Congressional hopefuls clash, docs run radio ads

    Former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies attacked each of her three rivals by name in a spirited debate last night sponsored by the Abington Democratc Party, and it emerged afterward that another candidate, Valerie Arkoosh will be the beneficiary of a six-figure independent expenditure ad campaign starting today.

    Arkoosh, an anesthesiologist who’s been active for years in national health policy issues, will get a boost from the American Society of Anesthesiologists, which will spend $176,000 on radio commercials advocating her candidacy, according Ken Smukler, a campaign strategist for Margolies.

    Campaigns typically have access to information about others’ media ad placements through their own media buyers. I moderated last night’s debate, and I asked Arkoosh afterward if she was aware of the campaign, and if she approves. She’d heard of it, she said, and doesn’t approve of independent expenditures generally. But she said she isn’t going to condemn this ad campaign, which is legal as long as the group doesn’t coordinate activities with her campaign.

    Lively exchange

    Margolies, who skipped two previous forums that others attended, condemned each of her rivals in her closing statement for different reasons – State Rep. Brendan Boyle because he’s not as staunchly pro-choice as her, State Sen. Daylin Leach because he favors liberalized marijuana laws and has criticized Democratic Congressional leaders, and Arkoosh because of health policy differences.

    Margolies spoke in a whisper at times. She said afterward she was suffering from a cold.Margolies’ rivals have criticized her in past debates for being willing to consider changes in social security benefits. She’d said on one occasion that “everything is on the table” in entitlement reform.

    When asked about that last night, Margolies insisted she was opposed to any increase in the Social Security retirement age, and against any reduction in benefits.  She acknowledged afterward that was a shift in her position. When I asked why she’d changed, the said, “the numbers changed,” meaning such cuts were not now necessary.

    I also asked Boyle about his views on access to reproductive services. He’s been criticized for his legislative record on abortion-related votes, and for his recent support of a bill imposing new restrictions on clinics that support abortions in Pennsylvania. Boyle defended his vote on that bill, saying he joined other Democrats in making abortion clinics safer in the wake of the Kermit Gosnell scandal. He acknowledged his views on abortion have evolved over the course of his political career, but said he firmly supports Roe v Wade.

    Leach made the case that he has a record of fighting for progressive legislation in Harrisburg, battling with Republicans on issues of principle and working with them when there was common ground.

    Arkoosh said she’d bring the values she held and skills she practised as a physician to Congress, and would join with other doctors there to affect policy.

    As a group, they were impressive.

    The Margolies ‘scandal.’

    The debate gave me a chance to ask Margolies about two highly-critical pieces published in the Huffington Post. The first suggested her salary at Womens Campaign International, the non-profit she founded and has headed for 15 years, was excessive. I spent some time looking at that allegaion in recent days, and without burdening you with the details, it seemed to me that while her salary bounced up and down some as the organization’s funding changed, her compensation wasn’t wildly out of line with comparable charities. The Inquirer’s Jessica Parks seemed to reach the same conclusion.

    A second HuffPost story raised a different set of questions. It said that in 2001 Margolies had, as board chair of her own charity, voted to double her salary. And in the same year, the article reported, WCI sought to lease, renovate and occupy the Thomas Mansion, a historic house in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, providing a office space for the organization and a 2,000 square foot apartment for its “director (Margolies) or another person.”

    Margolies’ campaign strategist Ken Smukler called the allegations “offensive and unfair,” but neither he nor WCI’s current executive director, Nancy Wallace, were in a position to explain the rationale for the Thomas Mansion proposal. Wallace couldn’t definitively say whether Margolies voted as board chair to raise her salary in 2001. Smukler said in those early days of WCI, it was “basically a mom-and-pop” non-profit, adding about the salary vote that some might say its process “might have been a little tighter.”

    While the Huffington Post allegations haven’t been big stories locally, they were picked up the New York Post, the National Enquirer, and the London Daily Mail. An ABC News blog post yesterday referred to Margolies’ candidacy as “scandal-plagued.”

    When I asked Maragolies about it at the debate, she insisted she’d never voted to raise her own salary. Though I asked three times about the proposal to renovate the Thomas Mansion, she never really explained the rationale for a relatively young non-profit planning this kind of project which included living space for its executive. She simply said it was “a proposal” that never went anywhere.

    The four candidates are seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who’s leaving the seat to run for governor. The 13th includes parts of Montgomery County and northeast Philadelphia. Though Democrats have a significant registration edge in the district, there are two Republican candidates – businessman Dee Adcock, and retired Air Force Colonel Bev Polsa-Bowser. The primary election is May 20th.

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