Bob Mellow, you're no Abe Lincoln
The comparison of disgraced state Senate leader Bob Mellow to Abraham Lincoln seems at best, off base.
When Mellow was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison this month, his lawyer, Sal Cognetti, compared Mellow's misdeeds to those alleged to have been made by Lincoln in the new movie “Lincoln,” according to a story by Borys Krawczeniuk in the Scranton Times-Tribune. Cognetti is a top-notch criminal defense lawyer. You can't begrudge him every effort to try and protect his client.
But Lincoln? It doesn't wash.
“In the first hour of the movie, Lincoln violated about 15 criminal statutes,” Cognetti said. “He did it to get the 13th Amendment (prohibiting slavery) passed. I'm not saying Bob Mellow is Abraham Lincoln,” according to the Times-Tribune.
But sometimes “the speed(ing) sign was down” in Lincoln's case as in Mellow's, he said.
Mellow pleaded guilty to conspiracy for filing a false tax return and using his state Senate staff for campaign work. Mellow had been minority leader and briefly, president pro tempore. He was a key player for decades in Senate politics. But he didn't free the slaves. Neither did he preserve the union.
Mellow was trying to preserve his way of life in the Legislature and continue to maintain power in the state Senate.
Cognetti disputed making a direct comparison of Mellow to Lincoln. By no means was he suggesting Mellow was “off on a noble cause.” He said he brought it up to show that things Lincoln did to gain passage of the 13th Amendment would one day become illegal. In the same vein, Mellow was caught in a period where the rules were shifting.
There's no doubt Lincoln “stretched the Constitution” to win the war and preserve the union, said G. Terry Madonna, a historian, pollster and political commentator.
In the movie, Lincoln approves of using federal patronage for securing votes to pass the 13th Amendment.
In the standard of mid-19th-century politics, it was commonplace and not necessarily illegal, said John Baick, a professor of history and political science at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass.
The film shows Lincoln telling the Albany lobbyists brought in to help pass the amendment that no cash was to be used. No one knows for sure what the lobbyists did because they certainly would not have kept a record, Baick added.
If the patronage angle is true, Lincoln may have violated the spirit of the law, said Baick. “But this is not Nixon. It's not even Bill Clinton,” he said.
The argument seems to be that Lincoln broke some rules and that's all Mellow did — as well in a changing culture. Using tax money for campaigning has been well established as criminal in recent years in state and federal court. The 2007 Habay decision by Superior Court was the game-changer.
Seven other former legislative leaders are in prison now for doing so. None of them compare well to Lincoln either.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or email@example.com).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Elites, media & character
- Burnett’s stellar start paves way for Pirates’ victory over Diamondbacks
- Pirates’ Cole reinforces status as emerging ace
- Pitt AD Barnes has enjoyed varied career in college sports
- Rossi: Penguins’ best bet is on Martin
- Spirit Airlines lifts fortunes of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport
- Employees of Mercer County-based manufacturer among missing in Nepal
- Biertempfel: Observations from a day at the ballpark
- From injuries to front office, Penguins’ season didn’t lack drama
- Internal NBC News inquiry finds 11 fibs by anchorman Williams
- It’s business, but not as usual in Pittsburgh