Former State Rep. William W. Rieger, a fixture in the Pennsylvania legislature and city politics whose later career was marked by controversy, died Friday. He was 87.
During 2006, his last full year in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Mr. Rieger, a Democrat, was the oldest serving member of the legislature and had represented his district for 40 years.
"He was one of the most astute politicians that I ever knew," said State Rep. Frank Oliver (D., Phila.), who sat next to Mr. Rieger when the House was in session. "He told me about the way politics really was. I learned a lot."
"He was an outspoken person," Oliver added. "If he thought he was right, he always stood his ground."
In 2004, Mr. Rieger drew scrutiny for being recorded as voting on a number of measures while traveling by car back to his North Philadelphia district.
He admitted wedging a piece of paper into the "yea" button in the voting apparatus that each House member uses so that he would be recorded as voting in favor of several measures even though he was absent.
He was a member of the House ethics panel at the time, which cleared him of wrongdoing in the matter.
The committee accepted his explanation that he had to make an emergency trip to his home to retrieve his heart medication, and that he had asked legislative leaders to void his votes.
In 2006, Mr. Rieger's former aide, community leader Barbara Landers, pleaded guilty to faking invoices and misappropriating tens of thousands of dollars in state grants. Prosecutors charged that Landers had cashed 101 checks that she had written to herself for more than $68,000. The checks were written on bank accounts of a nonprofit agency whose purpose was to fund neighborhood cleanups and field trips for at-risk children.
Rieger was also one of many legislators who sparked public outcry by voting themselves a pay raise during a night session in summer 2005. The state Supreme Court later ruled that the raise was illegal but that lawmakers did not have to return money they had already received. Many legislators took steps to return the money. Rieger was not among them.
Viewings are scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. today and 8:30 to 9:15 a.m. tomorrow at the Burns Funeral Home, 9708 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia. A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. in St. Dominic Catholic Church, 8504 Frankford Ave.