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I Was Wrong To Question The DRPA

 Later this year, it is possible — even probable — that the following individuals will all be in jail: former powerhouse Senator Vince Fumo, former House Speakers John Perzel and Bill DeWeese, Senators Jane Orie and Bob Mellow (both of Leadership), and former Representatives Mike Veon and Brett Feese (also from Leadership). 

 

On the one hand, seeing corrupt politicians brought to justice is a good thing, as is all the money they are giving back to taxpayers via forfeited pensions.

 

But there is a downside. While such offenders should obviously be prosecuted, people’s cynicism toward their government seems to be at an all-time high. Why? Because the rampant corruption still occurring — the kind that directly affects people — just isn’t being tackled seriously. 

 

Despite elements of corruption — both institutional and criminal — so apparent that even a law student could successfully prosecute the violators, nothing seems to get done. 

 

Worst of all are the pols who campaign as straight-shooting, law-and-order reformers, hell-bent on rooting out corruption, yet do nothing of the kind when elected.  Sadly, they often end up as corrupt as those they challenged.  The status quo remains intact, and, save for a bit of window dressing “reforms” here and there, it’s Business As Usual.

 

Nowhere is that more apparent that the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), one of the most powerful — and corrupt — organizations in the entire nation.

 

But wait! Could there be hope after all of reforming the Authority?  Sources say that a report from the New Jersey Comptroller’s Office will be released soon (possibly Monday), and that a gag order has been placed on its contents by the DRPA’s Chairman, Pennsylvania Governor Tim Corbett.  Sounds so cloak-and-dagger that it’s just possible to think maybe, just maybe, this might finally be the time when the bums are kicked out, replaced by honest folks with only one objective: responsible stewardship of the toll payers’ money.

 

After all, on the other side of the river we have firebrand Governor Chris Christie, who, like Corbett, is a former prosecutor.

 

So will this be the day we’ve been waiting for?

 

Fat chance. Very fat.

 

*****

 

Freindly Fire (FF) has been the longest-serving media voice taking on the DRPA and the heavyweights involved with the Authority (Ed Rendell, Jon Corzine, the Ballard Spahr law firm, CEO John Matheussen, and past and present Boards, to name just a few). For much of the past four years, FF has been alone in its quest to upend the corrupt regime, eliminate mammoth conflicts of interest, fire double-dipping executives, and bring accountability to the agency.  Joined by FOX 29 in 2010— and pretty much only FOX 29 — a number of the above objectives were met.  DRPA execs were scrambling (some were canned), a few reforms were instituted (though mostly toothless), criminal investigations were launched, and both new governors promised swift and decisive action.

 

But then it all fell off a cliff.

 

While we have moved in the right direction, it is not nearly good enough.  Quite frankly, this report will probably accomplish nothing.  Sure, there will be press conferences with harsh warnings from Corbett and Christie for the DRPA to shape up, Board members will say all the right things, and taxpayer and reform groups will fall for the same empty promises. And you know what will happen?

 

Absolutely nothing.

 

Therefore, it seems appropriate to take a new position regarding all things DRPA — I am apologizing.  In retrospect, I have been wrong across the board these past few years, and it is only fitting to publicly eat crow for those errors. I am man-enough to admit my mistakes.  Here are some of the most substantial:

 

1) I was wrong to think Tom Corbett would make good on his promise to clean house upon becoming Governor (and making himself DRPA Chair).  Instead, he chose to appoint hacks, lawyers (redundant?), former union officials, large-dollar political contributors and lobbyists to the Board, without so much as one reformer.

 

2) I was wrong to think Christie would use his office as a bully pulpit to demand the Jersey Board members (whom he can’t replace until their terms expire) to fire CEO Matheussen, under whose “leadership” the DRPA has become synonymous with “corrupt.”  This is a CEO, by the way, who has been working without a contract for years, makes more than either governor, and stands to pocket a six-figure sum of toll payer money in accumulated sick/vacation days when he finally leaves. Yet he remains because there has been no political will to remove him.

 

3) I was wrong to think the other media outlets (except FOX 29) would jump on board, exposing the DRPA for what it really is.  And I was wrong to assume they were capable of doing so in the first place, despite time and again giving them an exact roadmap for investigative articles.

 

4) I was wrong to think the Philadelphia Inquirer — both under former publisher Brian Tierney’s failed leadership and the current sell-out ownership — would cover the DRPA as a media watchdog should.  Could such inaction have been caused by Tierney begging Rendell for a taxpayer-bailout of the paper? And let’s not forget that, while R.endell was in power, the acting Board Chairman was John Estey of Ballard Spahr — Rendell’s former Chief of Staff, a major Rendell fundraiser, and a fellow member of Rendell’s law firm.  So obviously, I was wrong to even consider the possibility that the paper could objectively cover the matter.

 

5) I was wrong to expect that over $35 million in “economic development” money —codespeak for political slush funds used for everything under the sun —except the bridges — would be spent on 1) the long-overdue re-decking of the Walt Whitman Bridge; 2) helping offset yet another toll increase; or 3) paying down some of the DRPA’s enormous debt. 

 

And I would be wrong to end my list here, since there is so much more.  So check back next week for even more wrongs.  And who know?  Maybe all these wrongs might somehow make it right…

 

 

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm Comments (0)

Corbett’s Credibility Tanks Over His Role In Penn State Scandal

Pop Quiz: What’s the relationship between the following two statements which have appeared in recent news articles: 

1) “Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s national profile rises in the wake of Penn State scandal.”

 2) “Tom Corbett has been mentioned as a possible Vice Presidential candidate.”

Strangely, they are inversely proportional.  When one’s profile rises, that’s typically a good thing. But as the nation learns about some very disturbing actions of Corbett related to the Penn State scandal, his Veep chances are plummeting.  As a direct result, his chances of ever being a heartbeat away are between zero and forgetaboutit.

At this rate, he may be lucky just to survive his first term.

*****

Why the cover-up, and how far up the ladder did it go?  Why the lack of swift action, from not just the University, but from law enforcement?  And how could football — no matter how storied a program — have risen above the protection of innocent children?

These questions were supposed to be answered by a thorough and unbiased investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office.  But as more information emerges on that front, the less faith people have that justice has been — or will be — served.

Enter Tom Corbett.

For better or worse, Corbett has been a quiet, behind-the-scenes governor during his first year in office.  Yet he felt compelled to address the state and national media on the scandal.  In doing so, he said more in one press conference than he had in his entire governorship, despite the fact that he declined to answer most questions.

Interestingly, Corbett is wearing three hats.  He is the Governor of a state that contributes millions to Penn State. He is a Penn State Board Trustee who participated in Board decisions, including the firings of Joe Paterno and University President Graham Spanier. And most significantly, he is the former Attorney General who launched the child molestation investigation of former football coach Jerry Sandusky in 2009.

Corbett has attempted to have the best of both worlds: national publicity where he touts the virtues of morality, and a free pass on accountability because of alleged confidentiality issues.  But that tactic has backfired, as the media spotlight turned on Corbett himself. The more that is learned about Corbett’s actions — and inactions — regarding the investigation, the more his credibility tanks.

Consider:

1) It took substantially longer for the Attorney General’s office to bring charges against Sandusky than it did for numerous politicians to be indicted in the Bonusgate corruption probe. Bonusgate was a very complex investigation involving crafty politicians with the best lawyers money could buy. Since much of what was being investigated in Bonusgate was not run-of-the mill illegalities, the investigators had to overcome a hefty, time-consuming learning curve to understand the subject matter.

So how can such a complicated investigation come to fruition more quickly than a black-and-white child rape case?  And where is the rule against making an initial arrest to get the molester off the street — and warn the public — while continuing to build the case?

Given the appalling nature of the alleged crimes, and the real possibility that more young children were molested during the three year investigation, why did the Attorney General wait so long to make the staffing level as robust as it should have been from the start?

If the answer is that resources were limited — sorry, try again.  As bad as other crimes may have been, such as those committed in Bonusgate, no one was physically hurt and the welfare of children was never an issue.  Giving priority to children who are at risk of rape and molestation is a no-brainer. But inexplicably, that wasn’t done.

The Governor continues to defend his actions — scolding those who dare question him — by stating that it takes time to build such a case and that he can’t comment further, but three years? That’s an insult to everyone, especially the victims.  Again, you can’t have it both ways, grandstanding for political points but clamming up when the questions get tough.

And fair or not, many are now asking if the investigation was delayed so that Corbett could avoid being the gubernatorial candidate who took down Joe Paterno and Penn State — both wildly popular among the hundreds of thousands of alumni living in the state.

2) This one is simply incomprehensible.

In yet another instance of Corbett finishing what former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell started (others being $20 million of taxpayer money to renovate the Yankees’ AAA  stadium, and $42  million to bail out the Philadelphia Shipyard to build ships with no buyers), the Governor personally approved a $3 million taxpayer-funded grant to Sandusky’s Second Mile charity — just four months ago!

That bears repeating.  Tom Corbett, with full knowledge that Sandusky was under investigation for multiple child rapes, still approved the money to his charity. 

How is that possible?  And why on earth is the national media not yet running with this?

In a response that was offensive to any rational person, here’s what his spokesman said, as reported in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

“He (Corbett) couldn’t block that (grant) from going forward because of what he knew as attorney general…He couldn’t let on to anyone (including the governor’s office) what he knew….”

That is so wrong that it begs the question as to the real motivation behind approving the grant.

First, the fact that so many people had been interviewed by the grand jury made the investigation anything but a secret.  Second, the Harrisburg Patriot News reported on the grand jury investigation —- in March.  Corbett approved the funds — in July!  So not wanting to “let on” was clearly bogus.  The investigation was already well-established in the public domain.

Secondly, there was an incredibly easy way to deal with the grant without tipping off anyone: simply strike it.  After all, the budget Corbett signed cut everything else, so a grant to a charity would have been seen as just another casualty of financial cutbacks. 

Veto the grant (why taxpayers are funding that in the first place is obscene, but that’s another story) and be done with it.  It should have been that easy.  But it didn’t happen.

Why?

Well, consider if the following may have had anything to do with it. According to the sports website Deadspin.com, past and present board members of the Second Mile, along with their businesses and families, have donated more than $640,000 to Corbett since 2003.

That interesting — and massively significant — point seemed to have slipped the Governor’s mind during his press conferences.  Go figure.

*****

Something is rotten to the core about how this whole affair has been investigated.  It’s time for the Feds to take the lead role in uncovering the whole truth, and that includes possibly looking into the Attorney General’s investigation. 

It’s clear the Board of Trustees cannot be counted upon to conduct an unbiased investigation, nor can the local police, and, sadly, even the Attorney General’s office.  And nothing emanating from the Governor’s office on this issue can be taken at face value.

In discussing why Paterno and Spanier were fired, the Governor said, “…the Board lost confidence in their ability to lead Penn State through this time and into the future.”

With all the opportunities Tom Corbett has had to play it straight with the people of Pennsylvania — especially the victims — on his dealings with the Penn State issue, he hasn’t done so.

And that has caused an ever-increasing number of people to lose confidence in his ability to lead.

There is a great scene in the movie The American President where Richard Dreyfuss suggests that being president “was, to a certain extent, about character.” And in classic Michael Douglas style, he replies, “I can tell you, without hesitation, that being President is entirely about character.”

Well, character isn’t limited to the Oval Office. It resides in every one of us — and that includes Governors, Trustees, coaches, police and investigators.

Moving forward, let’s demand that a basic legal and moral principle be followed to the very end:

Fiat justitia ruat caelum  —“Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

The victims deserve no less.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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November 21, 2011 at 8:14 am Comments (2)

Rendell’s Real Legacy: High Taxes, Low Ratings And Clenched Teeth

It was a December night, late 90’s.  My entire family was in downtown Philadelphia taking in the Christmas attractions.  One of our traditions was marveling at the magnificently decorated, larger-than-life tree in the City Hall courtyard.  But when we arrived, the gates were locked.

Viewing the tree wasn’t going to happen.

Disappointed, we started walking away when none other than the Mayor himself came bounding out of City Hall right next to us, clearly in a hurry.  But he saw us, turned around, and shot the bull for several minutes.  Upon hearing our plight, he immediately summoned a police officer from his detail and instructed him to take us up to his office, which “has the best view of the tree,” for as long as we wanted.

That tree never looked so beautiful.

And through it all, that Mayor never asked us our names or where we lived.  Whether or not we were voting constituents had absolutely no bearing on him.  He instinctively did what he thought was right, in much the same way he operated while an Assistant District Attorney, and later, the City’s DA.  He was one of the good guys.

And after his two relatively successful terms as Mayor, hopes that he would lead Pennsylvania in the right direction were not unfounded.

But after eight disastrous years as Pennsylvania’s Governor, Ed Rendell being viewed as a “good guy” is as likely as the Eagles’ winning this year’s Super Bowl: nonexistent.

*****

Up to this point, his legacy was known for three things: the introduction of gambling, which did not live up to the promise of tax-relief; huge tax hikes, coupled with a 40 per cent increase in state spending; and a perception of widespread pay-to-play within his Administration. Of lesser note but still sore subjects were his signing an unconstitutional legislative pay raise and not getting a single budget passed on time — budgets that were full of smoke and mirrors, such as imaginary revenue from the failed I-80 tolling plan.

But now, the image of Rendell that is etched in people’s minds is the Governor blowing his top during one of his final interviews. 

With teeth clenched in a menacing growl, he karate-chops the air and literally screams at 60 Minutes interviewer Lesley Stahl that … “You guys don’t get that. You’re simpletons. You’re idiots if you don’t get that.”   He was defending his position that gaming was good for Pennsylvania, under the rationale that if gamblers are going to lose their paychecks anyway, it’s better for state coffers if they lose them in Pennsylvania.

Truth be told, Rendell’s anger wasn’t really directed at Stahl.  An intelligent man, the Governor is all too aware that, under his watch, the state earned points in all the wrong categories: some of the highest taxes in the country; the nation’s most hostile legal system, causing doctors and companies to flee; a failing educational product; the country’s worst roads, and a decimated manufacturing base.

Pennsylvania’s biggest export is its children, and that, more than anything, has extinguished the hope for a better tomorrow under Rendell.

But if there is ever to be a turnaround, the time is now. Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett will be the state’s new Governor, a leader who has promised to run Pennsylvania in the mold of New Jersey’s Chris Christie.  And he definitely has the horses to accomplish his agenda: the Senate is solidly Republican, and the State House saw a thirteen seat swing to give the GOP a double-digit majority.

Many analysts postulated that Dan Onorato was defeated in the Governor’s race, and the Democrats lost control of the State House, because of the national Republican tidal wave, with Rendell playing little role in that result.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the off-year elections of 1994 and 2010, newly elected Democratic Presidents pushed unpopular policies: Clinton with national health care and gays in the military, and Obama with universal healthcare, cap-and-trade and the stimulus. In both cases, Republicans took advantage of the momentum and captured the U.S. House of Representatives and numerous Governorships, including the gubernatorial victories of Tom Ridge and Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania. 

The State House was a different story. In 1994, the outgoing Governor, Bob Casey, Sr., was a popular conservative Democrat, and his influence helped the Dems maintain their slim majority. But Rendell was an albatross around the neck of Onorato, his protégé, and Democratic incumbents statewide.  Given that Corbett made Rendell’s legacy the focal point of his campaign, the Governor bears the most responsibility for his Party’s shellacking.

It’s legacy time for the Governor, and his approval ratings are downright dismal: twenties throughout much of the state and only thirties in his home base of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Poll numbers don’t lie, so when the vast majority of people say that Rendell’s eight years at the helm were a disaster, the realization of failure sets in, and backlashes occur — hence the uncontrolled outburst on 60 Minutes.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Rendell’s unpopularity is that it occurred despite the media’s cozy relationship with the Governor.  That free pass culminated when…

Read the rest and post a comment at Philly Magazine’s Philly Post:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2011/01/11/rendell%e2%80%99s-legacy-high-taxes-low-ratings-and-clenched-teeth/

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newsApapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

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January 11, 2011 at 11:14 am Comments (0)

Rendell’s Fast-Sinking Bailout: Build Ships With No Buyers

But Corbett Can Drop Anchor On Governor’s Taxpayer Boondoggle

In the movie Dave, Kevin Kline plays a presidential lookalike who finds himself running the country after the real President falls into a coma.  Convening a Cabinet meeting, this political novice uses common sense to expose the ludicrous mentality of the entrenched Business As Usual crowd.

Kline asks the Commerce Secretary about an ad campaign his Department has implemented to boost consumer confidence in the American auto industry.  “It’s designed to bolster individual confidence in a previous domestic automotive purchase,” the Secretary proudly explained.

Speechless at first, Kline fires back, “We’re spending millions for somebody to feel good about a car they already bought? I don’t want to tell an eight-year-old kid he’s gotta sleep in the street because we want people to feel better about their car. Do you want to tell him that?”  The shocked Secretary (finally) sees the light, and the program is eliminated.

Incredibly, that mentality isn’t limited to fictional Hollywood scripts, but is a large part of the way our governmental leaders operate. Look at what Pennsylvania’s Ed Rendell is trying to pull off before he walks out of the Governor’s Mansion a few weeks from now.

Shortly before leaving office, Rendell authorized $42 million in taxpayer money to be sent to the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) to help bail out the sinking Aker Shipyard in Philadelphia.

The funding, we are told, would prevent Aker from going under, since it would be building two new tanker ships.  

Of course, there’s one small problem.

There are no buyers for the ships.  And the prospect of that changing course anytime soon is virtually nonexistent.

Thousands of ships worldwide are lying at anchor because of the global recession, idled indefinitely because the demand for shipping is dismally low.  It’s gotten so bad that some ship owners are even scrapping their vessels to eliminate harbor costs, receiving pennies on the dollar. But the remaining glut of vessels is still huge, depressing prices for the foreseeable future.

So, let’s be “Dave” for a second and get this straight.

Rendell wants to spend money — our money, since there’s no such thing as “state” money — to build ships…that no one is going to buy, ostensibly so some 1,000 workers can keep receiving a subsidized paycheck. And since there aren’t any buyers, the ships obviously wouldn’t be built-to-order, further devaluing them and making their eventual purchase all the more difficult.

Rendell may not care, but I certainly wouldn’t want to tell a mother that her child died in a bridge collapse that resulted from a lack of maintenance — because $42 million was spent on ghost ships instead of bridge repairs.

But what type of Rendell move would it be if he didn’t take care of his political pals and big-time fundraisers?

The Chairman of the PRPA is none other than John Estey, former Rendell Chief of Staff and a longtime partner at Ballard Spahr, the Guv’s old firm which has received the lion’s share of millions in no-bid legal contracts from the state.  And guess who the outside counsel of PRPA was?  Ballard Spahr.

This is the same John Estey who is also Chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), which is intricately linked to the PRPA, sending millions their way over the years.

The DRPA couldn’t dole out legal contracts fast enough to Ballard when it served as its outside counsel — over $3.2 million since Rendell was elected in 2002, up from $480 the year prior. And when Chairman Estey voted to approve those legal bills, he was, in fact, approving funds that went directly to Ballard — his own firm. 

Ballard and its associated entities, by the way,…..

Read the rest and post a comment at Phily Mag’s Philly Post:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2011/01/07/another-rendell-bailout-build-ships-with-no-buyers/

 

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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January 7, 2011 at 10:16 am Comments (0)

Freindly Fire’s Biggest Winners Of 2010

It’s that time of year again when Freindly Fire heaps praise upon those most deserving. You probably aren’t going to find these winners on the lists of typical media outlets, most of which bow at the altar of political correctness.

The Biggest Winner of 2010, as is the case every year, goes to none other than illegal invaders, all 20 million of them. Year after year, they continue to win everything. They are handed driver’s licenses, free education – in some cases all the way to college – and free first-rate health care. Most appallingly, their freedom exists because of our government’s non-existent efforts to deport them. Their presence has forced the closure of hospitals, taken jobs from American workers, depressed wages and caused taxes to sharply increase. And let’s not forget that many illegals are voting in our elections. How’s that for irony: foreigners deciding American elections. And every time the illegals win, there is an even bigger loser. Us.

Michael Vick and the Canine Community

As quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick has played spectacularly well, good enough to hide the team’s considerable shortcomings and earn the Birds the Division crown.  He is often mentioned as a leading MVP candidate, and many experts predict he will lead his team to the Super Bowl.

Which is all an unexpected pleasure, given that Vick was in jail not that long ago for executing losing canines in his dog-fighting operation. Given a reprieve by the League, he was the Eagle’s third-string QB last season, and he started this one as the backup.  He got his shot though, and, made the most of it.  Perhaps most noteworthy, he never used his numerous injuries as a crutch when the team lost, and has demonstrated more leadership in one season than former-quarterback Donovan McNabb showed in his entire, lackluster career.

Is Vick truly remorseful about the dog killing, or sorry only that he got caught? Tough to say, but second chances are what America is all about, and, for the most part, he has kept himself out of trouble.  With dogs everywhere breathing easier (actually, breathing at all), and Vick on the right track, he is definitely the most unexpected winner this year.

Governor Ed Rendell

Ok, not really.  Rendell’s eight-year tax-and-spend agenda, combined with widespread conflicts of interest throughout his Administration (some say pay-to-play) has driven Pennsylvania off the financial cliff, leaving a $5 billion deficit debacle for incoming Governor Tom Corbett to fix. And it’s been three years and counting since his promised interview with “Freindly Fire” — making that the only media entity with which he refuses to speak.  I wonder why.

But fair is fair, and Rendell could not have been more correct when he hammered the NFL for canceling the Sunday night football game in Philadelphia because of a snowstorm.  Not a two-foot storm of the century, mind you, but an 8 inch “weather event” that would have made an outdoor football game one to remember. The roads were drivable, subway trains were operational, and the fans would have shown up in force — loving every minute of it.  They do it in other places just fine — Green Bay, Chicago and New England, to name a few.  But now, Philadelphians are officially considered pansies.

The reality is that the League saw an opportunity to test market Tuesday Night Football.  As with most things, the decision was rooted in money.  But it was done so at the expense of the last real sport in America, where players gut it out with broken bones instead of running to the disabled list because of a hangnail.  In many ways, the game’s cancellation reflects what America has become: soft and wimpy, offended by everything and decisive in nothing. It’s how we run business, operate government, wage war, and yes, play football. The pioneering, tough-as-nails spirit that made us unique is all but gone.

Rendell labeled the NFL’s action the “wussification” of America.  Wrong first letter, Guv.

Congressman Joe Sestak

True, Sestak lost his bid for United States Senate, but he was unique among politicians. Here’s a guy who gave up the job security of a 100 per cent safe congressional seat to take on 30-year incumbent and Goliath of the Senate, Arlen Specter, in a long-shot bid. The entire Democratic Party power structure was against him, from Rendell to President Obama, thus ensuring very limited campaign money.  Yet he persisted in his mission, even turning down a reported job offer from the White House. And a funny thing happened along the way: he won the primary election.

But the more admirable trait of Sestak was that he never backed down from his core convictions.  Whether or not one agreed with him, he should be respected for standing his ground and not playing both sides or “moving to the middle” to appease the pundits. 

For any pol…

Read the rest at FreindlyFireZone.com and post a comment!

http://www.freindlyfirezone.com/index.php/national-news/item/121-freindly-fire’s-biggest-winners-of-2010

 

Look for Freindly Fire’s “Biggest Losers of 2010″ column next week

 

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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December 30, 2010 at 12:16 pm Comments (0)

Open Letter To Gov. Christie: Five Reasons To Dump DRPA Chief John Matheussen

 Governor Christie:

Political courage.

That is the description you have earned as Governor.  And for good reason.

You have successfully confronted the most powerful special interests in the state, sending a message that there are no sacred cows. In doing so, to the pleasant surprise of millions, the entrenched “business as usual” crowd is finally on the run.

In that regard, I want to discuss what is perhaps the most patronage-laden and inefficient entity in the state — the Delaware River Port Authority.

As you are aware, the contract of Authority Chief Executive John Matheussen expired July 17. While he is still functioning month-to-month as the CEO, his future rests with you.

There has been much coverage devoted to the largesse of the DRPA, specifically the $400 million in “economic development” funds that were spent on everything under the sun — except the bridges — leading to massive debt and rising tolls.

In addition to the misuse of the people’s money, there are a number of other factors to consider when deciding whether Mr. Matheussen’s contract should be renewed by the Board and approved by you.

Following are several examples of John Matheussen’s failed leadership:

1) Permitted Immense Conflicts Of Interest

Without question, Matheussen’s greatest failing is his toleration of the unfettered conflicts of interest that permeate the DRPA Board.

Upon assuming office in 2002, Governor Rendell appointed himself Chairman of the DRPA. One of the major beneficiaries has been his former firm, Ballard Spahr. In the three years preceding Rendell’s election, Ballard received $25,000 in legal fees from the Port Authority, including only $480 in 2001. From 2002 until the 2009, Ballard has received over $2.7 million.

Ballard, its attorneys and associated entities have contributed $1.5 million to Rendell’s campaigns.

Two of the governor’s former top aides, John Estey, his former chief of staff and Adrian King, his former deputy chief of staff, are currently partners at Ballard, and both hold or have held influential positions related to DRPA.

Estey has chaired virtually every Board meeting since 2002, and Mr. King served as the Authority’s Outside Counsel. Mr. Estey and Mr. King are brothers-in-law, and together have contributed over $35,000 to Mr. Rendell’s political coffers.

Former Pennsylvania Treasurer Robin Wiessmann, who had been a Rendell appointee, sits on the DRPA Board. Her husband, Ken Jarin, also a partner at Ballard, served as DRPA Outside Counsel and occasionally chaired board meetings

Incomprehensibly, Matheussen never raised an eyebrow when Estey, King, Jarin, and Wiessmann voted to “accept and receive” Ballard’s legal bills to DRPA, since that action amounted to money going into their law firm’s pocket, and, ultimately their own.

As you know better than most, Governor, the toughest challenge of being a leader is to buck the crowd and do the right thing, no matter how difficult.  But instead of illustrating that trait, John Matheussen was an instrumental part of the go-along, get along crowd — to the detriment of all but the insiders

 

2) The Campaign Finance Report Conflict Of DRPA Executive John Rogale ….

(Read More at Philadelphia Magazine: Comments welcome)

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2010/07/21/its-time-to-clean-house-at-the-drpa/

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July 21, 2010 at 11:04 am Comments (0)

The Rendell Legacy: Pennsylvania’s Fiscal Catastrophe

The Rendell Legacy: Pennsylvania’s Fiscal Catastrophe

Let’s give credit where it’s due. Fast Eddie never gives up, no matter how short-sighted his ideas may be.

When we last left our lameduck leader during the 2009 fiscal debacle, which took 101 days to pass  a budget, the Governor was doing what Democrats do best — transferring  money from the people to government coffers.  How? By initiating yet more tax increases on an already overtaxed public.

No surprise there.

At a time when Pennsylvania families are doing the responsible thing — tightening the belt and exercising fiscal restraint — the Governor does the polar opposite. Rendell has proposed a budget increase of 4%, in large part to pay for his pet projects, while incomprehensibly ignoring the fact that revenues are declining. 

But given the fact that Rendell hasn’t signed an on-time budget since taking office, why not go 8 for 8?

He pays no attention to the coming pension bomb, in which obligations to state pensions will increase eightfold over the next three years, from $550 million to over $4 billion. 

The Governor has apparently ignored the recent court ruling that the $800 million raided from the MCARE fund —money specifically allocated to alleviating high medical malpractice premiums — must now be paid back.

And he conveniently forgets that there won’t be the $2.7 billion in federal stimulus money that we had last year, and that accounting gimmicks won’t work anymore — such as counting the anticipated tolling of Interstate 80 as “revenue.” 

(Despite Ed’s vehement objections, the federal government shot down the I-80 tolling plan, so it’s back to the drawing board).

All of which means higher taxes and an expansion of gambling — government at its finest!

But because Rendell believes that government, rather than the people and their employers, knows best, his approach makes perfect sense — at least to him.

And he’s dead right if you believe in: a) spending beyond your means, b) grabbing money and property that isn’t yours…..

Read the rest at Philadelphia’ Magazine’s Philly Post:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2010/04/20/how-ed-rendell-wrecked-pennsylvania/

 

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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April 20, 2010 at 3:33 pm Comments (0)

Hoeffel fires back at Marino with ad hominem attack

Joe Hoeffel is none too pleased with Mike Marino’s statements in yesterday’s Times Herald regarding the now infamous Ordinance 98-2 that Hoeffel championed during his first tenure as a Mongomery County Supervisor:

Hoeffel, who served as commissioner from 1993 to 1998, said Thursday he supported the ordinance in 1998, because he felt the Republican-dominated board favored their supporters when awarding professional service contracts.

“There was a long history of the Republican politicians giving business to their big campaign donors,” he said.

The professional services policy aimed to make contracting competitive.

“Before 1992, there was no competition whatsoever,” Hoeffel said.

In a written statement sent to The Times Herald, Hoeffel claimed Marino, who served as commissioner from 2000 to 2003, opposed and “ignored the ordinance” while commissioner and later as county solicitor from 2004 to 2007.

So Joe, please tell us: What does Marino ignoring the ordinance you championed when he was in office have to do with YOU ignoring the ordinance you championed NOW?

Grand jury, anyone?

February 12, 2010 at 7:31 am Comments (0)

The Super Bowl Saints, Katrina and Corruption: Feel-Good Stories Won’t Rebuild A City

The Super Bowl Saints, Katrina and Corruption
Feel-Good Stories Won’t Rebuild A City

BY CHRIS FREIND
“FREINDLY FIRE”

Off the bat, let’s get a few things straight:

1) New Orleans is a one-of -a-kind city. It should be on everyone’s list to visit at least once.
2) Despite the fact that the Colts will always be Baltimore to me, I am rooting for Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. And not because I am a Manning fan, but due to the nauseating media coverage that if the Saints win the Big Game, that will somehow heal all wounds from Hurricane Katrina.

Gimme a break.

When will people stop living in a fantasy land and speak the truth about what really happened before, during and after Katrina hit? The reality is that, regardless of whether the Saints win, New Orleans is still at risk and will continue to be until the people wake up, and no victorious football team or the infinite number of feel-good puff pieces about NFL players will change that.

People are entitled to their own opinion, but they aren’t entitled to their own set of facts. And here are the facts:

Louisiana in general, and New Orleans in particular, are among the most corrupt places in the country. This is nothing new, and residents have known this for generations. It has become such an ingrained part of the landscape that people have accepted it as a part of life. That’s their choice, but they shouldn’t turn around and expect the rest of the American taxpayers to foot the bill because their corrupt way of life finally caught up with them.

Everyone knows that New Orleans sits in a floodplain, with most of the city below sea level. So in order to protect the Crescent City, a series of levees were constructed. Rather than do the right thing, however, which would have been to follow recommendations designed to protect the city from Category Four or Five hurricanes, many state and city officials thought that diverting levee money to other projects would be a wiser course.

And since much of that funding came from taxpayers in the other 49 states, why not? It’s always a lot more fun to spend OPM— “other people’s money.”

You know kind of worthwhile projects I’m referring to — important ones that put the security of people and property ahead of all else.

Like millions for a Mardi Gras fountain. Fountains have water, and levees are related to water, so who could argue?

Or riverboat gambling schemes. Boats float, so they could just rise right along with hurricane storm surges while people continue to gamble.

Or a host of other projects, like green space, commercial buildings, and….the list goes on. And on, and on.

Because for decades New Orleans dodged the direct-hit hurricane bullet time and again, with storms diverting at the last minute and the city being spared, proper preparations still weren’t made. Many felt they didn’t need them because “God loves New Orleans.” Obvious lessons that should have been learned were simply ignored. Corruption trumped security.

In the aftermath of Katrina, attention shifted from why this wholly avoidable tragedy happened to the horrific response of leaders such as President Bush and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Coverage of both men’s bumbling was merited, to be sure. But both also had an excuse.

They were incompetent.

Here’s the bottom line. Taxpayers are sick and tired of paying for other people’s mistakes, be they bank bailouts, auto company failures, or cultures of corruption that pad the pockets of the powerful while forsaking everyone else.

And in the larger picture, why should the federal government, which is funded by we the people, have any obligation to rebuild a city constructed in a known flood plain that is regularly visited by hurricanes?

If you want to live there, great. Flood insurance should be mandated. And if it isn’t offered, maybe that’s a clue that the risk outweighs the reward. If that risk is acceptable, fine. But the rest of us shouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility to be the risk-free safety net for people who choose to live in high-probability disaster areas.

But the icing on the cake is listening to self-serving Louisiana political hacks who get outraged that Washington doesn’t pick up the ENTIRE cost of rebuilding and maintaining New Orleans. To them, I offer Dean Wormer’s legendary advice from “Animal House”— “fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.”

So if the Saints win the Super Bowl, become “America’s” team in the process, and make everybody feel good, it will only exacerbate the overarching problem that is endemic in this nation: looking the other way and pretending all is well.

Sticking your head in the sand doesn’t change that fact that we will be called upon — again— to pay the bill— again— should New Orleans get slammed by another Katrina.

But given that we’re approaching insolvency as a nation, the safety net of taxpayer dollars may not be there next time.

It’s time the people of New Orleans stop pretending that a Super Bowl solves anything. Fix the problem now, or face the risk of going it alone.

If their city gets leveled— a very real possibility— they will have no one to blame but themselves.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter whose news site, The Artorius News Bureau, is slated to launch in mid-February. Readers of “Freindly Fire” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on a Philadelphia-area talk radio show, WCHE, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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February 7, 2010 at 9:26 am Comments (0)

Freindly Fire’s Analysis of the Democratic Governor Candidates

Freindly Fire’s Analysis of the Democratic Governor Candidates

BY CHRIS FREIND

The 2010 election cycle in Pennsylvania will be one of the most important in decades, highlighted by the gubernatorial contest. History favors the Republicans, since the governor’s office has switched hands every eight years since 1968, when governors were first permitted to serve two terms.

That said, the Democrats are not going quietly into the night. Conversely, the field continues to grow as more see promise that the eight-year trend may finally break due to the Democrats’ 1.2 million voter edge.

It is far too early to state that 2010 will be a watershed year for Republicans, as many in the GOP believe. While popular Attorney General Tom Corbett looms as the expected Republican nominee (he won a stunning victory in last year’s election, posting a 400,000 vote margin in an otherwise horrific year for Republicans), he must still get past Congressman Jim Gerlach’s insurgent candidacy.

No matter the GOP opponent, the Democrats will post a formidable challenger. Following is an analysis of the five most likely candidates, and their chances for victory:

Philadelphia Businessman Tom Knox

Many political observers believe that the next governor of Pennsylvania will be named “Tom,” and there is credible evidence behind this theory. While Tom Corbett is in the GOP’s driver seat, Tom Knox brings a plethora of assets to the race, and will present substantial obstacles for his opponents.

First and foremost, Knox can and will self-fund a large portion of his campaign warchest. He spent $12 million in his bid for Mayor of Philadelphia in 2007, narrowly losing to Michael Nutter. In doing so, he became a household name in southeastern Pennsylvania, which just happens to be home to 45% of the state’s electorate – a huge benefit to Knox.

Most political observers believe that $10 million is the minimum needed for the primary. Since Knox will easily pass this threshold, he immediately gains a huge advantage over his opponents. While they will spend their time fundraising, Knox will be traveling the state meeting, greeting – and raising even more money.

Knox’s positions on the issues also make him attractive to many of the state’s moderate Democrats, especially those in the northeastern and southwestern sections of Pennsylvania. He has been an outspoken leader in opposing electric deregulation and the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Blues merger, and supports school choice and tort reform, all issues of significant interest to the business community.

At this point, color Knox the frontrunner.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato

Watch for Onorato to emerge as the Ed Rendell legacy candidate. While Rendell has not officially endorsed anyone – yet – it is clear to many that his close relationship with Onorato will be exploited to maximum effect during the campaign.

Onorato already has $5 million in his campaign fund. That gives him a solid start, and may be enough to weed out the rest of the field, with the exception of Knox. And while Rendell’s approval rating is dismal, he is still a popular figure in Philadelphia and its suburbs. Ed Rendell’s touting of Onorato, along with the use of the Rendell political machine, is certainly good for a significant boost, especially important because Onorato is barely known in the state’s most expensive media market.

But years as Allegheny County Executive comes with baggage. While Onorato pushed through a hugely unpopular drink tax, his biggest liability may be what many consider conflicts of interest with campaign donors. This could be a substantial negative factor, particularly since the current governor has been roundly criticized for his widespread conflicts, with some even suggesting rampant pay-to-play activity.

In an era where voters are increasingly concerned about the appearance of impropriety and corruption in state government, Dan Onorato may be in the wrong race at the wrong time.

Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty

While a nice town, Scranton is home to only 70,000 people, hardly the major metropolis in which an unknown mayor can launch a credible statewide campaign. The Keystone State has two major media markets, including the nation’s fourth largest, and they are not cheap. Going from a zero name ID to even 30 per cent will be extremely expensive, and Doherty will simply not be able to raise the campaign cash necessary to achieve this minimum level of effectiveness.

Since there are townships with more people than Scranton, it is clear that Doherty’s candidacy for governor is a joke, amounting to nothing more than a ploy to raise name ID for a Lt. Gov. run. No more ink is necessary for a non-starter like Doherty.

Auditor General Jack Wagner

Jack Wagner has proven to be an effective, independent Auditor General, one who has shown political courage by taking on Gov. Rendell and his Administration on various fiscal issues.

A former state senator, Wagner is a proven vote-getter in statewide elections, an endeavor none of his opponents has undertaken. Hailing from the same southwest base as Onorato, Wagner could pose huge problems for the Allegheny County Executive. While not being able to raise the same level of money as Onorato, Wagner’s possible motivation could prove more troublesome. It’s no secret that the Wagner-Onorato feud is viewed as akin to the Hatfields and McCoys; many observers think Wagner may jump into the race to play the spoiler.

An unheard of tactic? Try again. Just look at last spring’s district attorney race in Philadelphia. Dan McCaffery was one of only two viable candidates in the Democratic primary, yet two of his four opponents (like him, both white Irish Americans) stayed in the race to the end. Their disdain for McCaffery was palpable, and they clearly affected the dynamic of the race. McCaffery came in second.

Many Republicans have praised Wagner, which will not help him in a Democratic primary, but the biggest obstacle facing the Auditor General is his lack of fundraising prowess. If he can find a way to solve that problem, he will be an extremely viable candidate. Look for a Wagner candidacy soon, with a possible drop-out announcement a few months later, but not before Onorato’s image is seriously tarnished.

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel

The recent announcement of a Hoeffel candidacy has the political observers buzzing, because on paper, it changes the dynamics of the race. A second candidate from the vote-rich southeast now dilutes the once-solid Knox base, especially since Hoeffel is a well-known figure who has represented Montgomery County for two decades.

While a Hoeffel candidacy is intriguing, it remains to be seen if he can raise the money to compete. If Onorato becomes the de facto candidate of Gov. Rendell, watch for the fundraising spigot to close from Rendell’s large-dollar contributors, many of whom hail from Montgomery County.

Interestingly, the Hoeffel candidacy places Rendell in an awkward position. A second candidate from the southeast would help Onorato, but if Hoeffel’s star falls quickly due to a lack of support, Tom Knox and his imposing warchest would again take center stage. Yet if Rendell tacitly helps Hoeffel to hurt Knox, there exists the possibility that Hoeffel would catapult to the head of the pack and end up hurting Onorato.

Conspiracy theory aside, Hoeffel is aided by the fact that he controls millions in county and federal stimulus money, and many recipients of such largesse would no doubt show their appreciation by supporting a Hoeffel gubernatorial campaign. If that becomes the case, however, Hoeffel will have to contend with charges of conflicts of interest, likely to be one of the hot-button issues in the campaign.

Hoeffel is no stranger to that. In a 1993 Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, he was criticized for coming close to selling his office after sending a letter to supporters that “managed to tout both his key policy-making position as a county commissioner (‘I have found myself ‘in the loop’ of policy and personnel decisions’) and his continued availability as a Norristown lawyer ‘to consult with you on any legal matters you might have,’” according to the editorial.

The newspaper stated that it would “feel more forgiving about the whole business, if Mr. Hoeffel himself conceded the perception problem – heck, it sounded like unabashed influence-peddling – instead of pawning it off as the creation of partisan mischief.”

If Hoeffel makes it to the spring, watch for that editorial to become part of your everyday television and radio lineup.

Hoeffel also has to contend with the perception that he cannot win a statewide race. His highly-touted announcement for U.S. Senate in 2004 was the highpoint of the Hoeffel campaign. He proved to be a non-entity against Arlen Specter, getting trounced by an 11 point margin.

Chris Freind, author of “Freindly Fire,” is an independent newspaper columnist and investigative reporter whose readers hail from six continents, thirty countries, and all fifty states. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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September 25, 2009 at 10:46 am Comment (1)

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