Last year, during a candidates' forum at Carnegie Mellon University, Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz told the capacity crowd that her favorite part of Pittsburgh was Presque Island.
That, along with many other gaffes that day, led me to the conclusion that of the eight Democrats on that stage, she was by far the least fit to be the governor. At the other end of the spectrum was Rob McCord, Pennsylvania's treasurer.
McCord was smooth, confident and even a little cocky as he talked about how he planned to change the politics-as-usual attitude in Harrisburg. He wasn't the frontrunner before the event, but he appeared to be heading toward that status when he left. I remember thinking that McCord was the one who seemed most suited for the governor's office.
Boy, was I — and a whole lot of other people — wrong. The whirlwind of activity in the past week — starting with McCord's resignation on Jan. 29 and ending three days later with him being charged with two counts of extortion for trying to strong-arm potential donors — has shown us that even Litz was better suited for the governor's office than McCord.
According to court documents filed Feb. 1, McCord sought large campaign contributions from a yet-unnamed Philadelphia law firm and a Western Pennsylvania property-management company. According to prosecutors, McCord's message was simple: Pay up or else.
There was a point in last year's campaign when it seemed like if he could raise money and catch a wave of momentum, McCord could win the primary. He must have thought the same thing, because he was working hard and using every tool in his arsenal to raise campaign funds
"It's sort of shocking to me who's coming through and who's not," McCord told the managing partner of a law firm, according to court records of an apparently recorded phone conversation. "Some people come through with huge numbers ... and other people, like, aren't returning my phone calls. ... At the very least, I'm still gonna be the freakin' treasurer. What the hell are they thinking?"
As more and more information comes out about McCord's fundraising tactics, a lot of people are left wondering what the hell he was thinking. What makes the McCord saga even more puzzling is that McCord not only campaigned on the idea that he was a different kind of politician, but he attacked his opponents with a level of self-righteous indignation and disregard for his own glass house usually reserved for the most-entrenched right-wing gasbags.
At the same time he was bragging on his campaign website that he had "shunned" the state's old politics, he was running around making statements like "Every time you are trying to get something done through state government, you are going to have the state treasurer looking to screw you."
This is a guy who, with a different campaign strategy, could have been the governor of Pennsylvania.
That's a completely different tone from the Rob McCord who spent most of last spring slinging arrows at now-Gov. Tom Wolf, questioning some of his business dealings and his relationship with a former York mayor who had been charged criminally over the racially motivated 1969 murder of a young black woman.
McCord launched ominous-sounding ads trying to tie Wolf to charges of racism. It was a campaign strategy decried by nearly everyone, including former Gov. Ed Rendell and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey. They implored him to take the ads down. The ad claims were so baseless that not even incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, who was desperately behind Wolf in the polls, used them in his campaign.
But McCord refused to pull the ads, saying that he had a responsibility and a right to question Wolf's "judgment" and "integrity." It now seems he should have been asking those questions in a mirror.
To his credit, McCord readily admitted his mistakes to investigators, and will do so in court on Feb. 17 when he pleads guilty to two counts of extortion. But the whole mess still leaves a stench in the air.
We're getting ready to enter a brand-new election cycle, with a fresh batch of candidates preparing to tell us how different they are from the folks currently in office. They'll spout the same rhetoric and tell the same tales as every other person running for public office; the only difference is that some will sell it better than others.
Before we buy in too quickly, let's remember how good a salesman Rob McCord was.