The Sestak campaign staged demonstrations across the state protesting Arlen’s Specter characterization of his Naval record while the Specter campaign shot back with a demand for the 31-year veteran to release his service records.
At lunchtime yesterday, about a dozen Sestak supporters milled around in the shadow of the Regional Enterprise Tower, where Mr. Specter has an office, protesting his commercial contending that Mr. Sestak had been “relieved of command,’’ as a senior officer in the Pentagon for creating “a poor command climate.’’
Walt Bielich, a former member of Bethel Park council, assailed Mr. Specter for what he said was “a negative and impugning tone toward people who have served their country,’’
‘He’s unprincipled,’’ Dan Giovannetti, a Sestak supporter and former Army Reserves sergeant, said of Mr. Specter. “If you want to attack someone, do it on the issues. … Specter said he was relieved of command. That implies all kinds of things. It’s a cheap shot.’’
Similar demonstrations took place yesterday at Specter offices in Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Over the weekend Mr. Sestak enlisted an improbably ally on the issue as Pat Toomey, the Republican Senate candidate, called the Specter attack ad, “a new low.’’
But far from retreating in the face of the criticism, the Specter campaign appeared happy to see the issue fester. The Specter campaign released a letter from a supporter, Dan Styche, secretary of the Pittsburgh Democratic Party, calling on the 31-year Navy veteran to release his service records to provide the background for the 2005 transfer at the root of Specter’s attack.
In 2005, Mr. Sestak, then a three-start Admiral, was serving as a deputy in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations, when Admiral Mike Mullen replaced his former boss and promptly shifted Mr. Sestak to a less influential position. Mr. Sestak has explained the move as an effort by a new leader to install his own team. He has also suggested that he had earned intra-service enemies with sometimes controversial recommendations for changes in naval planning.
Quoting unnamed senior officers, the Navy Times has reported at the time of the transfer that it came because, Mr. Sestak’s demands on subordinates had created “a poor command climate,’’ _ a phrase repeated in the Specter ads.
“You could clear up the circumstances relating to your 2005 Navy incident by releasing your Navy records,’’ Mr. Styche, the wrote in the letter released by the incumbent’s campaign, “If you won’t do this, it will continue to cast serious doubts on you contention about the Specter TV ad.’’
It’s not hard to see where this is going. In the final weeks of the campaign, as Mr. Sestak is eager to turn the focus on Mr. Specter and his voting record, Pennsylvania voters may hear still more repeated demands for Mr. Sestak to “release the records.’’
In a statement responding to the letter, Jonathon Dworkin, a Sestak spokesman said, “Arlen Specter is so desperate to stay in Washington that he has engaged in Republican-style negative personal attacks. After 45 years as a Republican politician, he must be confused about Democratic values because what offends Democrats across Pennsylvania is that instead of running a positive campaign about his own accomplishments or showing respect for Joe Sestak's 31 years serving our country in the U.S. Navy, Arlen Specter smears Joe’s military career.’’