A few years ago I watched in horror as a television commercial showed a dull young woman dancing around the screen to a giddy pop music beat.
"You can go to college in your pajamas!" the announcer squawked.
Empty-headedness is something you can put on your resume – like community service and cheerleading. And we've now taken simplicity to a new level.
You can be state attorney general in your pajamas.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has not gone to work since October 21 when the work day came to a crashing halt at 6:55 a.m. when her driver slammed into a parked Jeep in Dunmore. The driver, Robert Ruddy, is a former Dunmore cop. Former Dunmore police chief and Kane bodyguard Patrick Reese also rode the state-owned Tahoe into the slow speed sidelines that fateful day.
As you might expect, I have questions.
Were they really driving 15 miles-per-hour? Where were they that early before the crash? Did anybody call an ambulance? If not, why not? Did ex-con admitted criminal and former Democratic Party war lord Bob Mellow put a curse on Kathleen?
Since then, Democrat Kane has not returned to work, where she is paid handsomely to do the people's business. Instead, she is giving the people the business.
As you can see, Kane's press office has its work cut out for it. AGPR, however, is not what it used to be. It took 10 days for Kane's press flack to acknowledge the crack-up, and only after reporters started asking about it.
Islamic fundamentalists have a smoother public relations machine than Kane.
"Aw, shush now, Kathy" her friends must be telling her. Yes, her friends call her Kathy even though she is less than chatty. "It'll all go away. Before you know it you'll be having a grand highball at the Irish Women's Society dinner where nobody questions you."
If only life was one big St. Patrick's Day fog where all the drinks were free. But harsh reality has once again reared its ugly head and the facts must set us free.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that Kane was headed the morning of the accident to a Montgomery County grand jury appearance where she was expected to testify as a witness in a very serious proceeding investigating alleged leaks to a newspaper. Kane canceled after the wreck – and no, I'm not talking about her election to office – the second time she bailed out of a grand jury appearance, according to the Inquirer.
Then there's the matter of the Dunmore police report.
All three passengers were wearing seat belts at the time of the accident, the report claimed. Then Kane's press secretary said she was not restrained and that the law allowed her to ride free in the back seat. The report should be corrected, Kane's press secretary demanded.
The Dunmore police chief did not return the Inquirer reporter's call seeking an explanation for what officials call a "clerical mistake."
Why were Dunmore cops even handling a case involving the former Dunmore police chief and a veteran Dunmore officer? At the very least, Pennsylvania State Police from the Dunmore barracks should have handled the case. On second thought, they have a conflict of interest too.
Some people around here will tell you with a straight face that "Our Kathleen" should have simply investigated herself.
Aw, sure, she's as fair as the Tullamore dew on a golden spring morning in County Mayo.
Despite the blarney, Kane's dilemma - and ours - is no laughing matter.
Kane's tenure as a public servant continues to crash and burn.
A former Philadelphia traffic judge recently signaled her intention to plead guilty to a charge of political corruption in a case Kane dropped amid charges of racism, ineptness and political chicanery. The former traffic judge is black, as is the Philly district attorney who brought the charge. And the only incompetence in this matter is an unrestrained Kane running amok in her pajamas.
Maybe the doctor who gave her an excuse to stay away from work should write her another.
When members of a federal special operations team captured accused cop killer Eric Frein, the highest-ranking Pennsylvania State Police officials agreed at a press conference that injuries to Frein's face happened before law enforcement apprehended him.
Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan confirmed that fact. So did PSP Lt. Col George Bivens. Gov. Tom Corbett provided silent affirmation as he stood silently to the side.
Now those same PSP officials say that the U.S. Marshals Service officials did not tell them the truth when they briefed PSP about Frein's arrest. USMS provided wrong and untrustworthy information that PSP then told the world.
When marshals who participated in the capture eventually admitted in press accounts that they ground Frein's face into the asphalt as they took him into custody, the integrity of the PSP - praised for its discipline and restraint during the 48-day hunt for the man who allegedly killed one PSP trooper and severely wounded another - was now being questioned.
Yet PSP officials said nothing in their own defense.
I reported during Monday's show that some members of the PSP wanted to defend themselves. They had worked too hard and too long to let a rogue cop or two from another law enforcement agency smear their stellar reputation.
The troopers said Noonan and Bivens only reported what they were told.
Now they felt manipulated and disrespected.
Earlier in the day I had called and left a message for Bivens, inviting him on the air to talk about the controversy. Some people accused PSP of covering up for the use of excess force. Some people accused PSP of refusing to tell the public the whole truth. Some people felt betrayed since they had provided overwhelming public support for police – all police – during the long and dangerous manhunt.
I had not known when I called for Bivens, though, that some officers were angry about marshals misleading them, hoping that Bivens would speak and clear up the confusion. Obviously they could not speak on the record. But they could get the word out. And they did, through a credible source I know and trust.
Until then I had some serious questions of my own.
The first photograph of accused cop killer Eric Frein showed a nasty gash across the bridge of his nose. A colleague who showed me the picture on his cellphone said, "Looks like the cops tuned him up pretty good."
We'll have to wait and see, I said.
On Friday too many callers to the show willing jumped into the rumor mill, speculating and guessing that police had indeed beat, manhandled and violating Frein's rights.
Too many callers even endorsed revenge against the suspect.
No evidence exists that any abuse happened, I said. Repeating a refrain that I have repeated for decades in the news business, I said, "In the absence of evidence to the contrary, police get the benefit of the doubt."
Gloating marshals then changed their story. Yes, they said, they had physically scuffled with Frein as they took him into custody. Yes, he got injured in the process. Unlike previously reported by the PSP and the press, the damage to his nose and left side of his face had not happened before they spotted and captured him, the marshals said.
Until then, news reports across the world quoted marshals – members of a supposedly elite squad that includes former military special operations personnel and combat vets – as saying that Frein surrendered with incident. He kneeled, raised his hands over his head and went quietly, they said.
Now, they changed their story.
I did not expect PSP to confirm what my source told me.
PSP Press Secretary Maria Finn at first declined my request to interview Bivens, saying that officials needed to protect the integrity of the investigation and that no comments would be forthcoming.
I responded in an email while I was on the air that I was not interested in facts about the investigation or prosecution of Frein. I said I needed facts about whether USMS officials lied to PSP brass who then misinformed the public. I was more interested in the integrity of the PSP than the integrity of the case. I relayed what I had reported earlier about the claim that federal marshals had misinformed PSP.
Finn quickly responded in another email (while I was on the air) that I was right.
Finn wrote: "I understand and you are correct. Commissioner Noonan and Lt. Col. Bivens have only repeated what the USMS reported to them at their briefing the night Frein was taken into custody. This is why we are referring all media questions on this specific issue to the USMS. Our troopers were not on scene when Frein was apprehended so we can only provide what we were told directly from the USMS – that is, the facial injuries happened prior to arrest. The discrepancy should be addressed by the USMS. "
I hope not.
The public deserves to know exactly what happened during Frein's capture. Video, if available – must be released. PSP officials should answer any and all questions about the USMS briefing, including who in the USMS misled them.
So far, no USMS representative has returned my calls.
I hope that Noonan and Bivens – as well as the governor himself - have already asked for a formal internal investigation.
When it comes to the public trust, the search for truth is always worth the effort.
After vacation and eight days out of the country, I returned to work only to forget how to pronounce accused cop killer and fugitive Eric Frein’s last name. Is it Frein that rhymes with clean or Frein that rhymes with train?
In the beginning of the hunt, one Pennsylvania state trooper said “Freen.” Another said “Frane.” Yet another instructed me to return to saying “Freen.”
Then I forgot altogether - a bad sign to be sure.
I soon realized that I’m not the only person to grow distance between then and now.
Back then the whole world went on alert for the 31-year-old self-styled survivalist and point blank madman marksman who police say assassinated one state trooper and severely wounded another from the shadowed cover of a night-time tree line.
A thousand cops, including state police and special assault units of the FBI and ATF, scoured the mountains near the Blooming Grove barracks where the deadly attack took place.
Frein’s parents were cooperating, police said. Frein’s history buff war re-enactment buddies were cooperating, police said. The sane world was cooperating, police said.
But the search came up empty. Sightings came and went as skeptics poked holes in the odds that the hunt would prove successful. Critics started questioning the wisdom of spending what some accounts put at a million dollars a day. Conspiracy theorists railed about their hatred for cops and love of militia bunkers far away.
Eric Frein remains at large. What police call a credible sighting took place as recently as yesterday. Just a few days earlier a woman walking her dog told police that she saw a man with a rifle, a scope and a mud-covered face in the area near where Frein attended high school. With what she estimated to be just 15 to 20 feet between them, the man made no aggressive move toward her.
Again, the mystery man just disappeared.
Five weeks? Alone and on the run? A three day head start before a man walking his dog discovered his Jeep and identified Frein by documents he - or somebody - left behind? A camp with equipment and food discovered in the woods? A journal with an entry about making the shot and how fast the officer fell? Pipe bombs? Ammo? An AK-4? Soiled diapers? An empty pack of Serbian cigarettes
Yes, it appears that Frein is in the search area and that police have him isolated. Evidence seems to support what police believe, and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must give police the benefit of the doubt.
“PSP Strong” supporters buy thousands of gray t-shirts, local bars run too many alcohol-fueled fundraisers and bikers don their cut-off vests and raise their fists in triumph because they have shown support for the victims.
But Frein, if alive, gets the last laugh. For now. Maybe forever.
I hope we get him – dead or alive, whatever harsh circumstances dictate. But maybe we will always come up empty. If that happens, what lessons do we take from this tragedy? I don’t know the answers to that question. Neither do you, police, living victims or even future cop killers. Nobody knows.
This dismal, violent mystery seems like a modern curse. Yet, we must continue to remember, to hunt with a commitment greater than the dark hunt that tore our soldier of the law from his colorful fabric of family and friends. The frantic attack still impacts us all. And we must remain aware and sensitive. We must refuse to get distracted or bored or tired of our responsibility to helping resolve this madness.
This is life and death as real as it gets. Never forget that we have our lives to live and must make the most of them. Because Bryon Dickson lost his life, we must promise to keep his spirit alive and powerful in ours. Refuse to let the hunt grow distant.
Flags will one day soon return to full mast for Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Bryon Dickson, 38, and, when writing about the 31-year-old surviving trooper, some young reporter will likely forget to add a second “s” to Alex Douglass’ last name.
The hunt for the fugitive accused cop killer will continue until he’s captured – or not.
Maybe his bones will surface one day years from now in the lush Pocono wilderness where police search because they say they believe he’s there. Maybe he’ll turn up in a militias bunker in Montana. Maybe he’ll emerge from a mountain cave, hold his hands high and surrender.
All roads lead to the 31-year-old self-styled survivalist and expert marksman who police say ambushed two troopers in the late-night darkness of shift change at the rural Blooming Grove barracks.
But the truth is that police seem no closer to bringing him in or bringing him down than they were three weeks ago when fear and mystery gripped our region and the FBI put Frein on its ten most wanted list and offered a $100,000 reward.
Crime Stoppers offered a $75,000 reward.
Bounty hunters snarled from their lairs.
Media in-laws and outlaws growled. Some members of the press were more trouble than they are worth. A British tabloid reported a salacious rumor the alleged reporter could not prove. America’s laziest columnist covered a commuter tax meeting when reporters and commentators around the country all but parachuted into his beat.
And I took heat because I refused to stray from the story of an alleged domestic terrorist who, if guilty, assassinated a cop with a sniper rifle and then disappeared.
Some listeners said they were bored, that the entertainment value of talk radio had dulled their already dull senses. Some fringe conspiracy theorists saw bats in the night and called them helicopters. Others actively defended the alleged shooter, calling his reaction basic “blowback” in a “police state” where militarized government agents strip liberty from our Constitution with the ease of a Boy Scout stripping bark from a birch tree to make a soft mountain tea.
Fools all, they contribute only to heartache and frustration, angering those of us who see the attack as a craven assault on decency, justice, law and order.
Emails and text messages also attacked.
My father became a target.
I remembered “Shamus” and an honor guard of state police pall bearers carrying a legend to his grave as taps blew through the rain and the young troopers gently laid him to rest forever.
Death finally retired “Shamus,” who was all cop all the time.
After 34 years with the state police, as one of the most highly decorated members of the force, the man who received the first governor’s citation for heroism and who came within a hair of being killed in the line of duty, Shamus left the job not knowing what else to do.
Shamus was always a cop – an honorable and courageous member of an elite unit.
Living my father’s legacy means living Dickson’s legacy as well. I am duty-bound to carry my father in my heart and mind. Now I carry some of Dickson’s spirit as well. I must take a piece of what he was, what made him good and brave and decent, and carry that strength with me as I live my life each day.
I urge you to do the same.
Of course, Frein matters. But Dickson, Douglass and the other members of the PSP matter more. Our society depends far more on them than him. Frein is desperate, a lost animal who will likely one day surface.
If not, so be it.
What will live forever is the legacy of honor - theirs, ours, not his.
Frein goes down in history as just another pathetic and dangerous loser.
That’s why I stand with PSP in the ongoing hunt as well as in their quest to live each day the legacy of those who went before. That’s why I dismiss and denounce critics as those who are unable, unwilling or both to understand what it takes to be a good cop, a state trooper, a man or woman who daily risks it all to do the job.
That’s what staties call it - the job – a job that for those who understand is forever sacred – a job that is always so very much more than just a job.
My critics claim that I’m more psycho than psychic, but I’ll predict that if my congressman calls the show today he’ll act like everything’s okay between us, that he’s happy to talk with me and that he’s in good spirits all around even though the 17th congressional district and the world is falling apart.
Matt Cartwright is a multi-millionaire lawyer who didn’t get the big bank account by exerting uncompromising intransigence.
That doesn’t mean he likes putting on a happy face. It just means that somebody somewhere in his political circle of friends decided that my frontal assault on his lackluster performance might one day take a toll.
Not now, of course.
Cartwright’s opponent in the November election is not a threat.
Cartwright can’t lose.
Money and special interests have circled him and now hover like our worst bad angels to protect him and their best interests – not ours, not his, but theirs.
But the time might come when Cartwright really wants to get something done and my negative press could hurt his chances.
My theory is that once I threatened to tell his Capitol Hill colleagues about his timid behavior, he worried that Democrats might tag him as just another coal cracker jester rather than an aspiring button-down lawmaker with a long starched congressional career ahead of him.
For whatever the reason, Cartwright is supposed to call the show this afternoon. Press secretary Shane Seaver, who for months ignored my emails, phone calls and messages sent through third parties, quickly emailed yesterday that Cartwright was on his way to Washington where votes awaited but that he planned to call the show today.
I had sent an earlier email outlining my offensive – and I can be offensive. I also left a detailed voicemail – my second – for Hunter Ridgway, Cartwright’s Washington chief of staff
I explained that I was planning to picket congressman’s Scranton office, produce a gonzo Corbettcam video to post online for the whole world to see and offer interviews to Washington correspondents about Cartwright blackballing me at a time when journalism is under attack and considered a crime around the world.
Cartwright has turned into an anchor of democracy – around the necks of the people he serves. And it’s time for him to be publicly responsive to legitimate questions so we can decide if he deserves re-election.
That’s why I started a new segment on the show last week called “Ask The Congressman,” where each day until the November election I email a question to Seaver that I expect Cartwright to answer either in writing or on the air. Some questions are mine and some questions are yours. Each day I will announce - while “Hail to the Chief” plays in the background - whether Cartwright has responded to our inquiries.
We need to see how the congressman handles the simple pressure of responding to a fundamental cornerstone of the job – public accountability.
Of course, with no real opposition, Cartwright will win in November. But maybe one day he’ll worry that he won’t. Then he’ll need all the help he can get.
Back when Cartwright first ran – an underdog nobody married to a massive law firm, challenging a veteran Democrat who establishment Democrats unquestioningly supported - nobody backed him more than I did. He showed up on my show so much that he started to look like a co-host. And, oh, did he like me – patronizingly complimenting me by saying, “You could make a ham sandwich sound interesting.”
Aw, shucks, Matt.
And so it went.
Until the day I asked him on the air to help us get the name of a convicted Democratic Party warlord removed from a public park to be replaced with the name of an American hero who died in combat in Afghanistan.
Cartwright stammered and refused. Political fear came through loud and clear. But we eventually succeeded in getting degenerate admitted federal felon Bob Mellow’s name removed from the park.
And then Cartwright stopped answering questions.
I approached him at the St. Patrick’s Day parade and offered a truce. We made small talk and he told me about the congressional yoga class he and his colleagues attend because the instructor looks better than Harry Reid.
And that was it.
All communication ceased until yesterday.
Cartwright is a member of an elite club, a group that seems to distance itself more and more from the people it serves. Cartwright and his gang members need to be reminded regularly that public service must serve the public, that congressmen and congresswomen must work for us and respond to us whether they like it or not.
Because if they don’t, the merry-go-round might one day stop for each member of congress who takes for granted the people whose lives they impact and often abandon.
Cartwright entered the ring as a spoiler. And he won. But what he did to Tim Holden somebody might one day do to him.
Democracy is a messy business. Good government and an aggressive press both must be about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
That’s why even if Cartwright does talk with us this afternoon in a polite, professional interview I still might picket his office.
The best way to gauge Lackawanna County minority Republican Commissioner Patrick O’Malley’s public service is by the number of photographs of the grinning elected official you can find in the Scranton daily newspaper.
That’s why we call him “Take-My-Picture-Please, Cheeese” O’Malley.
The only time O’Malley has refused a photo that I’m aware of is when he was invited to pose with the Three Kings during a Christmas celebration at the South Side senior citizens’ center. He instinctively started to grin until he noticed that I was one of the kings.
Our Pat is not known for vision or leadership.
When an alert listener sent me a mailer he recently received from O’Malley’s re-election committee, I knew Pat was again up to no good. Raising money is expected in politics, but collecting cash through a re-election committee is craven and devious when you’re not even up for re-election.
But that doesn’t stop our Pat, whose “Fourth Annual Outing” is scheduled later this month at a private social club known for its Tiki Bar. Adjacent to neighbors of Italian, Irish and Polish descent, the club is located in the South Pacific section of the city.
Okay, Scranton doesn’t boast a hula friendly neighborhood but that’s the kind of response from Democratic and Republican flacks you can expect if you question such glaring manipulation of representative democracy. In Scranton, where crave assaults on their common sense, the more glaring the better.
Of course such pandering is an accepted part of regional public service.
The more money you collect the more checks you can write to support your buddies’ political campaigns and cash in on public opinion by handing out money for pee wee baseball, social clubs, old folks’ causes and other money grubbing ventures designed to win approval and, more importantly, votes. Word on the street is that Cheese O’Malley is spreading the love to both parties because he’s not quite clear what he represents and might one day run as a Democrat.
This is the oldest game in town.
One famous member of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s convicted criminal contingent of former public servant felons has played all sides of the street. Former Democrat/Republican Lackawanna County Commissioner Bob Cordaro is serving 11 years in a federal prison camp in New Jersey. Our Bobby loved everybody who loved him back in dollars.
Cordaro’s partner in crime, A.J. Munchak, is serving seven big ones in the sunny south for a similar racket.
Munchak’s former assistant is now O’Malley’s assistant.
You would think that after the federal investigation, jury trial in which her name came up as a loyal campaign worker and county worker, conviction, sentencing and onslaught of press coverage, that she would be more careful when it comes to using government resources for anything other than official public service government work.
But the lessons of larceny are lost on Lackawanna County losers.
When I called O’Malley’s government office during working hours last week to ask for tickets to the partisan political fundraiser, this same seasoned political vet told me that she would be happy to pass along my request to a “committeeperson” if I would leave my name and address.
She didn’t know it was me since I altered my voice to the weak volume of a sad sack O’Malley constituent down on my luck and looking for help.
But name and address are those two basic pieces of information that contribute to the database that O’Malley can use when he decides to run for dog catcher or president. That request also violates campaign law, according to one lawyer with whom I spoke.
The woman should have immediately told me that she cannot and will not discuss any political campaign on company time, that the people’s business is what she is paid to perform and that to do otherwise would be a breach of ethics and law.
Instead she quickly offered to connect me with the political fixer who would take my cash in exchange for clambake tickets.
Whoa. Did I just say clambake? Yes I did. Clambake, picnic, outing – call it what you will. They’re all the same in the sordid world of political maneuvering.
And that’s exactly what longtime former state senator and Democratic Party warlord Bob Mellow was doing before he got busted and went to prison for using state employees to do campaign work on the public time and dime.
Mellow’s local clambake was famous. Governors, U.S. senators and worse attended every year. And “The Friends of Bob Mellow” malfunctioned the same way O’Malley’s assistant malfunctioned, crossing lines between right and wrong as the boss made law and talked about upholding the public trust.
I even pulled the same stunt on Mellow’s staff that I pulled on O’Malley’s – successfully calling Mellow’s government office on government time to get put in touch with ticket sellers who would gladly take my hard-earned cash so their hustler boss could continue to perpetuate his fraud on the voters.
Mission accomplished both times.
So once again we lose. And nobody in any elected public service role will come to our aid and help us do something about it.
O’Malley’s assistant refused to return my call when I called her back to talk about what she had done.
O’Malley refused to return my call as well.
I know. I know. Cheese was out somewhere getting his picture taken posing as a public servant.
The good people of Moosic need all the cash you can carry to help pay back the almost $400,000 you stole from the volunteer fire company where you once served as president.
Your heist might be the biggest rip-off in Moosic history.
Even with Moosic’s history of criminal political corruption – former mayor and councilman convicted for fixing tickets and drunken driving cases then getting re-elected – you, as a former Moosic councilman, have likely set a record.
Actually I’m impressed.
You tie a plastic freezer bag over the head of the public trust and rob hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fire company. You admit that you have a gambling problem and that you pumped money you stole into Bitty Bill’s, your Moosic ice cream shop.
Four hundred grand buys a lot of milkshake straws, Bitty Bill.
A lot of fire hoses, too.
The judge ordered you to pay back every penny. Before pleading guilty you wrote a big check of about $100,000 and then made a second measly payment of $4,000. Then you went to jail, serving up to 23-months in the county prison, and the money stopped. Bitty Bill’s is still in business and taking in money.
But you’re not paying back one penny. So goes the rules of the court, a prosecutor told me yesterday. And anytime a thief pays back $100,000 as restitution the repayment is considered a big victory, he said. Now my worry is that you will hose the fire company once again – that you, Bitty Bill, will find one reason or another not to pay back significant amounts of money, to repay what you stole and help restore the battered public trust.
Okay, forget about restoring the public trust. I’m sorry to say that the public trust died in Moosic a long time ago. You just poured chocolate syrup on the grave.
What many of us do not understand is why county prosecutors or at least the fire company did not move against your assets to recover whatever they could. Why not freeze your assets, take your home and your car and your ice cream truck? Why not seize anything and everything they could? Isn’t that the purpose of prosecutors and lawsuits?
The prosecutor told me that the business did not contribute to the theft.
But the theft contributed to the business.
And when you’re released you get to go right back to the business and resume your dream with a cherry on top.
The prosecutor told me that he hopes you make lots and lots of Bitty Bill cold cash so you can continue to repay your debt to the volunteers who fight fires in your hometown, protecting and serving and risking their lives to save lives and property.
But a Facebook page, “Boycott Bitty Bill’s” is not so quick to let you off the hook and ladder. Call me a Facebook friend who does not want one more banana split in your name. Redemption takes work, even religion for some thieves.
You might need church but sundae school is out of the question. Your Rocky Road has only just begun. I wish you well, Bitty Bill, but only after you begin the long trek to genuine rehabilitation. Using a single scoop of the almost four hundred thousand dips you stole to help you pave the way to success is simply unacceptable.
Law-abiding mom and pop neighborhood ice cream parlors struggle throughout our region to offer something of the good old days to young and old alike. But the “Bitty Bill Bandit” poisoned the innocence. Bitty Bill “toxicles” should not be among the old-fashioned traditions doing well in our sad little neighborhoods that too often change for the worse.
What also is behind the times is some people’s gullible willingness to excuse your behavior.
“He’s a really good guy,” some people say.
No, he’s not a really good guy.
Bill Sweeney, a young man in his early 30s, is forever the Bitty Bill Bandit, who consciously and willfully stole year after year after year from his fire house, ripping off more money than most homes are worth in his borough. Gambling, business, ego, pathology, a culture of corruption and other fool factors all contributed to this small town melt-down.
The Bitty Bill story seems as if it could only happen here.
As weird as the sordid tale has become, it remains our story, our problem, our dilemma that requires a solution - if the children of this community will ever have even a slim chance to understand why morality seems to matter less than a cool gallon of greed to go.
Looking up on Monday afternoon, I marveled at the downright majesty of the brightly painted ceiling in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives chamber. Symbols of democracy and honor filled my mind with humble visions of a better day through representative democracy.
Then the devil cloud exploded into my line of sight.
State Rep. Kevin Haggerty, my state rep from the 112th legislative district, hovered above me like an angel of evil. Sneering, he stood looming like a keeper at the gates of Hell. I was cornered in Haggerty’s Inferno.
But I do well under pressure.
Despite our well-publicized antagonism for each other, I rose like a seasoned diplomat, extending my hand to my unworthy opponent. Representing the fight for good government, I had won. Haggerty had lost. Come next year, Haggerty is out on his ear after losing a hot May 20 primary election to keep his seat.
Looking up from my chair at the rear of the opulent chamber, I briefly thought that maybe he was big enough to approach me and agree that state Rep. Frank Farina, the best man, had won fair and square, that we had all battled in the hardcore arena of public opinion and Haggerty had eventually fallen to defeat.
Bob Mellow is Mother Teresa, too.
I extended my hand to Haggerty because the gesture was the right thing to do. After all, we were surrounded by hundreds of Haggerty’s colleagues, a platoon of high school students in attendance to be honored and others there as guests of their hometown state representative.
Although Haggerty is currently my rep, Farina takes over in the expanded 112th after hammering Haggerty in the primary. So when I ran into Farina by the escalator and he asked me if I wanted to come into the chamber, I graciously accepted. I filled out a form, offered identification and took a seat right down the aisle from the newly-crowned Miss Pennsylvania. A big shot at the front of the room even introduced us as guests. When he called my name, I rose and raised my hands above my head like a champion prizefighter at a Friday night main event in the old Town Hall in Scranton.
Haggerty looked at my extended palm and said, “I’m not shaking your hand.”
I took my seat.
I said nothing.
Looking up, I watched Haggerty’s face contort as his brain kicked into passing gear but stalled and misfired over and over again. In a menacing voice, he accused me in a rambling rant of somehow conspiring with Farina in some twisted attempt to beat him. Haggerty went on like a runaway train, railing about me being in the chamber as a member of the press.
People must have heard his irrational accusations.
People must have seen his jerky body language and the full moon look in his eyes.
“You’re crazy,” he sputtered, as spit formed at the sides of his mouth. “And you know it.”
I looked up and smiled. I hadn’t said a word. Like I advise listeners to my show, I listened, crazy like a fox.
But then I had enough. Nodding to the two hulking security officers in plain clothes sitting nearby at the door, I said in the soft voice of a hostage negotiator, “Kevin, how would you like if I asked those Capitol police officers if they would help get you away from me because you’re harassing me?”
Haggerty looked possessed. Among the angels I thought I saw frowning in the fresco ceiling paintings, I imagined Father Karas from “The Exorcist” telling Haggerty that the power of Christ compels him. Haggerty needed all the help he could get but Haggerty was on his own. Like the poor devil-inhabited child in the Jason Miller movie, Haggerty was spitting up pea soup.
Turning to walk to his seat at the front of the chamber, Haggerty mumbled, made scary demon faces and pointed a twisted finger at me.
But Haggerty’s reign of madness wasn’t over.
The unraveled rep was making his way to Farina, who sat preparing to vote and do the job that taxpayers pay him to do. I felt bad that I couldn’t warn him. But Farina has previously dealt with a personal Haggerty outburst on the House floor so I knew he was up to the challenge.
I watched as Haggerty loomed over Farina as he had loomed over me. Farina, like me, sat politely and listened to a lost man out of control, a pathologically pathetic example of why people hate government and don’t trust politicians. Then, in more ways than one, Haggerty was exhausted, disappearing into the crowd of legislators charged with doing the people’s business.
When the House broke for a recess, Farina passed me on the way out.
“He attacked me,” Farina said wide-eyed.
“Me too,” I responded with a grin.
Like a stubborn kidney stone, a great moment in Pennsylvania House of Representatives history had just passed.
With each passing day, admitted gangster and multi-millionaire commercial real estate developer Rob Mericle gets closer and closer to prison.
Not the one he built, mind you, but one where, starting next month, he will serve his 12-month sentence for his part in the “Kids for Cash” slave trade that sold children into lives of terror and indentured servitude.
Without prison builder Mericle, no “Kids for Cash” horror would have emerged from the Luzerne County halls of injustice.
No Mericle, no money.
Now, he will join his one-time friends, former president judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, in a dangerous environment that will likely house the former jurists for the rest of their lives and Mericle for one long and very difficult year.
Mericle will not like prison. Fear should be his guide. But a year is not terribly long to spend in a minimum-security facility. Still, he’s going to jail despite the many letters of support that supposedly model citizens sent to the judge on his behalf. And he has to pay a cash fine that most of us would have great difficulty putting together.
One last requirement of his sentence must also be addressed – his court-ordered community service.
That’s why we should come together as a tribe of truth-seekers and try to influence U.S. District Judge Edwin Kosik in a way that Mericle and his gang never imagined. We good, law-abiding citizens must try to persuade the judge to let us determine the community service that the judge ordered as part of Mericle’s punishment.
And I’ve got just the place.
We must make sure that Mericle is not allowed to slide into a nice volunteer job at one of the many businesses and human service agencies owned and operated by the same people who tried to influence the judge to go easy, people Mericle had long ago purchased with his “kindness,” money and power. Like deluded cult members everywhere, they are indebted to their benefactor to such a degree that any community service in the comfort of their arms is unacceptable.
Mericle’s supporters will howl and tell us how unfair that decision would be, that his caring compassion would be well-received by the poor people he would encounter at the soup kitchen, food bank or YMCA.
But regular people who paid for the federal investigation and will pay for the cost of Mericle’s room and board for the next year deserve some say in this matter.
You wrote your letters to Kosik.
Now we’ll write ours.
Besides, the good judge might not have thought of the perfect place for this man who turned his back on at-risk children while lining his pockets at their expense.
Pa Child Care, the very prison Mericle built in Pittston Township is still being used to house local juveniles sentenced by the court. Brothers, sisters and cousins of kids Mericle helped sell for cash might even be serving time while waiting to be helped and even saved by people who really care about their problems and their futures.
If Mericle is to be rehabilitated – and I doubt that he even believes he needs rehabilitation - this cold institutional structure is the place where true redemption might await. Daily interaction with children unlike those he meets at summer pool parties with his snob friends might unleash a feeling of true guilt that he must confront if he ever hopes to grow character.
Mericle mumbled to the judge on sentencing day that he took full responsibility for his behavior.
But I’ve never heard him call it a crime. Those closest to him, his sister, particularly, still refuse to characterize his behavior as a crime. Sis called brother Rob’s evil ways a “moment.”
Mericle needs a real moment, a time to come face to face with sad, hurt and vulnerable children like those he helped sell on the open market, children without power and political connections, without parents who benefit from who they know the way Mericle’s friends benefit.
Send our special convict to Pa Child Care clean toilets with a brush, a bucket and a mop. Make some of the senior resident children in the facility his bosses. Make it clear to Mericle that he is obligated to follow their orders. Explain to Mericle that he is not there to teach these children anything but that they can teach him much, invaluable lessons about reformation. Make him attend group meetings. Sit him at the center of a juvenile resident circle and answer questions.
You want community service? That’s as good as it gets. Actually it’s better.
Mericle might come home a better man.
If not, we are doomed to suffer the continuing crisis of character that created people who conspired to put a price tag on decency and sold it to the lowest of the lowest bidder.
No community deserves such degradation.
After all we’ve been through, especially not Northeastern Pennsylvania.