Yesterday’s plead agreement in which Bethlehem developer Ramzi Haddad pled guilty to charges of bribing Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski illustrate a corrupt city Administration in denial. The FBI raided city halls in Allentown and Reading this summer and the dominoes are beginning to fall. The DOJ will take down several of the players in each city before going after Mayors Pawlowski and Vaughn Spencer. After they have enough cooperating witnesses the charges will fall on both of them for corrupt activities.
Ed Pawlowski should not wait to vacate the office of Mayor. Yesterday’s information shows a Mayor who was clearly on the take for his U.S. Senate run and we should all be grateful his campaign never really got off the ground. Agreeing to accept $25,000 in campaign contributions in exchange for lenient City oversight of Haddad properties not only violated ethics but may have put Allentown residents at risk. It’s time for Ed to go gracefully.
As for Spencer the Reading Mayor has already been implicated in making an $1800 bribe to City Council President Francis Acosta to waive inconvenient campaign finance ethics laws. Acosta also pled guilty and resigned his seat. Spencer needs to resign so Reading can get past this scandal.
The corruption among elected Democratic officials in the Commonwealth keeps growing. Yesterday Reading City Council President Francis Acosta pled guilty to conspiracy to accept a bribe. Today Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is expected to face charges.
Two of Kane’s biggest personal faults are coming back to haunt her: her vindictiveness and her inability to tell the truth. She will be accused of leaking grand jury testimony in order to damage the reputation of someone she disliked and then lying about it under oath. Kane lies about everything and her penchant to get back at those she dislikes has turned her office into a disaster area.
In Reading an FBI a few weeks ago led to the first domino falling in Acosta. A man who seemingly came out of nowhere to get a seat on City Council then get elected as Council President, he agreed to try and repeal an ethics law designed to restrict corruption. The campaign finance caps prohibited anyone receiving no bid city contracts from contributing more than a set amount to a campaign. Mayor Vaughn Spencer (obviously “elected official #1 in the indictment) faced a tough re-election campaign due to a failed first term and needed to have the ethics law repealed. According to Acosta’s plea agreement he agreed to contribute $1800 to “elected official # 2” if Francis would repeal the ethics law. He introduced a resolution to do just that but Council members with integrity successfully fought the action.
It appears that Mayor Vaughn Spencer will soon join Acosta in federal prison. He accepted $84,000 from four persons who were limited by that law in what they could contribute to his campaign. The Mayor routinely violated laws and ordinances during his term leading to constant battles with Council. The legal fees from those fights amounted to more than $1 million for a cash strapped city unable to provide basic services. He and Acosta are both cronies of State Representative Thomas Caltagirone who has run the Berks County Democratic Committee from behind the curtain for years. One of his staffers ran Acosta’s unsuccessful campaign for Mayor four years ago. He and Spencer go way back.
The common denominator in the corruption in Reading and Allentown goes to consultant Mike Fleck. This seems to have begun with the investigation of former Treasurer Rob McCord who pled guilty earlier in the year. Fleck was his consultant in his failed campaign for Governor following Mayor Ed Pawlowski’s withdrawal from the race. The Allentown City Hall offices were raided recently by the FBI and it has been reported that Fleck wore a wire against both Mayors before disappearing.
I’ve known Fleck since he appeared on the scene running various Democratic campaigns. No campaign he ran was legal and above board. I even warned people running against his candidates to expect shenanigans. There always were. It’s no wonder that someone who had no regard for election laws would also violate other laws. In the cases of McCord, Pawlowski and Spencer, this just goes to prove the old adage that when you sleep with stray dogs you get fleas.
When we combine these corruption scandals with the recent indictment of Congressman Chaka Fattah Pennsylvania Democrats have much work to do to clean up their act. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party even hired Fleck’s consulting business for a time before severing the relationship.
Consultants are big business in politics. They are paid well to manage and strategize campaigns for candidates. A bad consultant, and they are legion, can do irreparable harm as Fleck has. Shortly after the FBI raids in Allentown he dissolved his business and fled. Acosta’s fall is simply the second domino to fall (after McCord) in what appears to be a succession of Democratic Mayors heading to prison.
It’s been a bad year for Pennsylvania Democrats. The FBI raid on City Halls in Reading and Allentown seem to have ensnared Mayors Vaughn Spencer and Ed Pawlowski in pay to play corruption schemes, the State Attorney General is facing potential criminal charges for leaking secret grand jury information and is accused of failing to prosecute Philadelphia area lawmakers in a probe which was successfully concluded by a rival DA.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has garnered multiple convictions against State Representatives Ronald Waters, Michelle Brownlee, Harold James. Vanessa Lowery Brown and Louise Willaims Bishop are also facing charges.
Former Harrisburg Mayor Ed Reed may be the biggest prize of all for prosecutors though as he faces hundreds of counts for purchasing artifacts with taxpayer funds then keeping them for himself.
All of these corruption cases involve members of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. Did someone spike the punch at recent State Committee meetings? It certainly seems to be contagious. Of course public corruption inflicts officials of both major political parties but at the present time the state GOP has to be licking its lips at the stain being given to Democrats.
It begins at the top where AG Kathleen Kane is obviously over her head. She can’t keep staff or even the attorney she hired to represent her against criminal charges. It seems she has a bad vindictive streak she is unable to control. She also has a bad habit of lying-something I exposed during that election.
So what doe Democrats here do to clean up their act? Losing consultant Mike Fleck is a first step since he disappeared after wearing a wire against former clients Pawlowski and Spencer. The Philadelphia lawmakers charged and convicted say much about the sad state of Bob Brady’s “machine” there. No one in Philly can breathe without first clearing it with Brady and no one gets elected without his blessing. Mush of this scandal must lay at his doorstep.
Update: Yet another black eye. Congressman Chaka Fattah has been indicted for accepting an illegal loan for $1 million. Yet another Brady crony.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski has suspended his U.S. Senate campaign following a raid on City offices last week by the FBI. Thursday his political consultant Mike Fleck also shut down his firm H Street Consulting. Democrats had recruited Pawlowski to run against Joe Sestak in the Senate primary. Now they, again, have egg on their faces as it appears he’s headed for an indictment.
Allentown just completed the PPL Center, a local convention hall and hotel which hosted the Pennsylvania Democratic Party meeting last month. It was a horrible venue for such an event and I left early Friday evening and didn’t return because the venue was so bad. The entire thing was designed to be a launching pad for Pawlowski’s campaign. Oops.
Fleck has run the Mayor’s political operations for some time and expanded south to Reading where his tendency to ignore election laws and regulations got that Mayor in some hot water recently. Fleck has never seen an election law he respected. I always advised candidates going against his clients to expect some last minute illegal shenanigans. I was never disappointed.
This is yet another black eye for PA Dems who seem to be lost in the woods under Chair Jim Burn. The decision six years ago to back party switcheroo Arlen Specter blew up in their faces when Sestak beat him in the primary. In a big GOP sweep year Pat Toomey narrowly beat Sestak for the Senate seat when other Democrats lost in landslides across the Commonwealth. Then last year they lost Tom Wolf so badly he created a shadow Party apparatus and simply ignored them. So, in the space of six years the Pennsylvania Democratic Party has completely alienated their two top candidates: the sitting Governor and their U.S. Senate candidate. After disrespecting Sestak six years ago they dug their hole deeper by recruiting Pawlowski to challenge him this time. Oops. The only seat Ed is going to get next year is likely in a ten by ten cell shared with Fleck.
The Pennsylvania Department of State’s Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation (BCEL) told me this morning they have no record of Frank Denbowski’s campaign committee. He is running for the State House in District 126, a seat currently held by Dante Santoni Jr. State election law requires that any candidate spending more than $250 form a campaign committee and register it with the state. They are then required to file periodic campaign finance reports with BCEL. I have been searching the BCEL database for Denbowski’s reports for a week and finally drove to Harrisburg this morning to get them. I was told no reports exist and that they have no record of “Friends of Frank Denbowski” being a legally registered campaign committee.
I spoke with Mr. Denbowski and he insists he has filed the appropriate paperwork and has time and date stamped receipts. If he registered his Committee in February as he claims then BCEL should have a record of it. Mike Fleck, consultant to the Denbowski campaign called me and stated “we confirmed they have our reports. I don’t know why they couldn’t give them to you.”
Gov. Corbett’s budget cuts have cut the BCEL staff from 31 people to 20, a third of its previous size. Considering the importance of election integrity if they are unable to process crucial paperwork in a timely manner all elections are suspect. Voters have the right to examine all campaign finance reports prior to an election. We are on the Friday before a Tuesday election day and BCEL is unable to provide me with documents the candidate claims to have submitted. Of course had Denbowski done so electronically none of this would be an issue. Mark Rozzi’s electronically filed campaign finance report has been online at the BCEL website for a week. In 2012 it is inexcusable for a candidate to not be able to use basic technology.
Fleck told me he would scan their documents and send them to me via email.
I called the Department of State and asked why they are unable to produce documents when citizens drive there and request them. They have no answer for me yet either.
Meanwhile I have been attempting to obtain these documents since 8:30 this morning and by 1:30 PM have nothing. I’ll update the story as events unfold.
Update: Three and a half hours after they were promised I still haven’t received copies of the documents from the Denbowski campaign. I did get a copy of them from another campaign which managed to go to the Berks County Elections Services, obtain a copy (without state time stamps), scan them and email them to me. At this point I’m not sure I’d even trust them, too much time has elapsed to use Photoshop. Until I get something from the PA Dept. of State I’m not saying the campaign committee was properly registered.
Update II: The Department of State has sent the Denbowski campaign a letter stating their campaign finance report was filed on time. Thus far no one has provided proof the Committee was registered. I have been seeking this information all day.
I’m not sure when I first met Adrian Shanker. It may have been a Planned Parenthood event at Muhlenberg College, perhaps Gay Pride, maybe some political debate in the Valley. I meet a lot of people doing what I do so its tough to recall. I’ve met few young people with the heart, dedication and the passion that Adrian has though. His drive to improve the lives of LGBT Pennsylvanians knows no bounds however and today, as President of the Board of Directors, Equality Pennsylvania roasted him on his 25th birthday.
Adrian impressed me when I got to know him. He was a student leader at Muhlenberg and began working on Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski’s re-election campaign and other important progressive things. He got involved with the Pennsylvania Diversity Network and then Equality PA.
This morning over 200 people, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and a few straight ones, gathered in Allentown to celebrate his 25th birthday by roasting him. Adrian is so nice most of the roasters had to roast each other instead. Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, rumored to be a somewhat handsome fellow, went first followed by Easton Councilman and consultant Mike Fleck. Comic Ryan Hill emceed the stage and attempted to teach the others some fine points of comedy. Lehigh County Dems Chair Bar Johnston went next and then Pawlowski took his turn. Finally Adrian got the chance to have his fun at their expense. It was a fun Sunday and raised a good amount for Equality Pennsylvania. I can’t post all the video because its such good blackmail material… Opposition researchers would have a field day with it. Therefore I’ll post a few pics:
The guest of honor Adrian Shanker:
Adrian, the Mayors and Mike Fleck:
Some of the attendees:
Equality Pennsylvania head (on the left) Ted Martin (aka the Lavendar Light Special):
John Campbell, Alex Reber and Dietz:
Doylestown Councilman Det Ansinn:
Jackson Eaton and his Congressional campaign manager:
Reading was designated as the poorest city in the country with 53% of its residents now living in poverty. The City is in Act 47 and has major troubles. Crime, drugs, racism, sewage being dumped directly into the Schuylkill River, quality of life issues and a lack of code enforcement have combined to give it a bad reputation. I cannot drive through it without dealing with multiple double parked cars for example. I’d rather go the long way around Reading than deal with these.
Vaughn Spencer, formerly City Council President, was elected Mayor earlier this month. He succeeds Tom McMahon whose first term was followed by a remarkably inept second one. This is a financially starved city which cannot even manage to cash checks. Employees and services have been cut while money sits around in shoe boxes until the checks grow stale and cannot be redeemed.
While it calls out for strong and smart management I wonder if this new regime is up to the task. Spencer was on the wrong side of the citywide trash collection issue, sided with a major trash hauler to sell Antietam Lake, an issue which seemed fraught with corruption, and violated open government statutes as City Council President.
He says Reading is about to turn the corner and move ahead but residents are still ashamed to tell others they live here. He has assembled a transition team of city and county community leaders to form committees designed to discuss the critical issues facing the new team and come up with solutions. They are examining the structure and financing of City government and expect to have a plan in place so Mayor Spencer can hit the ground running in January. Noticeably absent from the transition team is outgoing Mayor McMahon. I wish Vaughn well, I like him personally but watched him make some bad decisions as Council President. Living just a few minutes from the City line whatever happens in and to Reading affects my life as well. Yes, we’d all like to be able to say we’re from Reading and have a positive reaction to that but I’m not holding my breath.