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Rivals Hammer Shapiro at AG Debate

AG DebateDuring Saturday afternoon’s Progressive Summit Attorney General debate, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro was placed in the middle between Allegheny County DA Stephen Zappala and Northampton County DA John Morganelli.

The organizers couldn’t have known it, but their decision turned prescient as Shapiro was hit by both sides throughout the contest.

In nearly all facets, this contest was the direct opposite of Friday night’s civil Senate debate.

Morganelli was frequently the instigator and at first it appeared he would be an equal opportunity attacker.

“I’m the only candidate who has actually prosecuted criminal and civil cases in a courtroom in front of juries,” he stated in his opening statement.

He went on to mention that Zappala never prosecuted a case in his 18 years as DA while Shapiro was “a self-proclaimed politician.”

Morganelli’s true intentions began to take shape during his answer to the first question which concerned gun violence. He credited incumbent Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s work and called his opponents “prosecutors in name only” when he described sitting with victims of crime.

“John, with all due respect, you’re welcome to cite your record. You have no idea what my involvement has been with crime victims in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro responded before transitioning to his work as the Chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

“Let me say Josh, first of all, I do know that you have no involvement with crime victims because being Chairman of the commission of crime, I served on that commission for six years, all it is is a MAC machine,” Morganelli responded. “It takes money that is given by the federal government and funnels it to police departments and crime prevention programs.”

“It has nothing to do with crime fighting. You’re not a crime fighter, Josh,” he charged. “You’ve only been there since what, April? You’ve been to two or three meetings.”

“Instead of lecturing you should focus on your own record,” Shapiro shot back as the moderator tried to move on.

“Follow the rules, Mr. Shapiro,” Morganelli declared.

From then on, the atmosphere remained charged and the two candidates were eager to strike at each other.

It seemed personal to Morganelli, who used a question about violence against students to portray his opponents as privileged.

“I’m a product of public education, went to a public high school, unlike my opponents who went to private school,” he bragged.

When the question came to Shapiro, he discussed students constitutional right to an education and asked the audience to raise their hand if they felt every student’s right was being protected. No hands went up.   

“Josh, you are really good at giving speeches but your resume doesn’t match your performance. You have received $25,000 from Students First PAC, which is a charter school, and you received it on March 4th 2015,” Morganelli pointed out. “That is a charter school advocate that is hurting our public schools. Josh gives a great speech here then takes $25,000 from Students First PAC, I think that’s wrong.

“I think if you examine my record-” Shapiro began before Morganelli interrupted and asked about the donation again. The moderator had to reset everything and Morganelli apologized. When Shapiro finally got the chance to respond he touted his past support from the PSEA.

The candidates were then asked by Action United if they would abolish the grand jury process in police involved shootings. All three candidates said they would not, an answer that wasn’t received favorably by the Action United members who were sitting in front of me.

When asked about mandatory minimums, Morganelli attributed them to an overzealous attempt in the 1990’s to curtail crime. Shapiro talked about make sure those addicted to drugs get proper treatment while Zappala said that the issue rests with the judiciary.

It didn’t take long, however, for Shapiro and Morganelli to get into it again when the latter once more questioned the former’s experience.

“Josh, with all due respect, you have titles you throw around,” the Northampton DA stated. “He has titles but no experience, how do fix something you know nothing about? DA Zappala at least knows this criminal justice system. We know it’s faults and weaknesses, you don’t send someone into brain surgery to get it fixed by someone who’s never performed the operation.”

“John, I think your act’s is getting a little bit old here,” Shapiro spat back in exasperation of his opponent’s personal attacks.

At that moment, though, Zappala joined in with Morganelli.

“With all due respect, I think John’s right,” Zappala countered. “There has to be consequences to actions. If you’re the Attorney General, then corporate interests and politicians and powerful people, they have to understand if you know what you’re doing and you’ve got the fortitude to succeed. That deters crime, I think experience is a very important issue.”

Just minutes later Morganelli was commending Zappala for his work in dealing with sexual assaults.

Meanwhile, Shapiro sought to get to left of Zappala on abortion and fracking.

The Northampton DA then sparked another commotion with his comments, this time about immigration.

“We have a situation where people are poring over the borders and we don’t know who they are,” he asserted. “These are not all good people, many of them are good people but not all of them.”

Towards the conclusion of the debate, focus shifted to Kathleen Kane and her legacy. Shapiro noted that there was a “crisis of confidence” in the AG’s office.

The candidates then asked what makes them uniquely qualified to be Attorney General.

“We are not here today to debate who should be the 68th DA of PA. Instead we’re here today to debate which Democrat should be the next Attorney General.”

Shapiro then pledged that he would restore integrity, clean up the mess in the AG’s office and fight for Democratic values.

Morganelli once again went at Shapiro, offended because he felt that Shapiro’s pledge to restore integrity implied he and Zappala weren’t men of integrity.

“Kathleen Kane did not make a mess,” he proclaimed. “Kathleen Kane did some really good things as Attorney General. She didn’t make a mess. She made some misjudgments and some mistakes. She hasn’t been found guilty of anything yet, she has a right to due process. I don’t think her administration is a complete mess Josh, like you do.”

This was quite the reversal for Morganelli, who called the OAG “adrift at sea” last month.

Nevertheless, the statement was meant with a smattering of applause and highlighted an intriguing conundrum in this race. Should the candidates run away from Kane or seek to appeal to her loyalists in the Democratic Party?

It’s clear Shapiro is running from Kane while Morganelli is defending her. It’s unclear which tract Zappala will ultimately take.

John Morganelli found one more opportunity to needle Shapiro, though, when the Montco Commissioner talk about how the county granted marriage licenses before the State Supreme Court struck down the ban.  

“I don’t want to pick on Josh all day,” Morganelli stated, prompting laughter from the audience. He then brought up a 2004 Project Vote Smart questionnaire where Shapiro indicated that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“Now, I don’t mind that you’ve changed your mind, but don’t tell these folks you were in the forefront. I’ve evolved, many people have evolved, but you were not in the forefront Josh.”

Shapiro asked for voters to judge him on his legislative record, including co-sponsoring a housing discrimination bill and sponsoring the hate crimes bill.

For all the fireworks, the moderator was able to get all three men to pledge their support for the eventual nominee.

This debate proved, however, that this has been and will likely remain a brutal primary battle.

39 Responses

  1. I may not agree with all he says but Morganelli’s honesty is refreshing/ He is the complete opposite of Shapiro.

  2. Zappala is pro life in the phony political sense, and certainly all about life in La Familia, but when it comes to the lives that he and his mafia family have destroyed, well, not so much. But his brother Greg and Uncle Charlie had a great life jailing little kids in the cash for kids scandal. How many kids are now being “referred” to the family’s juvenile prison since he put his brother in law and friends on the Allegheny County Juvenile Court?

  3. When is Josh going to return the $25,000 he got from Students First privatization/charter school PAC??? Or was it $50,000?

  4. It’s a progressive summit and no one is calling out Zappala for being pro gun and pro life? Shapiro must have missed that

  5. And by the way, I’m sorry that Morganelli annoyed the progressives by doing what good lawyers do–research, prepare, battle, and think on their feet. Yes, he is a right winger on immigration, the death penalty and some other issues that make him impossible for me to support, but he successfully exposed Josh for the phony he is. No progressive takes $50k from Students First. Only an unprepared empty suit has no response when it’s brought up.

  6. Josh is an empty suit, knows very little about the law, and is really running for governor. We need to end the AG to Governor philosophy. It doesn’t work out well. People who run for AG as a stepping stone end up abusing their office in pursuit of power and political advantage, in case you hadn’t noticed.

  7. David Diano:

    David is correct. Josh seems to be running for office manager. He clearly is not qualified for AG. He is a political person and should stick to running for offices political in nature.

  8. That’s still funny. That guy ruins this place. Always calling people “retard.” Why don’t more people call him out?

  9. Moganelli:”… all it is is a MAC machine.”

    MAC Machine??? Really? Who still calls an ATM a “MAC Machine.”?
    Anybody under 40 probably has no idea what that even means.

    That line all by itself tells me everything I need to know about this clown.

  10. NZV – A guy who is a terrible elected “prosecutor” isn’t the best candidate just because he has “experience.” You have to look at the whole picture.

    There are many people who would be better candidates than all 3 of these people. They aren’t running. So – we have to pick the person who will be the best.

  11. It’s nice that Shapiro is winning the endorsement scorecard. (Ask Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio how their endorsements have catapulted them into a massive lead among voters thus far). Shapiro is definitely most qualified at working the corridors of powers and giving feel-good speeches, but he is by no metric the most qualified prosecutor, which is what the job of AG actually is.

  12. @Ralph: Mr. Shapiro does not sign up for anything that he will not win easily. Heavy lifting is not his forte.

  13. Valerie to answer your question.
    Shapiro 64 votes, Zappala 29 votes, Morganelli 6 votes.
    Mr. Shapiro won easily

  14. Court Watcher – From what I am hearing, Zappala also lacks trial experience. It is said he has NEVER tried a criminal case as DA in Allegheny County.

  15. Your article is spot on, but your headline is misleading. I sat through every second of that debate. Besides the one (1) time you cite, I don’t recall Zappala enjoining any of Morganelli’s childish whining about Shapiro. It was all Morganelli.

    The threat Morganelli perceives in Shapiro, in this third and what will hopefully be Morganelli’s last unsuccessful attempt to win AG was so blatantly apparent to most sitting within earshot of me that I actually started feeling sorry for him.

    That is why at that same Summit, we Dauphin County Democrats voted overwhelmingly to endorse Shapiro…even before we saw this debate. I can imagine what that vote would have been after such a display.

    For added perspective on how popular Josh – the only candidate who bothered to show up to address us – was with DCDC rank and file, several folks jostled to nominate and then second Shapiro for endorsement.

    Zappala was nominated, but his nomination died for lack of a second.

    Morganelli was not even nominated. Not by one, single member of what had to easily be over 100 members.

  16. In the contest for who will be the most Eric Holder-esque AG in Pennsylvania History, Josh Shapiro was the clear winner. No wonder Wolf endorsed him.

  17. Anyone who watched that debate as I did with no candidate as “their guy” beforehand knows that Mr. Shapiro was the clear winner. He spoke with intelligence and put forth a confidence in his own abilities that the other two seemed to lack. Mr. Morganelli’s child like behavior towards Shapiro was annoying and a complete turn off. This was the first time I’ve heard him speak and this first impression left me not wanting to hear from him again. Mr. Zappala wanted to talk about his experience which obviously had nothing to do to help him with his public speaking. He seems like a decent enough guy, but as a candidate he’s questionable at best. Based on first debate impressions I’d be fearful of anyone other than Shapiro being the nominee. I might consider voting for Zappala if I would see significant improvements, but this debate made it obvious that Shapiro is the brains of this operation.

  18. If Zappala cleans up the AG’s office the same way he “cleaned up” an otherwise professional and well run Allegheny County District Attorney’s office, then it will be time to replace our state bird with a vulture. If you believe that nepotism, racism and personal grudges should control how government offices should perform, then the Bazzano-Zappala-Porter mafia should get your vote.

  19. Zapp was a nervous wreck. First time speaking public?

    Nepotism: The antithesis of democracy.

  20. centPAdem-

    Zappala has already said that he’d clean up the office too. They all have, to different degrees. I haven’t heard a clear plan or seen a before-after pair of organizational charts.

    I’m not sure how much blanket firing he can do walking in the door or what the ratio is of career people vs political appointees the new AG brings in. Is it a question of better management, promoting the right people over the wrong ones who are in charge? Are their seniority rules?

    I’d certainly like to see the removal of any of Corbett’s cronies.


    While I am adamantly opposed to Josh as AG, it’s not because I consider him an empty suit. I think he’s done a fine job as a legislator and as Montco commissioner. He’s just completely unqualified to be AG due to his lack of relevant legal experience or how a prosecutor’s office works. Josh would make a great US Senator or Governor, but AG is the wrong path.

    I agree about Patrick Murphy, but even Pat was more qualified to be AG than Josh. Like, Josh, Pat was running because he really wanted to be Gov, and the AG office should not be a stepping stone job. It should be a career goal in itself for someone on the legal side of law enforcement.

  21. As a Democrat, I have to say that the Democrats both at the national level and at the state level are blowing it. Kane was a disaster and the AG candidates should all be running on how they are going to revamp and clean up the entire office. It started with Corbett running the place as an old boys club and then Kane never had the ability to get the place under control. If Zappala would come out and say “I’m cleaning house” he would be my choice.

  22. Shapiro crushed with 64% of the vote. Morganelli earned himself 8% of the vote and earned every bit of it.

  23. Delcoobserver –

    I got the email. Wolf wrote “I’m going to doing everything I can to help him win this election”

    Wolf needs to be doing everything he can to take back the state legislature and pass a budget.

    But, if Josh of AG is the priority for Wolf, he’ll be free to get back to important matters after April 26th.

  24. So now it appears Governor Wolf has endorsed Shapiro…along with all the establishment types like Rendell and Groen…imho…Shapiro means status quo, no experience…no new ideas.

  25. Citizens be dammed? Against what? If I have a choice of what I going to be pushed against, make mine a beaver dam.

  26. I passed the bar this year and have already practiced more law than Josh Shapiro. I’m glad he got called out on running for a job that he clearly sees as a stepping stone, citizens of PA be dammed.

  27. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. After a sit down with the five families, we have decided that Josh gotta get whacked.

  28. Remember Patrick Murphy from the last cycle? Like Shapiro, he had no trial experience but ran as a stepping stone to Governor. We know how that worked out.
    But anybody who remembers Morganelli’s last statewide campaign knows he’s a lousy candidate.
    So is Zappala qualified or just waiting for the two from the east to shred each other?

  29. Oh my goodness, is somebody finally running against Josh, the “closet Republican” who the Montco Republicans refused to take on this past election? Josh isn’t used to running against actual opponents since the MCRC effectively did the heavy lifting for him in his re-election. And even though the candidates challenged him pretty effectively on his record (or lack thereof) I’m not sure why Morganelli and Zappala let Josh take credit for changing the law on gay marriage in PA when Josh and his administration only had the benefit of the good timing that the law was passed at the same time Montco was defying it. I’m surprised that Morganelli, who obviously had a complete dossier on Shapiro, let Josh get away from this. D. Bruce Haines issuing gay marriage licenses in defiance of PA law had no effect on actually changing the law and actually, Montco was prevented from issuing licenses for several months after the law changed in PA bec0ause of the Shapiro Administration’s lawlessness.

  30. Morganelli and Zappala should be ticked off that hey have to share the stage with someone who has never practiced law or tried a case. This job is not about democratic values. It’s about experience. Zappala and Morganelli have it-Shapiro does not. How will he know how to “fix” the problems in the office if he doesn’t even know what the office does or how it operates from an investigative and prosecutorial role. It’s actually sad that Dems support Shapiro. It’s why we lost the office for 30 years. Pennsylvanians want a qualified attorney General-not a grandstanding politician. I’m glad Morganelli called him out. Hope the embarrassment continues.

  31. Shapiro will never be anything just like he is now. He’s the Democratic Bruce Castor. He can go all over the state with Wolf on lame Jobs that pay tours(except for Senator Lisa Bakers husband ) masquerading like a crime fighter ITS A LOAD OF SHIT. It’s a snow job Wolf and his pack don’t know how to Govern!!! It’s the lets see if we can get every old Rendell hack on the payroll elected and screw everyone else in the party. I saw this guys body language during the debate and it was disingenuous shady. His campaign staff would be wise to tell him to stay off camera off stage. What’s he taking money from Charter Schools anyway. Why not help the King of Prussia one that’s closing?? Sounds a lot like someone else we know. Vote for me because I know it all but don’t expect me to return your call or act like I care.
    John Morganelli you got my vote.

  32. I checked the campaign finance database.

    Shapiro received $25,000 from Students First PAC in 2015. He also received a previous $25,000 donation from them in 2012. So, that’s $50,000 in total.

    At one point, Josh was praising how we’ve uncovered the racist emails, but didn’t give Kane one ounce of credit for it.

    Morganelli was the best prepared with research and talking points. He lost the progressive crowd with his stance on a few issues, particularly immigration, and providing graphic details in a sexual assault/murder case that he prosecuted. He was a strong debater, and the other two clearly had expected a less confrontational debate.

    So, the next debate, the gloves should really be off.

    Zappala and Morganelli clearly know the job and have ideas for units/task-forces to handle issues that they want to give more emphasis.

    Josh seems to be running for office manager, not AG (and everybody realizes he’s really running because he wants to be Governor someday).

    I may still write-in Kane. 🙂

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