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GOP's Schmidt to run to tackle Phila.'s 'corruption'

Al Schmidt, who lost a recent bid to be city controller and who has led a charge to topple Philadelphia's Republican leaders, Thursday announced that he would run for the Board of City Commissioners to try to change what he sees as Philadelphia's "culture of corruption."

Al Schmidt, who lost a recent bid to be city controller and who has led a charge to topple Philadelphia's Republican leaders, Thursday announced that he would run for the Board of City Commissioners to try to change what he sees as Philadelphia's "culture of corruption."

As evidence of that corruption, he released a slew of documents he said show a pattern of federal, state, and local officials using government equipment for political purposes.

"It doesn't happen once. It happens a lot," Schmidt said at an early morning news conference at the Union League. "It is a crime to use public resources for political campaigns. It is the stuff indictments are made of."

The three city commissioners oversee elections. The documents Schmidt released were requests from officials to the commissioners about party-related activities at polling places in 2008 and 2009. The parties can name members to go to polls to monitor voting, and the commissioners issue certificates to those people.

The documents, Schmidt said, "are the evidence of who did what and where on Election Day."

They include e-mails and faxes from the offices of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, Gov. Rendell, former House Speaker John Perzel, State Rep. Rosita Youngblood, and City Council President Anna C. Verna, among others. Some faxes also came from offices at the Parking Authority and the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Schmidt, who has led a group of rebels within the Republican Party who are seeking to replace Michael Meehan, the de facto head of the Republican City Committee, said the city commissioners, headed by Margaret Tartaglione, should have called attention to the situation.

"At best, the city commissioners are asleep at the wheel," he said. "At worst, they are turning a blind eye to corruption."

Tartaglione did not return a call seeking comment. Her office has been making headlines this week with revelations that her daughter, Renee, retired from her job as deputy city commissioner after the Board of Ethics found evidence that she participated in political campaigns, a violation of the Home Rule Charter.

On Wednesday, Margaret Tartaglione said, "It's over," when asked about her daughter and threatened to punch a reporter who continued to ask about it.

Schmidt said Joe DeFelice, who heads Philadelphia operations of the Republican state party, first found the evidence of use of government faxes for political purposes in 2008 and continued to document it in 2009. Schmidt said his candidacy, combined with the "train wreck" at the board's office this week, made this a good time to release the information.

Federal and state laws generally forbid the use of public equipment, employees, and resources for political purposes, but isolated and minor cases are rarely prosecuted.

It is not clear from the faxes and e-mails whether this was a common practice.

Youngblood appeared to have used her office more than the others in the group, faxing at least seven requests to the commissioners. She did not return a call seeking comment.

Stanley White, Brady's chief of staff, said the faxes from his Philadelphia office were sent by an employee who was not aware that doing so was a violation. The employee reimbursed the U.S. Treasury $20 for the faxes, he said.

"This was not something that was from Congressman Brady," White said. "Nor was it sent on his behalf or at his direction."

Gary Tuma, a spokesman for Rendell, said he did not want to comment on the documents because he could not verify their authenticity.

Perzel, who recently lost his bid for reelection and faces unrelated charges about using public resources for political campaigns, said his campaign workers faxed those materials and that none of it happened at his legislative office. The fax number on the document was for his state office, but Perzel said he did not recognize it.

Tony Radwanski, a Verna spokesman, said one of the faxes was for Republican poll watchers and listed people who did not live in her Council district. Verna is a Democrat, and the fax number was from a machine in her public reception area. Those facts left Radwanski certain Verna had not sent it or directed anyone to do so.

In another case, Maryanne Mahoney, who works for Verna, e-mailed some names of poll-watchers to the commissioners from her city account.

Mahoney said the ward chairman, Harold James, had asked her to e-mail some changes to the commissioners because he was not near a computer. She said she agreed to do so without realizing the implications.

"Not thinking about it, I just did it," she said. "I don't remember doing it before. I'm sorry - I don't know what else to say."

Vince Fenerty, head of the Parking Authority, said the employee who sent the faxes from that office had not worked there for 18 months.

Although the Parking Authority is widely seen as a haven for patronage jobs, Fenerty said people there can only do political work on their own time.

"People are not to do any political activity here," Fenerty said.

Zack Stalberg, head of the election watchdog group Committee of Seventy, said the documents probably don't "fall into the category of a high crime, but it's not appropriate, and I think it should have been recognized by the commissioners' office that it's not appropriate."

In addition to trying to change what he called problems in the commissioners office, Schmidt said he would campaign for higher wages for election workers. Many earn less than minimum wage, he said.

Schmidt acknowledged that his platform may create ill will among city politicians.

"While I'm running to win, I'm not afraid to lose," he said.