FBI Investigating Organization Linked with State Rep. Dwight Evans

wolf-ad-evans“What do you not understand about the word no?”

That’s what State Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) said in response to requests for comments about the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp., or OARC. Evans, who founded the nonprofit organization designed to help the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, said he was not aware of any investigation by the FBI.

According to four individuals with adverse dealings with OARC, however, the FBI is snooping around OARC, focusing particularly on the organization’s finances.

“They indicated they were investigating multiple things, but they did not reveal what those were,” Peter Meadow, who was interviewed by the FBI about OARC, said. Meadow is a lawyer who represented Sadiki Travick, who co-owned a restaurant with OARC.

“They don’t give you much information,” Germantown publisher Foster said of the FBI agents “But I have to say I got the feeling there was activity going on. They focused a lot on nonprofits and certainly on OARC and their operations.” Foster’s neighborhood newspapers published articles critical of OARC.

Evans, a powerful state representative and a close Wolf ally, does not run OARC; in fact, he is not even a board member. What he has done as a legislator is help deliver tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to the nonprofit based in his 203rd district–$29 million in state funds since 2000.

Major questions have arisen, and perhaps prompted an FBI investigation, about the use of that money. A state investigation into OARC ended with the nonprofit giving $1.2 million back to the state government and forgoing an addition $1.8 million that would have gone to OARC. The organization admitted no wrongdoing as a part of the settlement. The City of Philadelphia claims that OARC still owes them $256,000 for jazz festivals held in 2010 and 2011. According to one confidential report submitted to the state Inspector General’s Office, OARC improperly used $12 million in state grants between 2006 and 2011.

One incident pointed out by the state investigators was state money used to promote Wine Down Wednesdays at OARC’s and Travick’s restaurant. In total, $110,000 over two years to sponsor this event at the restaurant.

“They asked questions about OARC and the money OARC allocated to the restaurant,” Travick said. “They wanted to know how the money was spent.”

The FBI may continue to ask questions about OARC; voters, meanwhile, may begin to ask questions about State Rep. Dwight Evans’ use of state money. Evans was Democratic Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee but was voted out in 2010 because his colleagues felt he was granting too much money to his own district.

SD-10: Second Poll Shows McIlhinney with Big Lead

McIlhinneyOne poll can be an outlier, but two point to a trend.

A day after we reported on a poll in the race for the State Senate’s 10th district, PoliticsPA obtained a second survey – this time from a Republican operative – that confirms the incumbent holds the advantage.

A survey from GOP pollster Susquehanna Polling and Research Polling found incumbent Republican State Senator Chuck McIlhinney with a 55% to 27% lead. When respondents were told more about the candidates, it widened to a 56% to 24% margin. These numbers are strikingly similar to the toplines from Democratic pollster Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies poll, which had McIlhinney at a similar level but Cickay with about ten more points.

Meanwhile, the Senator has a 36% favorability rating against a 10% unfavorability rating. 37% know of him but have no opinion, meaning just 17% of respondents don’t know him.

Cickay, on the other hand, was not known by 60% of respondents. 18% knew him but had no opinion, while 9% of those polled had a favorable view towards the Democrat and 11% had an unfavorable view.

As in the 39th Street Strategies poll, this survey leaned towards Republicans (they made up 46% of those polled compared to the 40% who were Democrats). Yet Tom Wolf still led Tom Corbett the gubernatorial race by a four-point margin, 47% to 43%.

As we mentioned last time, so far at least Wolf’s coattails don’t seem to be working in the 10th Senate district.

The poll was conducted by landline and mobile phones and surveyed 300 respondents from July 21st to 23rd. The margin of error is +/- 5.65%.

SD-10: Poll: McIlhinney Holds Large Lead over Cickay

Chuck-McIlhinneyWith Tom Wolf holding a substantial lead and Democrats potentially just two seats away from securing a majority, the State Senate has become an enticing target for Dems.

Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, though, a new poll suggests one of their prime opportunities in SEPA is a steep uphill climb.

According to a survey obtained by PoliticsPA from Democratic polling firm Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies, Republican Senator Chuck McIlhinney holds a 56% to 32% advantage over Democratic nominee Steve Cickay.

Additionally, when given a full bio of each candidate, the numbers barely move with McIlhinney still on top 55% to 36%.

The incumbent appears to be benefitting greatly from higher name ID. State Sen. McIlhinney has a favorability rating of 38%, an unfavorable rating of 12% and is unknown by 50% of respondents.

While McIlhinney’s name ID may seem low, Cickay ratings are 7% and 5% favorable/unfavorable while a whopping 88% of those surveyed did not know him.

State Senate races are down ballot affairs that usually attract little attention, so the results are not shocking, though they may be disheartening to Cickay supporters.

Last month we wrote about efforts from state Democratic leaders to urge Cickay to drop out in favor of former PA-8 congressional candidate Shaughnessy Naughton. The State Senate’s 10th district comprises much of northern and eastern Bucks County, those areas where Naughton ran best against her opponent (and current PA-8 Democratic nominee) Kevin Strouse.

Also of note, while the district and the poll respondents lean Republican (48% of them identified as members of the GOP compared to 41% of Democrats) Tom Wolf led Gov. Corbett by a 48% to 44% margin.

This would seem to suggest that even if Wolf has the electoral victory Democrats dream he will have come November, it doesn’t mean the gubernatorial nominee can drag the State Senate with him on his coattails.

This poll was conducted by landline and mobile phones and surveyed 400 respondents over the period from July 22nd to 25th. Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies has done surveys for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

BREAKING: SD-10: Democratic Heavyweights Lean on Cickay to Drop Out

Cickay Naughton

Naughton and Cickay

A surprising and intriguing development has occurred in the race for Pennsylvania State Senate seat in the 10th district.

In the wake of what has been perceived to be a poor performance so far by Democratic nominee Steve Cickay, a number of prominent Democrats have urged him to step aside. They would rather another Democrat take on Republican incumbent State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney.

The Democrat they want is former PA-8 congressional candidate Shaughnessy Naughton.

According to party insiders, among those that have called on Naughton to step in and replace Cickay include former Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Bob Casey, Gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf and FreshStartPA chair Katie McGinty.

Cickay’s detractors point to his poor fundraising performance. According to James McGinnis of the Intelligencer, Cickay raised only $6,490 compared to McIlhinney’s $112,895.

Furthermore, when the Senate Democrats polled the race they found McIlhinney holding a 50% to 34% lead over Cickay.

Naughton, meanwhile, ran a very competitive race against DCCC-backed Kevin Strouse in the PA-8 congressional primary. The first-time candidate fell just about 800 votes short of the upset and may have an unusual advantage if Cickay were to step aside.

The 10th State Senate district is comprised of central and eastern Bucks County, areas where Naughton performed well in her primary with Strouse.

As a result, Naughton would have a larger advantage than a typical candidate who entered the race just four months out. Many of these voters will have seen her and may well have voted for her (albeit in another race) just a few months before. This is because a congressional contest, especially a close one, draws much more attention than an uncontested State Senate primary.

Nevertheless Cickay seems content to stay in the race.

“I start something, I finish it,” he told the Inquirer’s Chris Palmer. “I feel an obligation to these people that voted for me. . . . I feel I owe it to them to finish.”

PA AFL-CIO Releases Statewide Endorsements

PA-AFL-CIO-logoThe PA chapter of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor union, has released their list of endorsements for the 2014 general election cycle.

Not surprisingly, the organization is endorsing the Wolf-Stack ticket for Governor and twelve Democratic candidates for Congress. While most of the state legislators the group is backing are also Democrats, there are nevertheless a few Republicans who are receiving support. Altogether, 18 State Rep. and 5 State Senate GOP nominees won the AFL-CIO nod.

The Republican from the upper chamber were Senators Tommy Tomlinson (SD-6), Robert Greenleaf (SD-12), Pat Brown (SD-16), Mario Scavello (SD-40) and John Rafferty Jr. (SD-44).

Meanwhile the GOP nominees for the State House are as follows: Jim Marshall (HD-14), Gene DiGirolamo (HD-18), Bernie O’Neill (HD-29), Robert Godshall (HD-53), Glen Grell (HD-87), John Payne (HD-106), David Millard (HD-109), Karen Boback (HD-117), Mike Peifer (HD-139), Frank Farry (HD-142), Marguerite Quinn (HD-143), Mike Vereb (HD-150), Thomas Murt (HD-152), Joe Hackett (HD-161), Nick Miccarelli (HD-162), William Adolph Jr. (HD-165), Thomas Killion (HD-168), and John Taylor (HD-177)

“We highly recommend these candidates for Pennsylvania’s working families,” said PA AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale. “We are confident that they will support us as we fight to grow and protect jobs and support policies that will improve opportunities and the quality of life of working families. From the top of the ticket – Tom Wolf for Governor – and throughout this ticket, we have an excellent choice of leaders who are committed to keeping workers on a level playing field and moving Pennsylvania forward.”

“Starting today, we will be deploying our activists and volunteers to reach the worksites and households of workers in every region of the state on behalf of our endorsed candidate,” added Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder. “This election will be won or lost on voter turnout and we are determined to educate and motivate beginning today through Election Day. It’s time to stop playing defense and go on offense and that will only happen if we all vote in November.”

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO is the largest labor organization in the commonwealth and represents over 800,000 workers.

A complete list of the endorsees can be viewed here.

Budget Update: Gov. Corbett Signs Budget, Whacks Legislature with Line-Item Vetoes

Governor-Tom-CorbettThe entire state of Pennsylvania sat on the edge of their seats this morning as they awaited the answer as to whether the budget would be signed.

“Wow, it’s quiet in here,” Corbett joked in an attempt to break the ice at the start of his press conference.

After detailing those items in the budget that he was proud of and those he was concerned with, the Governor indicated that he would use his line-item veto to block $65 million in general assembly funds and $7.2 million in legislative spending.

In his statement, Gov. Corbett bashed the legislature and public sector unions, particularly PSEA, for the failure to take up pension reform.

“The legislature needs to take action on pension reform,” he said. “It is time to stop talking around the edges and support meaningful reform.”

The $29.1 billion question, however, wasn’t addressed until the Governor was asked whether he would sign the budget.

“I’ve signed the budget,” he declared.

Gov. Corbett strongly pushed back when reporters suggested that his swipe at the legislature would not be conducive to getting pension reform done. He seemed particularly taken aback when one questioner asked why the legislature should give anything if Corbett didn’t seem willing to give anything.

“Oh, we have been giving all along,” the Governor responded.

It would appear that after seriously considering a full veto, the Governor decided on a more limited approach of attacking the legislature instead. This strategy was previewed in an article by Brad Bumsted of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review this morning.

This may very well be part of an effort by Gov. Corbett to set up a run against Harrisburg as he embarks on a general election campaign that currently sees him down 22 points.

The Governor, who made his name prosecuting members of the legislature, has never been their favorite individual so the strategy makes sense and has ample truth to it.

“As you know, I came to Harrisburg as an outsider,” he commented early on.

HD-161: FreshStartPA Promotes Leanne Krueger-Braneky

braneky photo

Leanne Krueger-Braneky

The Campaign for a Fresh Start, the PAC created out of the battle between Katie McGinty and Jim Burn for chair of the Democratic state committee, has begun to openly support and advocate for certain Democrats running for state office.

Today FreshStartPA, the PAC’s blog, posted its first “Featured Candidate:” Leanne Krueger-Braneky, who is running against incumbent Republican Joe Hackett for state representative in the 161st district, which is located in Delaware County.

Prior to this, the PAC had only endorsed Tom Wolf’s campaign for Governor.

It was at first unclear just to what extent this organization would get involved in elections besides the gubernatorial race. On Monday, though, Chairwoman Katie McGinty’s introductory post talked about “coordinating” Wolf’s efforts with House and Senate Democrats. It appears this is what she meant.

FreshStartPA describes Leanne as a small business advocate with ample experience, noting her positions as the Executive Director of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia and the Director of Fellowship and Alumni at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.

“Leanne’s leadership and proven experience as a job creator are exactly what we need in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives,” FreshStartPA wrote. “To truly move past the destruction of Tom Corbett’s time in office and to give Pennsylvania a fresh start, we need strong voices like Leanne’s in Harrisburg.”

Leanne has combined her roles of mother and small business supporter into a platform that focuses mainly on funding public schools.

“After 15 years working in community and economic development, I am tired of seeing small businesses struggle while large corporations get special treatment in Harrisburg. As a mother, I am concerned about the future of our public schools. Governor Corbett cut $1 billion in education funding, yet refuses to charge the Marcellus Shale gas drillers their fair share of taxes and fees. I am ready for change in Harrisburg.”

Budget Update: A Recess but No Resolution

pa-state-capitol-b175d9a07740ecf3The Pennsylvania State Senate has now left for the summer.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed the “Fiscal Code,” an outline of the spending rules that accompanies the budget. Governor Corbett had indicated that he wanted to see the details of the Fiscal Code before making his decision on the budget. It passed by a 26-22 vote.

The body also took up the Philly cigarette tax, a $2 surcharge that would’ve went to enabling additional funds for the city’s schools, which are in desperate need of cash. The bill was amended, however, which means it will have to be taken up again by the House.

The only problems with that is the House is already in recess until mid-September.

Given that the state legislature will only be in session for a dozen days in the fall and that it will be in the heat of election season, it is highly unlikely anything of consequence will get done.

All the while we wait to see if Governor Corbett signs the budget. His office says he is still reviewing it, he has until Friday to sign or veto the measure or else it automatically becomes law. The Fiscal Code, though, holds the key to distributing the funds meaning the budget would be an empty shell without it.

Update: As first reported by Capitolwire’s Kevin Zwick, the House will now return on August 4th. According to House Speaker Sam Smith, the House may take up votes and could be in session for as long as three days.


Analysis: The Kathleen Kane Backlash

Kathleen-Kane-portrait1What the media giveth, the media taketh away – Primary Colors

Kathleen Kane is in deep trouble, at least that’s the narrative that has gathered shape over the last few weeks.

The Attorney General, once seen as perhaps the state’s brightest rising star, is now mired in a number of controversies. So what happened? In order to get a full answer, we must take the widest view possible to get the best overall picture.

In the wake of the release of the Moulton report, Kane has been portrayed as owing her election to the claims she made alleging that Gov. Corbett slow walked the Sandusky investigation. That she “charged into Harrisburg on a Nittany Lion” as the Morning Call put it in their recent, and quite engrossing, account of Kane’s current situation.

While it is likely her pledge to investigate the case helped to pad her high vote total, Kane had a number of other factors in her favor in 2012. These included a larger, more Democratically favorable general electorate, strong fundraising and above all, the fact that she was a political newcomer.

Throughout the campaign Kane would identify herself as “a prosecutor, not a politician.” In a time when voters are especially averse to politicians Kane had the advantage of being a fresh face.

More to point, she was a new personality for the press to cover. Today, in a world of MSNBC and Fox News, voters are more likely than ever to accuse the news of having a liberal or conservative bias. This framework, though, misses the true bias of our current media landscape, one towards sensationalism.

And there is nothing more sensational than something, or someone, new.

Consciously or unconsciously, we all gravitate to “the next big thing” and it’s a phenomenon that even extends into presidential politics. Fresh candidates like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama are inherently more interesting than old-hat, staid politicians like George H.W. Bush, Al Gore or John McCain.

A side-effect of this situation is that the newcomer can often glide into office relatively easily without gaining the necessary experience of dealing with a hostile press.

Inevitably, though, things start to change. The press, much like a referee who misses a call and internally knows they owe one to the other team, begins to focus more closely to see if the official stumbles.

The dam first started to break for Kathleen Kane in March when the Inquirer reported she had shut down an undercover sting operation against members of the State House. The details in the case were complex and several observers agreed with her decision but Kane turned the episode into a loss with a terrible PR move.

At a meeting with Inquirer reporters a few days later, Kane showed up yet refused to speak. Instead, she brought her own lawyer, Richard Sprague, and let him speak for her. The media understandably took umbrage at this awkward snub and a photo of the elderly Sprague (who was wearing a tracksuit for some reason) sitting beside a frowning Kane became the lasting image of the incident.

The real crisis for Kane, though, was precipitated by the release of the aforementioned Moulton report. After all the sound and fury about the Sandusky investigation, no evidence of political interference was found. It was the AG’s press conference, however, and not the actual report that caused the biggest uproar.

While Kane was far from the only person to question Corbett’s motives in his handling of the case, she had to know her past comments to the Scranton Times-Tribune would come up. Yet when asked by the press about those comments she had no coherent answer prepared.

Even worse, she stated that two victims had been abused by Sandusky during the investigation. This allegation had never been made before and rested on vague statements from the victims who were unsure about the exact timeline. Then, Attorney General Kane was slow to admit she made a mistake when she asserted these incidents took place.

What has gone unsaid, though, is that Kane’s poor performance is related to the fact that this was her first really contentious press conference of her tenure. Make no mistake, this does not excuse her actions, it is merely meant to provide a broader, fuller explanation of recent events.

Fortunately for Kane these issues are, for the moment at least, more a crisis of confidence than a serious scandal. Yet with her giving indications that she is eyeing a possible Senate run in 2016, the scrutiny is only going to get tougher.

So far, the Attorney General hasn’t given the impression that she can withstand the heat and prevail in such a contest. Her political career depends in large part on how she can handle these future tests.

Budget Update: GOP Plan Appears to Be on Track

A view of the Pennsylvania State house from the State Street bridge in HarrisburgThe budget season started with ideas of major reforms and theories of bipartisan deals. It appears to be ending with the simple hope that a budget can be passed by the close of business Monday.

Yesterday, in a surprising move, Governor Corbett sought a new avenue to secure support for pension reform, Philadelphia Democrats.

In a press conference held in his office, Gov. Corbett offered Philly legislators a cigarette tax that would provide much-needed funds for the city’s schools. In exchange, those lawmakers would support the Governor’s efforts to reform the state’s pensions plan.

Democrats, who don’t currently control any branch of government and may be stalling for what they hope will be a Wolf Administration next year, were not interested.

“We just want to collectively say the governor should be ashamed of himself for tying the future of the children in the school district in Philadelphia to issues that have no relationship to their future, to their success, to their survival,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, criticizing Corbett who never “stepped a foot” in a Philadelphia school during his first term.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed their own budget plan last night on a 16-10 party line vote.

This proposal comes to $29.1 billion and relies on one-time budget items instead of tax increases. It also doesn’t include Gov. Corbett’s priorities of liquor privatization or pension reform.

It is expected to be taken up by the full Senate and House today in time for it to hit Governor Corbett’s desk tonight for his signature.

We’ll keep you updated as the day progresses.

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