No response to legitimate requests for an interview with my congressman, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright.
And that’s no way to treat a voter - not to mention that I’m an elder statesman of the local press who has worked the truth-seeking trenches for almost 30 years in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
On Friday, in the spirit of Irish peacemaking and in preparation for the Scranton St. Patrick’s Day parade the following day, I declared an official truce between me and the no-account politicians with whom I have developed a prickly rash of a relationship over the past year.
That’s my job, by the way. Pester, antagonize, provoke, challenge, annoy, belittle and sometimes even work to destroy the careers of those who dishonor the public trust or do not take seriously their public responsibility to uphold the public trust.
That sounds rash because it is. Trite as it might sound to you, the press must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And nobody is more comfortable in hard coal country than elected officials.
Cartwright, just by virtue of his position, is the most comfortable daily diner at the public trough.
When he ran as an underdog, nobody was more in his corner than I was. At times he seemed like a co-host on the show, turning up with little or no notice to answer questions about why he was the best candidate for the job.
Cartwright ran in the Democratic primary in a newly constructed district, facing off against Democratic darling and longtime incumbent congressman Tim Holden, a crotchety and well-oiled veteran who controlled much of what passed for democracy in his district. Powerful status quo Democrats, people like U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, played it safe with Holden. I ran amok with Cartwright, who passed himself off as an “FDR Democrat,” a liberal who was proud of his leftist leanings. And when Cartwright won, the lads from the other side became his new best friends. Even worse, Cartwright became one of them, a posturing, fawning, timid and lackluster follower rather than the rebel leader he claimed to be.
Still, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Then I asked for a favor as a constituent, good citizen, and law-abiding member of the community. I didn’t just ask for myself, either. I asked for us all.
Would Cartwright help us remove from a public park the name of an admitted federal gangster, a prison inmate and former powerful Democratic Party warlord who pillaged the public trust?
Cartwright quickly refused. Stammering and spinning, the rookie lawmaker passed off his duly elected responsibility to anybody who could get him off the hook. We sensed his fear and an unwillingness to stand up for what was right. We sensed a dereliction of duty. We saw right through him. Obviously embarrassed, Cartwright also didn’t like what we saw.
As you might expect, my on-the-air critiques became sharper.
Then one day his normally obedient communications director – who also serves as his re-election campaign field director – stopped taking my calls. Shane Seaver stopped responding to my emails. I still received the bureaucratic press releases that seemed to be spit from Washington automatically, but human contact ceased. Even my most serious questions about policy – including an alleged murder that a self-proclaimed former gang member whom Cartwright appointed to a task force claimed he witnessed - went unheeded.
Then I declared my First Annual Scranton St. Patrick’s Day Corbett Truce.
The truce went well. Standing in front of cathedral steps, I watched a nest of elected sinners descend into the street. I shook hands one after the other with men who likely still despise me but agreed to abide by my truce. Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright, state Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich, Scranton City Councilman Bill Gaughan, Scranton School District Superintendent Bill King and others smiled as we broke shamrocks together.
I made a point to hunt down Cartwright. Stepping to my congressman, I announced the truce. Cartwright grinned and announced that we were not fighting. People around him laughed and we were all of a sudden in this mess together. Cartwright even relaxed long enough to tell a silly story about congressmen doing yoga at the Capitol at taxpayer expense.
More about that later.
And off I went, with a second handshake and the promise that, “We’ll talk.” I made the promise, by the way.
On Monday, Cartwright’s editorial about immigration appeared in the Times-Tribune. I figured the issue was serious enough to invite him on the show. So I did. I left three voicemails for Seaver and spoke to a staffer in Cartwright’s Scranton office. I left a personal voicemail on Seaver’s cellphone after getting the number from a Washington staffer.
Maybe we had a mix-up along the way. Maybe Cartwright isn’t getting the messages.