RICK MARIANO - you know, former city councilman, did about five years in the clink for bribery, tried his hand at stand-up comedy, learned Krav Maga, says whatever he damn well pleases these days - made a surprise visit to City Council's chambers on Thursday for its first session back from summer vacation.
"Suit. Tie. Ponytail," political writer Chris Brennan reported from City Hall, capturing Mariano's aesthetic with stunning efficiency. Mariano said he was looking for work. We think he was half-joking. Can't be sure, though.
Mariano sat down with Vincent Thompson, who broadcasts live from Council for WURD (900-AM). He was asked during his interview if he thought John Dougherty should resign his Local 98 post as agents from the FBI and the state Attorney General's Office investigate the electricians union's activities.
"I think he should resign," Mariano, who worked for the union before getting elected to Council in 1995, told Clout afterward. "I'm speaking as a nonvoting member [of Local 98]. That's just me. Now, John's going to take this wrong because he's not used to people speaking against him. And I like John."
As for Councilman Bobby Henon, who is on the Local 98 payroll and whose office was raided by the FBI last month, Mariano noted that he understands the intensity of that sort of spotlight.
"He ought to think about getting out of this, however he can," Mariano said, adding that Henon should "not rat on anyone" but should find a way to avoid any potential prison sentence.
"I'm experienced with the federal system," Mariano said. "And they don't lose."
City Councilman Derek Green's campaign finance director, Kelly Bauer, is in the middle of an Allentown-area charter-school scandal that the school's outgoing CEO recently described as a full-blown "nightmare." And it's gotten the attention of state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
It all started last month, when Bethlehem residents received a mailer that references a major drug arrest at Liberty High School and says: "Why worry about this type of student at school? Come visit Arts Academy Charter School. Now enrolling grades 6-12." The mailer lists the return address of the new Innovative Arts Academy Charter School.
Bauer is president of Innovative Arts' board. She and other school officials say they had nothing to do with the mailer. Social media reacted with outrage. DePasquale said it resembled a hit piece you'd see during a nasty political campaign - except, in this case, between two schools competing for students.
"I've never seen anything like that," said DePasquale, who previously called it a "dirtball" mailer and contacted the IRS and other federal agencies to find out who funded it.
There is speculation within the Bethlehem Area School District that controversial developer Abe Atiyeh, who owns the building where Innovative Arts is located, is behind the mailer. But he's been hanging up on reporters and dodging questions.
Coincidentally (maybe), Atiyeh had hired Democratic operative Mike Fleck to drum up support for another charter school. Fleck, who had served as campaign manager for Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski's campaign for U.S. Senate, shut down his shop, H Street Strategies, and got the hell outta Dodge in July 2015 amid an FBI raid of Allentown's City Hall.
Bauer, who lives in the Allentown suburb of Catasauqua, worked at Fleck's H Street Strategies from November 2011 to July 2015, according to her LinkedIn page. Fleck pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to commit extortion and other charges in connection with an FBI investigation.
"All roads lead to Allentown," said one Clout tipster who has been following the saga from Philadelphia.
This week, Bauer's LinkedIn photo changed from one of her with Councilman Green and Mayor Kenney to a photo of three dogs.
Green said he was previously unaware of the charter-school fiasco.
"It just seems weird. They're trying to hurt the local public school but also hurt the charter?" Green asked Thursday, referring to whoever paid for the mailer. "It just sounds bizarre."
By the way, why does a Philadelphia councilman have a campaign finance director who heads a charter school board 90 minutes away in Catasauqua? Green said they connected through a friend and bonded over the fact that each has a child on the autism spectrum.
We played phone tag with Bauer this week but were unable to connect by deadline Thursday.
It appears this mystery will remain unsolved for now. So Clout is just going to order an old-fashioned and thank the good Lord that we don't cover Allentown politics.
Negrin for D.A.?
It's looking increasingly likely that Rich Negrin, managing director under Mayor Michael Nutter, is going to run for district attorney next year. And there's no shortage of people saying Nice Things about Negrin.
"I think the city of Philadelphia needs people like Rich," said Louis Pichini, former chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philly. "I just think the world of him."
Pichini, who has known Negrin for more than 20 years, said he would "make an outstanding D.A." and would bring integrity to the office.
Lately, District Attorney Seth Williams has been doing some wrong things. Sure, Williams is physically stronger - he transformed his body a couple of years ago and added an impressive amount of muscle - but politically, he's in terrible shape.
He made a major error (political, not legal) in picking a fight with Kathleen Kane, the former state attorney general and current convict awaiting sentencing. Why? Because Kane is the type of person who would burn down her own house if Seth Williams was in her living room. And she basically did.
Then you have the $160,050 in gifts Williams forgot to report because, in the words of his lawyer, he "wasn't paying attention." (If you'd like to deposit money in Clout's account, we promise not to "pay attention" either.) And the tire-slashing ex-girlfriend. And the backing of a judicial candidate who later was slammed by the state Supreme Court for "serial misconduct." And the FBI/IRS probe that has expanded to include his nonprofit.
It goes on. (Trust us.)
So there's no guarantee that Williams, first elected in 2009, is going to be re-electable next year - or even on the ballot. He could just decide to exit the political arena and open that "jazz and cigar bar in Key West" he was telling us about last year.
As for Negrin, now a partner at Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, his possible candidacy has been greeted coolly by some City Hall insiders, skeptical that he'd be a serious contender.
But it's still early to size this race up. Clout frenemy David Gambacorta has also mentioned former Common Pleas Court Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes as a possible candidate for D.A.
On Twitter: @wbender99 and @ByChrisBrennan.
- Staff writers Chris Brennan and William Bender and columnist Ronnie Polaneczky contributed to this column.