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Perry on Politics: Roger Goodell and lessons not learned

Published by Mike Pound on .

goodell smallNFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (AP photo)

By James M. Perry

That marvelous word, pusillanimous, seems to neatly describe Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League, deeply involved these days in a scandal involving domestic abuse by some of the league's biggest stars.

No one would ever have called his father, Charles Goodell, pusillanimous.

Goodell, reared in Jamestown, was one of a number of thoughtful Republican members of Congress who once upon a time turned up with some regularity from western New York -- Sterling Cole from Painted Post, Jack Kemp from Buffalo, Barber Conable from Rochester, Amo Houghton from Corning. They were all smart and well-educated. Goodell played baseball and football at Williams College and received both a law degree and a master's degree in government at Yale.

Cool, laid-back, pipe-smoking Charlie Goodell served ten years as a fairly moderate and reform-minded Republican congressman. He was one of the "Young Turks" who rousted out the old guard led by Charles Halleck and brought in Jerry Ford as the new GOP leader in the House.

He was appointed to the Senate by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1968 to succeed the assassinated Robert F. Kennedy. He served in the Senate for only two years -- but what courageous, glorious years they were.

Goodell probably came to the Senate already believing the war in Vietnam was a grievous mistake. He wasn't alone in holding those beliefs but he was one of the few willing to take a public stand, infuriating President Nixon, Vice President Agnew, and almost every big-time Republican in the country. Even Governor Rockefeller seemed a little stunned by his actions. Goodell introduced legislation -- Senate bill 3000 -- that would have cut off funding for the war. A copy of the bill hangs in the office of Roger, the middle of his five sons and the beleaguered NFL commissioner.

Agnew called him a "radical liberal" and said Goodell reminded him of Christine Jorgensen, the first woman to have a sex-change operation, implying, presumably, that changing his views on a major issue was something akin to changing one's sex.

Roger has said his father knew he was risking his Senate seat by taking on the pro-war Republican establishment, but he did it anyway. It was a classic profile in courage, of the sort Jack Kennedy wrote about. "He fell on his own sword politically," one GOP leader said.

He ran for a full six-year term in 1970, challenged on the left by Congressman Dick Ottinger and on the right by James Buckley, Bill's older brother. Buckley won with 39 per cent of the vote (only to lose next time around to that man of many parts, Daniel Patrick Moynihan). Charlie Goodell came in third.

Roger must think sometimes about his father (Charlie died in 1987) and how he risked his job for something he deeply believed in.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

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Politics a poor excuse for refusing audit

Published by Mike Pound on .

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. (Darryll Sapp / Post-Gazette)State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. (Darryll Sapp / Post-Gazette)

Eugene DePasquale has some questions. It's up to the state Department of Education to provide the answers.

The thing that adds some weight to Mr. DePasquale's questions is the nameplate on his office door -- the one that says he's auditor general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Last week, Mr. DePasquale announced his intention to expand an ongoing audit of the education department, to include an examination of the department's use of special advisers, how those advisers worked towards their goals and what they accomplished.

The words "special advisers" should probably ring a bell; after all, it hasn't been that long since the resignation of Ron Tomalis, the former secretary of the department who resigned to become Gov. Tom Corbett's special adviser on higher education. Mr. Tomalis quit amid questions about an apparently skimpy workload that didn't seem to match his $140,000 salary.

You'll recall the details that have no doubt piqued Mr. DePasquale's interest: Records requests filed by the Post-Gazette turned up telephone logs that averaged about a call a day for a full year, a work calendar with little activity and a grand total of five emails. Moreover, officials in the department were unable to provide any records that demonstrated that Mr. Tomalis traveled while serving as an adviser or any officials at the state's universities who had contact with him.

Situations like these are precisely why we have an auditor general. It is Mr. DePasquale's job – his responsibility – to determine whether Mr. Tomalis did the job he was hired to do or whether he held, as has been suggested, a shell position.

The audit, of course, requires the cooperation of officials at the education department. But this statement by department spokesman Tim Eller suggests the department may not be especially forthcoming:

"Given the sudden increase in the number of reviews, audits and inquiries the Auditor General is currently undertaking, it is clear that he is succumbing to political tactics. While the department continues to review the Auditor General's request, the department is concerned about its timing given that the current audit has been underway for more than six months. The department will work with the Auditor General so that this new objective is included in a future audit, as to not delay the current audit by expanding it into new areas."

To summarize: the state Department of Education – run by appointees of a Republican governor -- will not cooperate with a request from the state auditor general – a Democrat -- because the request appears to be political.

But take a look at what else at least has the appearance of being blatantly political: 1) Giving a political appointee position created specifically for him with a cabinet-level salary. 2) Being unable to demonstrate that the appointee did any work over the course of a year. 3) Refusing to cooperate with an audit, at least for the time being – and perhaps until after the election in November.

The Corbett administration has insisted for weeks that Mr. Tomalis did the work he was asked to do, going as far as releasing parking records, of all things, to prove that Mr. Tomalis was in the office as he was supposed to be.

Parking records didn't really help, and neither will stonewalling a state audit. If the Corbett administration wants to demonstrate that Mr. Tomalis held a legitimate position in the state Department of Education -- and it truly has nothing to hide -- it should give Mr. DePasquale everything he asks for. By doing the opposite, it does nothing to help itself.

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City-County Building exhibit celebrates immigrants

Published by Mike Pound on .

Luis Clemente speaks in front of a photo of his father, Roberto Clemente. Luis Clemente speaks in front of a photo of his father, Roberto Clemente.

By Robert Zullo

Luis Clemente remembers the baseball seasons he spent in Pittsburgh as a child fondly.

"We loved coming to Pittsburgh as kids," said Mr. Clemente, one of three sons of legendary Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente. "For us, Pittsburgh was a source of fun."

The older he got, however, the more he noticed the differences between western Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico, where he, his father and brothers all were born.

"I realized there were not many Latinos," said Mr. Clemente, 48, who lives in Puerto Rico but visits Pittsburgh frequently.

Mr. Clemente was among the speakers in the lobby of the City-County Building on Grant Street this morning as Mayor Bill Peduto proclaimed "National Welcoming Week," a nationwide event aimed at highlighting the contributions of immigrants to American communities. It is organized by Welcoming America, a national collaborative that "promotes mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born Americans."

Speaking in front of the famous "angel wing" photo of Mr. Clemente taken during spring training 1960, on loan from the Clemente museum in Lawrenceville, Mr. Peduto said Pittsburgh has not always been a "welcoming city."

"We were the type of city that said, 'We're fine. We don't need anybody new,'" the mayor said, launching an exhibit featuring portraits of Bhutanese, Burmese, and Karen community members and commemorating Hispanic Heritage Month. Additional items on display for the next month include textiles made by rural Andean women,provided by local nonprofit Awamaki, and "Hear Me" kiosks set to play stories from immigrants and Latino youth in Pittsburgh. The exhibit, sponsored by ImaginePittsburgh and ¡Hola Pittsburgh!, dovetails with Mr. Peduto's "Welcoming Pittsburgh" initiative, which includes a 40-member advisory council whose work will be focused on making the city more inviting to immigrants.

"It's a culture change and we're all about culture change," Mr. Peduto said. "The future of Pittsburgh is going to be vastly different. It's not going to be southern and eastern Europeans and people from the southern United States ... It will be people from Asia, people from Africa, people from the Caribbean, South America and Central America. And they're going to be the future ... We have to be the type of city that recognizes that and welcomes that."

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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Education funding, lies and video tape

Published by Mike Pound on .

We're not sure whether there's enough time for the campaign of Gov. Tom Corbett to take control of the discussion of education funding, but if the new campaign ad released on Wednesday is any indication, it's certainly going to give it a shot.

Mr. Big:

What's new: Mr. Corbett seems to have recalled that he's running against York businessman Tom Wolf and not Ed Rendell, the former governor who was featured prominently in the previous Corbett spot. And in that same spot, Mr. Corbett, who narrated the spot, used words like "mislead" and "truth," while this time, a narrator flat-out calls Mr. Wolf a liar.

What's not: The tone may be different, but the front-and-center claims of the ad – that basic education funding has increased under Mr. Corbett, that state spending on public education is at its highest level ever, etc. – are all things we've heard before.

Bottom line: "If Wolf is willing to lie about your kids' education, what won't he lie about?"

Random things we noticed: The trend here isn't that the ads in the gubernatorial campaign going to break new ground; apparently it's that they're going to become more and more shrill between now and November. How can voters see past what is sure to be a series of similar ads and competing claims? The key has to do with different baselines used by the respective candidates. Mr. Corbett can accurately say he's increased state funding for education, because he ignores the federal stimulus funds applied to the education subsidy by Mr. Rendell during the Great Recession. And Mr. Wolf can truthfully say the governor cut $1 billion from education because there have been cuts to education funding of more than $1.2 billion in the four years that followed the stimulus-aided 2010-11 fiscal year. Does that mean that Mr. Wolf is a liar, as the "Mr. Big" ad claims? It does not.

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Dems: timing of state's loan to itself is troubling

Published by Mike Pound on .

Gov. Tom Corbett

Brother, can you spare $1.5 billion?

As it turns out, we can. What that means is another matter.

The timing of the Pennsylvania's loan to itself, announced earlier this week by the state treasury, is troubling to some folks in Harrisburg, who say the fact that the state is short on cash this early in the fiscal year portends a rough 2014-15.

It's not unusual that the state would borrow money from itself to cover a cash-flow problem. It's been done several times in the past, most recently in February 2009 and again in December. And it's a decent deal, according to officials at the treasury and in Gov. Corbett's office; because the source of the loan is the state's short-term investment pool , the state saves on transaction costs and pays a low interest rate to the fund.

An easy solution, right? Sort of, at least until you consider that we're just a couple months into the fiscal year and the state is already having cash-flow problems; that's months earlier than either of the previous loans have been necessary.

Is that a big deal? It depends on who you ask.

"This is directly related to the budgets that have been implemented over the past couple of years," said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, who, like many of his Democratic counterparts, has complained that the state's most recent budget relies too heavily on one-time revenue sources and overly optimistic projections. "It doesn't bode well for next year."

And yeah, the loan caught the attention non-government types as well; the Tom Wolf campaign called the infusion of cash a "payday loan."

Members of the Corbett administration seemed less concerned. State Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said Democrats were making a big deal out of a routine practice and Jay Pagni, spokesman for Mr. Corbett, offered a shrug: "We see this as a short-term financing. We continually examine the budget and the spending to make sure we're keeping in line with the revenues side of the equation."

Mr. Pagni isn't wrong -- the state has done this before and municipal governments regularly take out tax anticipation notes to cover for expenses while revenue catches up -- but the timing -- and the appearance of a shaky financial situation for the state -- couldn't possibly be worse, if we're thinking about the political prospects of Mr. Pagni's boss.

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