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