With last debate looming, Corbett chipping at Wolf's lead

Published by Mike Pound on .

wolfcorbett2smallGov. Tom Corbett and challenger Tom Wolf laugh during one of their gubernatorial debates. (AP photo)

The home stretch is approaching and one of The Battling Toms is gaining ground in yet another poll. The question: does he have enough time to left to come all the way back?

Quinnipiac: Wolf leads 55-38. The newest poll from Quinnipiac University has a now-familiar theme: Gov. Tom Corbett is cutting into the lead held by Democratic challenger Tom Wolf since the primary election in May, but in spite of the gains, Mr. Wolf's lead is still substantial. In this poll, Quinnipiac found Mr. Wolf holding a 17-point lead; that's down from the 24-point lead he held over Mr. Corbett in Quinnipiac's poll released last month. The poll points out that Republicans are finally lining up behind the incumbent governor, but the 75-22 percent margin, represents one of the lowest rates of same-party support for a sitting governor in the country. And even with the gains, it's clear that time is running out for Mr. Corbett, said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll: "With a slight shift in the numbers as a handful of Republicans come back, there is a pinprick of light at the end of the long, dark reelection tunnel, but time is not on (Gov.) Corbett's side. It's a matter of simple math and the ticking clock and both are working against Gov. Corbett."

It's the economy, stupid. The campaign of Mr. Wolf has seized on a recent no good, very bad week for Mr. Corbett – the one that was filled with less-than-happy economic news – and created two news attack ads, both of which were released Monday. Here's a sample:

Both ads hit the same themes: the Corbett administration securing a $1.5 billion line of credit from the state treasury, an increase in the state's unemployment rate for the second month in a row and a downgraded credit rating for the third time in two years. Both also add a parting shot we saw in an ad last week – that the state had dropped to 47th in the country in job creation. Mr. Corbett is focusing on money issues as well, as we saw in an ad – one that's actually a little funny – his campaign released last week:

This works on a couple of levels. It moves attention away from education funding, a battle that Mr. Corbett has probably lost. It plays on the uncertainty that surrounds Mr. Wolf's income tax proposal, especially since Mr. Wolf hasn't yet told us the specifics of his plan. And Mr. Corbett's people get bonus points for being actually funny, as opposed to trying and failing.

One last try. If Mr. Corbett is going to overcome the lead that Mr. Wolf has enjoyed for months, the comeback will have to begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, when The Battling Toms hold their third and final debate of the campaign, held at and airing on WTAE. By our count, Mr. Corbett has won twice, first in front of a Republican-friendly crowd at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry's annual dinner and then in a Philadelphia television studio. But neither victory was decisive, and if Mr. Corbett is going to make up a double-digit deficit with just a month to go, he's going to have to start with Corbett-Wolf III.

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Delays threaten to extend email scandal

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If you're looking for a thorough dissection of the issues facing The Battling Toms in the home stretch for the race for governor, you can find an excellent one, written by PG political editor Jim O'Toole, right here.

And we'd be that's exactly what Gov. Tom Corbett would want you to do – focus on the issues, that is – rather than spend a lot of time on the scandal over pornographic emails that were apparently passed around his office when he served as the state's attorney general. But one of the men accused of participating in that email chain is not going quietly, which threatens to drag out the controversy well past the point that would be comfortable for Tom Wolf, Mr. Corbett's Democratic opponent.

Flap over Feathers. Once the office of current Attorney General Kathleen Kane handed over information about the emails, which she said where uncovered during her review of how Mr. Corbett and his deputies handled the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case – to the governor's office, two resignations came quickly. Christopher Abruzzo, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, and Glenn Parno, the DEP's deputy chief counsel, both resigned quietly last week as Mr. Corbett reviewed the information for the first time.

But that wasn't the case for Randy Feathers, an appointed member of the state Board of Probation and Parole who led the Sandusky investigation under Mr. Corbett; Mr. Feathers refused to resign from his $116,000-a-year job, pending an independent forensics review of the messages Kane said he viewed. Feathers also told the Philadelphia Inquirer Ms. Kane's accusations are politically motivated:

"This attorney general doesn't have the best credibility with me. I'm not going to resign from a position because she says I did something. This is politics, and I'm caught in the middle of it."

Mr. Feathers said he would step down if the investigation determined that he did not "uphold (his) professional responsibilities." What's not known – how long would such an investigation take? Note that Mr. Corbett, who undoubtedly wants the scandal to end quickly and quietly, cannot remove unilaterally Mr. Feathers from the parole board, because Mr. Feathers was confirmed by the state Senate. But if two-thirds of the Senate were to vote to remove Mr. Feathers, he'd be gone – and a spokesman for the Senate's Republican caucus told our Kate Giammarise he anticipated "strong bipartisan support if a vote is needed." If Mr. Corbett does want the scandal end this quickly – as we'd suspect – perhaps Mr. Feathers should consider himself warned.

See no evil, send no evil. If the scandal does drag on, it won't be Kevin Harley's fault. Mr. Harley, who served as spokesman for Mr. Corbett – the attorney general and governor versions – made it clear in a Patriot News interview that he did not participate in "opening, originating, forwarding or replying to" the explicit emails. That's not to say Mr. Harley didn't receive any – a file released by Ms. Kane on Friday said Mr. Harley received a mountain of the messages, but didn't pass on any of them.

May it please the court? There is at least one more significant potential delay for closure of the email scandal, and that's state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille. Justice Castille implied early on that he'd be displeased – to say the least -- to find out about state-level judges being involved in the ring. And we assume that he was upset enough to hear that Justice Seamus McCaffery forwarded at least eight racy messages from his personal account to an unnamed employee in the attorney general's office. Perhaps that's why Justice Castille asked Ms. Kane to forward information about the scandal, a process that Ms. Kane said may take some time while she figures out what she can divulge without violating collective bargaining agreements or risking lawsuits. Justice Castille wasn't pleased by the delay – he called Ms. Kane's caution "frivolous" – but still, it's pretty clear there is the possibility for the release of more names, demands more resignations – and even more time spent by the Corbett administration on the scandal when its leaders would rather be talking about nearly anything else.

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Mr. Peduto goes to Harrisburg

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Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. (John Heller/Post-Gazette)Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. (John Heller/Post-Gazette)

By Robert Zullo

Mayor Bill Peduto is in Harrisburg today with a scheduled packed full of meetings with state legislators.

After a meeting of the Pennsylvania Municipal League's Executive Committee, Mr. Peduto was set to sit down with Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, the Democratic Caucus chairman, Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, and Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Monroeville, minority chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

And that's just before lunch.

For the mayor's midday meal, he'll be with Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, and Senate Democratic Caucus leaders Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, Sen. Tony Williams, D-Philadelphia, Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Bethlehem, Sen. Tina Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, and Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-Dunbar.

Later this afternoon, he'll meet with Rep. Dom Costa, D-Stanton Heights, who chairs the Allegheny County delegation, Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, chair of the Majority Policy Committee and Sen. Dominic Pileggi, majority leader, R-Delaware.

Mr. Peduto's spokesman, Tim McNulty, said the trip is "mostly about maintaining and building relationships with state leaders." However, he acknowledged that "some city-related issues" could come up as part of the visit.

Those include the Act 47 state oversight program for distressed municipalities that the mayor lobbied earlier this year to keep the city under and ride-sharing legislation that would provide a long-term framework for companies like Uber and Lyft, which the mayor has said fills a crucial transportation need in Pittsburgh.

Another topic could be the Senate's passage of a bill that would allow every municipality in the Act 47 program except Pittsburgh to increase its local-services tax, paid by city residents and nonresidents working within the city in lieu of an earned-income tax increase, Mr. McNulty said. Pittsburgh is prohibited by law from applying an earned income tax to nonresidents, and therefore would be ineligible to raise its local services tax.

Sen. Jay Costa made a motion to include Pittsburgh but it failed, and the bill has gone back to the House.

Counting today, there are five days left in the current session.

Robert Zullo:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or 412-263-3909. Twitter: @rczullo.

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Raunchy email scandal nets 2nd resignation

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Gov. Tom Corbett. (AP photo)

Gov. Tom Corbett has had some rough weeks recently, but this one -- starting with an improved performance by Democratic challenger Tom Wolf and ending with the first resignations associated with the scandal over the exchange of sexually explicit emails in the attorney general’s office.

And unfortunately, things in Camp Corbett aren’t getting any better.

Another resignation. When Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Christopher Abruzzo stepped down Thursday afternoon, the Corbett administration specified that he did so if his own accord. That may not be the case for the second person to resign: Glenn Parno, a deputy counsel for the DEP who also worked in the attorney general’s office under Mr. Corbett. In a statement released Thursday night, Mr. Corbett didn’t reference any of the specifics of Mr. Parno’s case, but he reiterated his general stance on the messages:I do not condone or tolerate comments or behavior degrading to individuals, written or otherwise.  This type of activity does not belong in the workplace and I find it inexcusable.” In the same statement, Mr. Corbett said information he received from the office of current Attorney General Kathleen Kane seems to absolve State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, who didn’t “participate in opening, originating, forwarding or replying to any message.” But the governor’s administration is still waiting on info about Randy Feathers, a member of the state Board of Probation and Parole.

Another poll. The good news for Mr. Corbett from a new Robert Morris University Polling Institute? The latest figures show an improvement of 9 percentage points over a poll in August. The bad? Mr. Wolf still holds a 22 percentage point advantage, with just about a month left before Election Day. The RMU poll also looked into the impact of the Jerry Sandusky case might have on the campaign to re-elected Mr. Corbett. Among those who said the Sandusky case would have an effect on how they voted in November, nearly 27 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for Mr. Corbett.

Another ad. At a time when Mr. Corbett’s campaign could use some extra help, it gets this ad, from the College Republican National Committee, instead.

The spoof of the “Say Yes to the Dress” s reality show on TLC shows a young woman trying on a sleek wedding gown she called a Tom Corbett. The woman’s mother insists that she tries on a frumpier dress – the Tom Wolf, naturally – but the daughter eventually rejects the Tom Wolf gown – and its “increased taxes” and “thousands of jobs lost” – in favor of? “Mom, I see a better future with Tom Corbett.” These ads – part of a series backing Republican gubernatorial candidates in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois and Michigan – are bad enough that it’s a little hard to figure out where to start dissecting them. The overly general writing is be a good place to start, because it underscores the overwhelming sense that the writers think young, women voters aren’t especially concerned about things like issues – so unconcerned, in fact, that they’d make an ad almost completely devoid of them. Instead? Oooo, that’s shiny. And it’s the kind of help that Mr. Corbett doesn’t need – even if that dress looks pretty good.

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Email distractions come at worst time for Corbett

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E. Christopher Abruzzo, right, then secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, speaks with reporters in February 2014. (Darrell Sapp / Post-Gazette)E. Christopher Abruzzo, right, then secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, speaks with reporters in February 2014. (Darrell Sapp / Post-Gazette)

The controversy over the exchange of sexually explicit emails in the state attorney general's office years ago may not be Tom Corbett's responsibility, but it looks like the scandal is going to follow him right up to Election Day.

The scandal, details of which were revealed by current Attorney General Kathleen Kane last week, claimed its first resignation today; Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Chris Abruzzo resigned from his post, effective immediately, after being named by Ms. Kane as one of the former office of attorney general employees who were found to have sexually explicit emails in their work email accounts.

Ms. Kane uncovered the messages as she completed an assessment of the department's investigation into the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Besides Abruzzo, Kane's presentation last week listed former Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley, former deputy attorney general Patrick Blessington, former executive deputy attorney general Richard Sheetz, State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, former Secretary of Legislative Affairs Christopher Carusone, state Board of Probation and Parole member Randy Feathers and former environmental prosecutor Glenn Parno as having the messages in their accounts. Many more went unnamed because of human resources policies and union rules, Ms. Kane said.

And the scandal may not be limited to those listed in Ms. Kane's initial disclosure. A few days after Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille warned of dire consequences for any judges found to be involved, The Morning Call said it found that state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery forwarded at least eight sexually explicit emails from his personal account to an employee in the attorney general's office. Justice McCaffery and Justice Castille both refused to comment on The Morning Call story.


In his resignation letter, Mr. Abruzzo said he feared that the allegations against him and others had become a distraction for the Corbett administration.

That is the very definition of an understatement. The scandal prompted one of the testiest exchanges in – and after – this week's debate between Mr. Corbett and Tom Wolf, his Democratic challenger. When asked about the scandal, Mr. Wolf said a failure of leadership contributed to a culture that made the messages permissible, a claim that Mr. Corbett angrily responded that he wished he had received just one of the emails so he could have addressed the problem then; after the debate, he called Mr. Wolf's statement "cheap shot."

As attorney general, Mr. Corbett took steps to ensure that the office's employees knew sexually explicit messages were not acceptable, adopting a policy in 2006 that made it clear employees could be fired for sending or storing them.

But that's not going to help him now. Election Day is just over a month away. The best-looking poll numbers Mr. Corbett's team has seen recently showed he was down by 9 percentage points – and that was a poll completed by a Republican polling firm for a conservative news site. Mr. Corbett desperately needs good news. He needs to be able to tightly manage his message over the next four weeks.

Instead, he's going to be answering questions about racy emails and his former staffers, more of whom may be quitting between now and then. A distraction? Yes. And for Mr. Corbett, it comes at the very worst time.

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