The first public test for rookie U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright came fast.
Almost innocent in its requirement, the challenge pitted the new congressman against the simplest cornerstone of public service - conscience.
Would Cartwright do the right thing?
He would not.
Larger responsibilities apparently loomed in Washington. The combat death of a young Army sergeant in Afghanistan would have to be pushed aside for another day when Cartwright vowed to honor 26-year-old Jan Argonish.
Thanks for nothing, congressman.
All we asked was his help in stripping the name of a gangster from a public park, a wondrous green open space where Argonish played as a child that was named for an admitted political criminal who betrayed the public trust and is headed to federal prison for his crimes.
But Cartwright refused. He would not tell local politicians – his constituents whom he likely needs for re-election – what to do, he said when we spoke last week on the air.
He would not take a risk that honorable men and women will readily embrace.
Cartwright would not do the right thing.
We can now add him to the list of self-absorbed and opportunistic elected officials who perpetuate the poison of public disservice. We can add him to the list of powerful men who have turned away from brave public service and the courage to lead. We can add him to the landfill of local political hacks that do exactly as they’re told because they fear standing alone because they fear loss.
Although Cartwright doesn’t know it, he has already lost. So have we. And, no matter how many political campaigns Cartwright wins or helps win in the future, the loss of this fine soldier will forever shadow the history of this nation and this region.
Cartwright’s egotistic timidity helps the loss continue.
Ego can kill the public spirit. Ego can destroy the public trust. Ego can kill community hope and the truest sense of honorable tradition.
Yet the restoration of the public trust in Northeastern Pennsylvania remains the mission for which we must continue to enlist
For that reason, good citizens will continue to fight to rename Robert Mellow Park in the Peckville section of Blakely Borough after Argonish and other fallen warriors who died defending this nation of law that Mellow and his supporters defiled.
Cartwright, who danced and skated and rambled on and on, even trying to distance himself from Mellow, relating how he only ever man him once and that Mellow didn’t seem to know who he was, needs to join us.
Instead of standing with the spirit of the fallen who fell with honor, Cartwright stands with the spirit of a brother Democrat, a man who disgraced himself, his family, his community and fell with dishonor.
In life, we sometimes must take sides.
This is one of those times.
Strip the name of the gangster from the park. Replace it with the name of a true hero. Do the right thing.
But Cartwright abandoned us when we asked for his help.
That pathetic failure so far defines his public service career and, unless he has a change of heart, will set the tone for future decision he must make on behalf of constituents in Peckville and elsewhere.
I’m disappointed in my new Congressman, a smart lawyer whom I supported during a long-shot campaign when other Democrats turned their backs on him, instead standing with a long-time congressional company man.
When Cartwright upset Tim Holden in the primary, the same Democrats flocked to his side.
Now Cartwright chooses them and their connections over the legacy of a young man and his comrades at arms who stand for more in death than all these political warlords stand for in life.
As the weather turns soft and warm, I hope that the news of this truly American betrayal spreads far and wide. I hope that television networks and national columnists with the power to sense right from wrong come to Peckville to visit the park. Mostly, though, I hope that combat veterans who fought in Iraq, where Argonish also served, and Afghanistan come to Peckville to pay their respects and volunteer for one last patrol.
Maybe Cartwright can offer them a dull resolution from the floor of the House of Representatives. Maybe he’ll send them a flag for their park encampment that once flew over the U.S. Capitol. Maybe he’ll send finger sandwiches from a catered brunch with lobbyists.
Better yet, maybe he’ll do the right thing – maybe Cartwright will change his mind and help us restore honor in a community pillaged with corruption and abandoned by those public servants in whom we are duty-bound to place great faith.