Paterno bid sure to revive Sandusky scandal in lieutenant governor's race
The arrival of Jay Paterno in a statewide political campaign promises to resurrect the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal as a visible election-year issue, political analysts say.
Paterno vows his campaign for lieutenant governor isn't “because I'm against someone,” even though incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett helped fire Paterno's late father as Penn State University head football coach.
“There's no doubt it's going to bring the issue back. Just the name itself (Paterno) will bring the issue back,” said Jeff Brauer, a political science professor at Keystone College in Lackawanna County. “If it's going to hurt anybody, it's going to be in the primary.”
Paterno, 45, of State College confirmed on Thursday that he will challenge six other announced candidates for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. The winner of the May 20 primary will face Corbett's running mate, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who visited a campaign event on Saturday in Butler.
The incumbent Republican administration does not fear a spotlight on the Sandusky scandal, said campaign manager Mike Barley. Three percent of Corbett detractors cite his handling of the scandal as a reason for their disapproval, according to a Franklin & Marshall College poll in January.
“The governor has made it clear, from his standpoint, that he started a successful prosecution of a serial child predator, which led to a conviction that took him off the street,” Barley said. “That's the goal at the end of the day — especially when it comes to child predators: to take them off the streets. The governor has a long record of that.”
A state investigation of Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State, began when Corbett was Pennsylvania attorney general. He was governor by the time authorities arrested Sandusky in November 2011.
Within days of the arrest, Corbett joined other Penn State trustees in voting to remove Joe Paterno, the legendary head football coach, and then-Penn State President Graham Spanier. The trustees questioned the men's handling of the Sandusky ordeal, and Spanier awaits a criminal trial on cover-up charges.
Paterno family members have stood behind their patriarch, who died in January 2012, while Attorney General Kathleen Kane reviews whether the Sandusky investigation under Corbett could have been quicker.
In the meantime, the Paternos and several supporters have sued the NCAA over post-scandal sanctions imposed on Penn State. Jay Paterno alleges the NCAA's response undermined his job prospects elsewhere as a coach. He long worked as an assistant under his father.
Paterno told the Tribune-Review he has no idea how the scandal and its fallout might affect him politically.
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall poll, said he doesn't know how Paterno can escape the subject among voters and reporters.
“I don't know how he avoids it. How do you not ask?” Madonna said.
Brauer speculated that rival Democratic candidates could bring up the Sandusky scandal and argue Paterno might hurt their party's chances in November. They could claim Paterno as the Democratic nominee would neutralize a scandal they could use to otherwise assail Corbett, Brauer said.
State Rep. Brandon Neuman, a Washington County Democrat, said he won't make a negative Paterno-Sandusky connection in his primary bid for lieutenant governor. Other Democratic campaigns reached on Saturday echoed the sentiment.
“At the end of the day, the Democrats are going to have to be unified behind the nominee,” said Nick Bonesso, campaign manager for lieutenant governor candidate Mark Critz of Johnstown. “If it happens to be Jay Paterno, why would you want to destroy his credibility by bringing that up?”
Other Democrats seeking the nomination include state Sen. Mike Stack of Philadelphia; the Rev. Brenda Alton, a Harrisburg pastor; Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski; and Bradford County commissioner Mark Smith.
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.