications Director.  The second and third floors were decked out with tables surrounded by local merchants whose tables were decked with food for the guests.  Dubbed “A Taste of Reading” they donated the gustaceous delights which offered a full range of delicious eating.  There was even a new Jamaican restaurant.  While the food, beer and soft drinks were donated the Mayor’s Transition Team did purchase the wine (state law), cakes rent the facility.

This was a lavish affair.  A long gray, vintage limo parked outside on Sixth Street for most of the evening while Mayor Vaughn Spencer, donned in a stylish tuxedo, held court.  He was joined by City Council and Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

I have lots of pictures so let’s take this society column under the fold…

Hello again, here are pictures of the upper ballrooms and a few of the local restaurants which participated:

The view of the first floor from the mezzanine:

There I came upon City Councilwoman Donna Reed and new Council President (succeeding Spencer) Francis Acosta:

Scott Hoh and former Councilman Angel Figueroa:

Mayor and Mrs. Ed Pawlowski:

Labor leader Fred Shaef and former Sixth Congressional District candidate Doug Pike:

Rick Hinnershitz and his wife Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz:

Retired labor leader Larry Murin and his lovely wife Brenda:

My dear friend Rosie Skomitz:

A few more pictures of the lavish surroundings and the mayor:

How appropriate was all this in the poorest city in America?  How appropriate was it for Spencer to be sworn in in a church?  I found everyone regaling in the special night while thousands of city residents were going to bed hungry.  It might have started his term out on a better foot to invite many of the city’s poverty stricken residents into the ballroom instead for a meal.  Around 75% of Reading School District students qualify for free meals, many toil at multiple jobs making $7.25/hour struggling just to keep roofs over their heads.  At a time when heating assistance has been cut back along with WIC, welfare and access to medical care this lavish evening seemed out of touch with reality.

I suspended belief for four hours then dealt with one of the city’s persistent problems on my short drive home:  double parkers.  They’re the biggest reason I avoid Reading like the plague.

News & Notes August 15, 2011

It’s but five days before my flight to Albuquerque and several weeks in Santa Fe.  If you’ve invited me to attend or cover various events between now and September 8th I won’t be around to attend.  The President will be in Shanksville September 11th to dedicate the first section of the memorial and I expect to be there so I may not also be able to attend the Democratic State Committee meeting in Gettysburg the 9th and 10th.  There’s only so much money in the travel budget.

Gov. Tom Corbett did a bit of traveling last week.  His wife gave him a kayak so he spent three days on the upper Susquehanna River.  I hope he did enjoy the natural wonder and beauty of our Commonwealth and, perhaps, an appreciation to keep it that way.  Probably not considering all the fracking activity I saw in Tioga and Potter Counties but, heck, you never know.  I do have one suggestion for the Governor:  get a good wide brimmed hat if you intend to kayak.  We don’t want the Governor getting heat stroke from too much sun.

Here’s a fun way to nag your Republican friends.  Someone compiled this list of 100 things you can say to irritate them.  My favorites, what are yours?

Jesus healed the sick and helped the poor, for free

Reagan raised taxes eleven times as President

Paying taxes is patriotic

The Constitution is the law, NOT the Bible

Health care is a right, not a product

In addition to his other problems as a presidential candidate it seems that Rick Perry also has one concerning public corruption.  The first example here reminds me of the relationship between Gov. Rendell and businessman Albert Boscov.  The department store magnate invested several hundred thousand dollars in the former Governor’s election campaigns and received about $45 million back from state and local governments (Rendell pushed the counties into giving the money).  It was a pretty good investment for Boscov and the state even paid to build a statue of him in Reading.

Perry also thinks Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are Ponzi schemes.  

Rick Santorum, a devoted Catholic and member of its Opus Dei cult, is defending the priests accused of molesting minors.  How this jives with his beliefs that all sex must be reproductive is interesting…  Here’s his quote:

“In this case, what we’re talking about, basically, is priests who were having sexual relations with post-pubescent men. We’re not talking about priests with 3-year-olds, or 5-year-olds. We’re talking about a basic homosexual relationship. Which, again, according to the world view sense is a perfectly fine relationship as long as it’s consensual between people. If you view the world that way, and you say that’s fine, you would assume that you would see more of it.”

So Santorum believes that as long as a male has reached puberty he is fair game for priests?  Maybe now we have an explanation of his infamous “man on dog” reference?  These men of the cloth are obviously dogs in the way in which they abused these boys.  Or does he think the altar boys were dogs?  I’m all confused Rick, do you or do you not believe that all sex must be reproductive?  

The confusion being created by Republican presidential candidates continues after Mitt Romney openly declared that corporations are people:

He claimed that everything corporations earn eventually goes to the people.  Gee, I never got my share of all that ExxonMobil money?  “The people” are destroyed by corporations not helped by them.  Can I marry a corporation?  Do they not buy land, buildings, equipment and products?  Not everything they earn goes to even people.  Nowadays it goes into bank accounts.  Romney is a fool.

The Heritage Foundation said something last week even stupider than Romney’s screed.  They said poor people in America have it pretty good.  They have houses, TV’s, refrigerators and microwave ovens so they can’t really be poor.  At this time 45 million Americans are on food stamps, the poverty rate is increasing rapidly and 7 million families have lost their homes since 2008.  How do you have a TV, refrigerator or microwave when you’re homeless?  Have they looked at all the people who are homeless or are they blind to poverty in America?

I have an idea.  Since Mitt Romney claims all corporate cash goes to “the people” how about if we take all that money and give it to all those who were defrauded by corporations and forced out of their jobs and homes?  How about if “we the people” spread that money to “the people” so no one is on food stamps, every child has a good and safe school and everyone has food on their plate?  How about if we tax those corporations and use the money to hire the unemployed to rebuild all the empty houses, give them to the poor and provide jobs which will enable our workforce to pay taxes themselves and lift our nation out of recession?