Dems taking aim at Onorato

As polls show Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato moving away from the pack, his opponents in the Democratic gubernatorial primary are sharpening their attacks against the frontrunner.

This week saw the first round of negative ads in the Democratic primary. Tony Williams criticized Onorato for inflating his economic record, and Joe Hoeffel began airing a commercial charging the county executive with “flip flopping” on abortion.

Jack Wagner joined in the chorus during a Harrisburg event.

Wagner went on, “In addition, I would say Allegheny County, in the last five years, has had the largest tax increase in its history. And people need to know that, and they need to understand it.”

The latest Muhlenberg College tracking poll gives Onorato a 21-point lead over his closest challenger.

Poll director Chris Borick says the other three Democrats are trying to bring Onorato back to the pack – though he notes that will be tough to do, with less than two weeks to go before the primary.

Wagner: “There’s too much grease in that Philly cheesesteak”

In a new spot, Wagner – still standing in front of a green screen — says PA government is wasting too much money “This state needs a healthier diet,” he says, while superimposed in front of a cheesesteak stand.

Dems bring the energy at WITF debate

For the first time in the gubernatorial campaign, the Democratic candidates showed some energy during a debate, directly challenging each other on the issues during a forum aired this evening on WITF-TV.

Senator Anthony Williams and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel had several lively exchanges, including a back-and-forth on whether Hoeffel would pledge to bar campaign contributors from winning state contracts or serving in his administration.

Hoeffel said he wouldn’t take Williams’ pledge.

The two also tangled on school vouchers. Williams is a strong supporter of subsidizing poorer and middle class children’s private educations with state money, but Hoeffel says that would undermine public schools. “What’s going to be left? What public school’s going to survive if the kids leave?” asked Hoeffel. “I’m going to worry about the child, and not the district,” responded Williams. “That’s the difference. For you, I think you believe in systems that are job employment places. But you don’t worry about — suppose somebody’s not doing their job?”

“You’ve got to have a public school that’s good covering every neighborhood in Pennsylvania,” said Hoeffel. “Survival of the fittest in public education would be a disaster.”

The forum featured several unscripted moments, as well. At one point host Nell McCormack Abom asked the candidates to name a mistake they had learned from. Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato couldn’t think of one.

Onorato had another rocky moment early in the forum, when Abom asked the candidates to pose questions directly to each other. The request seemed to take Onorato by surprise, and it took him an uncomfortable 16 seconds before he came up with a question.

The debate was held hours after the latest Quinnipiac University poll found most Democratic voters still have no idea who’s running. Onorato leads the latest survey with 20 percent, but nearly half of likely voters are still undecided, and seven in ten say they’re open to changing their minds between now and election day.

Wagner: Defender of Taco Tuesday

As Capitol cafeteria employees continue to stamp out the eatery’s “severe” rodent infestation, Auditor General Jack Wagner is pointing out he’s been calling for increased inspections there for years.

The last Agriculture Department cafeteria inspection before this month’s visit took place in 2005. In a Christmas Eve press release, Wagner’s office said that checkup was a “direct result” of a 2005 audit calling out lax inspection policies.

That audit, which took a look at restaurant inspections across the state, devoted several pages to the lack of inspections at state Capitol facilities. At the time, the cafeteria hadn’t been looked at since 2000. Wagner determined that was a result of turf confusion — Department of Agriculture, City of Harrisburg, Department of General Services and Department of Labor and Industry officials all thought one of the other agencies was responsible for oversight.

The audit found that, “when state agencies hide behind their own bureaucracies as these agencies did, nothing gets done until someone steps up to take responsibility.  Accordingly, this finding in particular shows why it is so critical for one state agency to vest itself with coordinating the licensing and inspection procedures and inspection results statewide. As we stated in the previous finding, this authority should be assumed by the Department of Agriculture.”

Agriculture spokesman Justin Fleming tells the AP the 05-09 lapse was “‘an unfortunate oversight’ while the agency worked to correct problems cited in Wagner’s audit.”

No love for Jack Wagner

To me, the most interesting part of Governor Rendell’s “year in review” press conference was the questions on next year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. At first, Rendell said he has no plans to endorse a candidate or influence the field. He said he’s never done that. When a reporter pointed out that Rendell had, in fact, waded into previous races, Rendell said “he might do that again.” So it’s unclear whether the incumbent will pick a favorite.

But then Rendell mentioned how closely he’s worked with:

-Dan Onorato

-Joe Hoeffel

-Chris Doherty

-Tom Knox.

Missing anyone, governor?  I asked how close he was with the  one candidate he didn’t mention.

Rendell: Who’s the other candidate?

Me: Jack Wagner?

Rendell: He’s a good public servant.

When asked how helpful Wagner’s often critical audits have been, Rendell said, “Some are, some aren’t. Some are accurate, some aren’t. But that’s probably the case with any auditor general that you look at in history. Auditor generals have a history of running for other offices.”

Between that and the snark Rendell directed at Wagner during an October appearance on WHYY’s Radio Times, I wouldn’t expect the Auditor General and Governor to get together for any joint fundraisers in the near future.

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