The Pennsylvania pol who feasted on knowledge, as well as patronage

    When I saw this item from the Inquirer’s Amy Worden about a proposal that former State House Speaker Bill DeWeese be strapped with an ankle bracelet and forced to teach high school history for his corruption conviction, it brought back a memory.

    Back when DeWeese was one of the most powerful men in Harrisburg, he used to use his influence to arrange private seminars on subjects of his choice with faculty from some of the state’s most prestigious universities.

    DeWeese would pick a subject – the Civil War, Jewish history, or the American  movement, and have his staff work with the universities to arrange a reading list for him and a roster of eminent scholars to meet at an appointed date for dinner and evening of discussion.

    I knew of these events because I had a friend who had a hand in arranging them. He said DeWeese would arrive with laminated note cards bearing his questions and insights. The sessions would begin with an elaborate dinner and last late into the evening, as professors waxed at length on their subjects of expertise, and DeWeese regaled the group with his witticisms and observations.

    They were said to be quite entertaining, as time with DeWeese often was.

    I didn’t write about the seminars, because my friend couldn’t put any of his information on the record, and it wasn’t the kind of abuse of office that merited a lot of investigation.

    But the seminars came up in DeWeese’s corruption trial earlier this year, because some of his own staff worked on the events, and there was some travel and unnecessary expense involved.

    I doubt the judge in his case will be so touched by DeWeese’s scholarly interests that he’ll sentence him to high school. But I’m sure DeWeese can arrange some absorbing sessions using books from the prison library and tapping the insights of his fellow inmates.

    Catering could be a problem, though.

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