A conversation with Chris Doherty

I just wrapped up an interview with Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty, who’s running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. We talked about a wide range of topics, including taxes, the Marcellus Shale, and Doherty’s take on social issues.

Among the interview’s highlights:

–Doherty says he wouldn’t be afraid to raise taxes, if the state needed new revenue. He argues Republican candidates who swear off a tax hike aren’t living in reality. “You’re not going to raise taxes? Where are you going to get the money from? And don’t tell me you’re just going to keep reducing the size of government. That means you’re going to keep reducing the hopes and dreams of the people in this state. All your saying is, we will ignore this problem and let’s hope it goes away.”

–He says he used to be pro-life, but his views on abortion changed over the course of his tenure as mayor. A big factor, according to Doherty, was the fact he has three daughters. “I asked myself, if someone said to me, ‘well if your daughter had an abortion, that makes her a criminal?’ Well no – that’s my daughter and I know there would have been a good reason. Well if I think that for my daughter, I think that for other people, too.”

The full interview is posted below. Tune into your local NPR affiliate for more on Monday. Be sure to also check Capitol Ideas later today, as Doherty also recorded a special edition of “Politics as Usual” with myself, John Micek and Alex Roarty. Among other topics, he gave us his take on how Michael Scott would do as governor.

Part one:

Part two:

Aramark just can’t catch a break…

The Inquirer’s food critic stopped by the Capitol yesterday to experience our suddenly infamous cafeteria.  All was going well…until he found a hair in his cheesesteak.

Sad trombones.


Capitol cafeteria update

The calls for the Department of General Services to tear up Aramark’s Capitol cafeteria contract are growing. A Department of Agriculture inspection earlier this week found 18 health violations, including more rodent droppings.

Republican Representative Tina Pickett sits on the Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee, which held a hearing on the cafeteria’s health inspections woes on Monday – right when DOA officials were making their second round of inspections. She wanted to see DGS void Aramark’s contract after the December inspection, and says in light of a second round of violations, there’s no reason the Philadelphia-based company should be allowed to keep operating the facility.

The Rendell Administration says Aramark will keep its contract – for now. Chief of Staff Steve Crawford says the company has “been put on notice,” and will get the boot if the cafeteria fails another inspection next month. That’s not good enough for Pickett, who says the debacle raises serious questions. “Does it say that there’s some sort of unheard of reason that they might be able to retain that contract? Does it say that our inspections systems are not properly doing their jobs? But I think mostly it says that Aramark is not capable of running a proper operation.”

Here’s Aramark’s full statement on the matter:

We continue to work with the Department of Agriculture and General Services in a challenging environment. All but two of the violations found Monday were corrected immediately, and the remaining items were corrected overnight. The café is in compliance. These DOA inspections are part of an ongoing process to ensure the Capitol café remains a high-quality dining establishment. And we will supplement them with internal audits and surprise inspections by an independent third party.

So let’s take a look at the contract. It mandates the lessee “offer quality products that deliver to the highest level of customer satisfaction.”  It also orders Aramark to “comply with all local, state and federal health and safety standards for food preparation and food service.”

The fact the state provides “equipment and services,” and “will invest in improvements designed to increase sales and profitability”, but only receives 4.5 percent of the cafeteria’s net revenue, is making people even more upset. Republican Representative Carl Metzgar, who also sits on the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, says Aramark needs to go.

Here’s the contract:

More rodent droppings at Capitol cafeteria

When the Capitol cafeteria reopened earlier this month, Aramark officials said they had turned over a new leaf, and would submit to monthly Department of Agriculture inspections to show how clean the eatery is.

Well, the first report is in — and it isn’t pretty. Some excerpts:

-“one rodent dropping in the bowl”

-“rodent droppings on the grill side line, in a cabinet and around an electrical box. Also observed fresh rodent droppings in the dry storage room on the rails of the sehlves used for storing food and single use items.”

-“Two rodent droppings were found in the large mixer in the kichen. One of these droppings was in the large bowl of the mixer.”

The full report:

F&M Poll: most voters still undecided

More good news for Pat Toomey in today’s Franklin and Marshall College poll. The Republican leads incumbent Arlen Specter 45-31 among likely voters, and has a 41-19 lead over Joe Sestak within the same demographic. There are large chunks of undecided voters, though, and both Toomey and Sestak still have low state-wide name recognition. Specter’s job approval ratings remain low, with only 29 percent of respondents saying he deserves another term.

The poll’s take on the gubernatorial race paints the same picture last month’s Quinnipiac survey did — Dan Onorato and Tom Corbett lead their respective fields, but the vast majority of voters still haven’t made up their minds, and most don’t even know who’s running.

Onorato tops the Democrats with ten percent, but 72 percent of Democratic respondents are undecided. Corbett has a 23-5 lead over Sam Rohrer, but seven in ten GOP voters still don’t have a preference. Unsurprisingly, the economy is the most important issue for voters — though I was surprised that  the second-most important issue is “don’t know.”

Here’s the full document:

House passes cell ban

The House has passed a bill banning drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel. The measure, which cleared the House on a 189 to 6 vote, would also ban texting while driving, and would bar younger drivers from talking on the phone, with or without a hands-free device. The bill makes dialing and driving a primary offense, which means police could pull motorists over for having a phone to their ear, even if they weren’t breaking any other rules. Lehigh County Republican Doug Reichley supports the measure.

It’s unclear whether the bill has enough support to pass the Senate – though the upper chamber did pass a ban on texting while driving last year. State Representative Josh Shapiro, a Montgomery County Democrat, says lawmakers considering opposing the bill should take heed.

The governor’s spokesman says Rendell supports the measure, and will sign it if it reaches his desk.

Hoeffel positions himself as the race’s progressive candidate

Joe Hoeffel is liberal, and he’s not afraid to let you know it.

The Montgomery County Commissioner officially kicked off his gubernatorial bid with appearances in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia today. At the state Capitol, he ran through the progressive issues he’d advance if elected: environmental protection, increased education funding, a graduated income tax, gay marriage and a pro-choice platform.

Hoeffel says Pennsylvania’s abortion laws are “burdensome,” and filled with “waiting periods and consent requirements and judicial bypasses. These are all put into the law twenty years ago in order to make it more difficult for women to exercise their reproductive rights. And it’s particularly hard on young women and poor women.”

Hoeffel is positioning himself to the left of his opponents with this stance. Auditor General Jack Wagner is pro-life, as is Dan Onorato — though the Allegheny County Executive says he wouldn’t change Pennsylvania’s abortion laws, if elected. Like Hoeffel, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty is pro-choice.

Hoeffel also said he’d fight for gay marriage if elected, though he said he didn’t know whether that could become law during his tenure as governor.

Hoeffel held his event in the Capitol’s rotunda. Tom Knox drew grief from reporters for holding a December campaign press conference in the Capitol Media Center, but a  Department of General Services spokesman says while the Media Center is for government events only, the rotunda is fair game for political events

Reporters free to tweet during #bonusgate trial

Reporters covering the trial of Mike Veon and three other “Bonusgate” defendants will be free to tweet to their thumbs’ content. Dauphin County President Judge Richard Lewis has denied a defense motion to ban Twitter from the courtroom.

Lawyers said they were worried tweets could influence potential witnesses’ testimony. Instead, Lewis has barred witnesses from reading trial-related tweets, as well as news coverage, in the 24 hours before their appearance.

Gene Policinski , executive director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, says that’s in line with legal precedent. “Putting restraints on the press and reporting in any matter, whether it’s new technology or old technology, is something that the Supreme Court has generally held to a very high test,” he said. “I think the instructions there are generally to look for the least restrictive method, the least oppressive method, in terms of what gets to the public.”

Advocates of free speech and journalism are happy with the ruling. Vic Walczak, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania’s legal director, says, “It seems like a sensible and a reasonable accommodation to 21st century technology. It’s not something that should disrupt the trial in any way, and yet promotes the reporter’s ability to get timely information out about what’s going on, which informs the public. So I think all of this makes good sense.”

Policinski says Lewis’ decision is one of the first in the country on the matter. “The issue of using Twitter from courtrooms is relatively new for the courts, both at the federal and state level, to deal with,” he said.  “There have been a couple of rulings in federal courts early on. One banning Twitters by spectators, the other permitting a reporter to Twitter from a trial. There’s really no settled law on this.”

Opening arguments begin February 1. If you’re not a witness and you want to keep up with the trial, I’d recommend following the Post-Gazette’s Tracie Mauriello, the Tribune-Review’s Brad Bumstead and Roxbury News.

White House — there’s an app for that

Embedding without comment

Doherty camp: Mayor raised 1.1 million in ’09

There’s been a lot of chatter today about how Tom Knox’s withdrawal puts Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato in a league of his own, when it comes to campaign fundraising and spending.  Perhaps trying to make the case that he can pull in money, too, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty’s campaign has issued a release saying he raised $441,o00 for his gubernatorial bid, “despite having to share time and attention with the mayor’s race.”

In total, Doherty’s people say he raised 1.1 million dollars between the two races.

Still, that’s about an eighth of what Onorato says he’s raised so far.

Full release below.


As the only candidate facing re-election to his current office, Doherty raised more than $1 million combined in his race for mayor and for governor

SCRANTON, PA – The Doherty for Pennsylvania campaign announced today that Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty raised a combined total of $1,116,162 in 2009.  That amount includes resources raised for his successful mayoral re-election primary and general campaigns as well as his campaign for governor.

“I am very pleased at the support we received last year,” said Mayor Doherty.  “As the only candidate in the governor’s race who had to run in both a primary and a general election in 2009, we faced some unique challenges.  The total we raised is a tribute not only to the success we’ve enjoyed in Scranton, but to the dedication and hard work of our supporters.  I know we still have a lot of work to do, and with our focus entirely on the governor’s race, I’m looking forward to a great 2010.”

The Doherty for Mayor committee reported raising a total of $674,793 in 2009.  Mayor Doherty successfully won both the Democratic and Republican primaries last year and went on to win re-election to his third term in November.  The Doherty for Pennsylvania committee, Mayor Doherty’s gubernatorial campaign committee, will report raising $441,369 in 2009 despite having to share time and attention with the mayor’s race.

The Doherty for Pennsylvania committee has not yet filed its official campaign finance report with the state, but will do so before the reporting deadline this month.


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