Back at my old TV talk show, we used to call Shaler Republican state representative Jeff Habay "Haybay-take-a-walk-on-the-wild-side." The joke was that the fresh-faced punk from the North Hills was the epitome of the bland leading the bland.
He mouthed conservative Republican soundbites with the nondescript sincerity of a harmless true believer. But as time went on, it became clear this boy wasn't just a typical anti-tax/family-values Republican. There was something strange about Jeffrey.
If you buy the charges against him, Habay appears to be caught in a vicious cycle of petty crimes and retribution that escalated into felonies. I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb when I suggest that as far as his political career is concerned, you can stick a fork in him, he's done. For one thing, he's hired attorney Jim Ecker to defend him, usually a certain sign of guilt.
My Republican friends (yes, I have them, so shut up) are bummed. Jeff has a wife and kids, they say. Jeff had potential. Politicos take care of their own, until the shit gets too deep, and then the rodents desert the sinking vessel.
If the charges are true, Jeff's ship began to sink when he started using staffers for political work on state time. My Republican buds insist everyone does it, and I believe them. But they also say you're supposed to cover your ass. Give the staffers the day off, put them on the campaign payroll instead of the state payroll, but at least record somewhere that they called in sick that day. But nooooooo. If these charges end up sticking, it will only be because Habay developed classic incumbent arrogance, and decided to do with his staffers what he wanted.
Still, defenders might say, you don't have to make a federal case out of it. But it becomes a federal case, or at least a felony case, when the allegations just start getting wacky. Sending white powder to yourself as if it's anthrax and accusing one of your political opponents of doing it -- as Habay is accused of doing -- is wacky. Gathering malicious info about opponents and personally distributing it on flyers on car windshields -- as Habay is accused of doing -- is wacky. Now he's accused of threatening a staffer who cooperated with the DA. Sheesh.
Jeff once told me he'd debate his opponent Bobby Jo Wagner on the air. He had nothing to lose, because as a popular incumbent he was going to clean her clock at the polls. Then he didn't show up. This was, needless to say, annoying. But I had a lengthy phone conversation with Rep. Sincere, who assured me it was a scheduling snafu. I scheduled a second debate and, you guessed it, he didn't show up. I called him a weasel on the air. My boss asked why I was calling a state lawmaker a weasel. He may have been right: In retrospect, Habay is more of a ferret.
There was one more incident that made me think the Jeffster was one fry short of a Primanti's sammich. My guest one night, loudmouth sports talker and City Paper columnist Mark Madden, asked if there were any stiff suits I could get to agree to allow Mark to throw water in the suit's face, as a kind of jokey pro-wrestling stunt. For some reason, I thought Habay had a sense of humor, and he agreed to do it. Then, minutes before show time, he refused. Habay suggested he himself would throw a chair instead, which not only wouldn't have been funny, but had nothing to do with the kind of joke we were attempting to pull off. The argument that ensued between myself, Mr. Madden, and Mr. Habay minutes before show time was intense and absurd. I was left with the thought that this was one bizarro dude.
Now he's charged with two felony counts involving the white powder and felony theft of services for allegedly asking state employees to dig up dirt on opponents, amid a litany of lesser charges. If he ends up in the slammer, Habay may finally get his walk on the wild side.