With Joe Sestak doing a small business tour today (and Pat Toomey addressing the economy and cap-and-trade legislation tomorrow on Neville Island; Sestak will be at a women-owned business in Blawnox tomorrow) the Senate campaigns are clashing over one of the central planks of the Republican's campaign -- his experience as a small businessman.
Sestak claims Toomey got into the restaurant business while working on Wall Street (which is true), while Toomey claims he worked in the business for seven years after leaving the financial sector (which is also true). And of course there is also an Arlen Specter connection, which we'll get into later.
First, let's go to the bio: Toomey worked his way through Harvard, the Morning Call's Jeff Miller wrote back in 2004, then worked on Wall Street from 1984 through 1991, at Chemical Bank (1984-86), Morgan Grenfell Co. (1986-90) and Springfield Limited (1990-91). In 1990 his two younger brothers opened a restaurant business in the Allentown area, which would drive Toomey to leave New York in late 1991/early 1992 and ultimately take over management of the restaurant concerns, before getting out out of its operations when joining Congress in 1999. (He did not sell his last shares until 2001.)
His brothers, Steven and Michael, had managed several restaurants and nightclubs and pitched the idea of starting a business together. Although it meant giving up a promising future in the financial world, Toomey and his bothers thought they might be able to launch something big.
They chose the Lehigh Valley for its demographics and shortage of entertainment options for 30- and 40-year-olds. Toomey was still in New York when Rockin' Robins opened but soon joined his brothers in Allentown.
The dance club was a hit and spawned Boca Joe's Beach Club and Rookies, a sports bar. Another Rookies opened in Lancaster.
Toomey contributed his financial expertise but also immersed himself in decisions about menu options and decor. Despite their experience, Steven and Michael chose to give their big brother final say within the family corporation.
Which brings us to a statement Sestak spokesman Jonathon Dworkin released today, which begins: "Congressman Toomey was never a small businessman. While still working on Wall Street, he invested in a restaurant chain, left it to others to do the work, and then cashed out his shares."
The Toomey camp responded with the following, blasting Sestak's lack of private-sector experience (without noting Sestak's government job was as a Navy admiral):
"It was a two-restaurant 'chain,' if you could call it that," he said. "We had one in Allentown and one in Lancaster."