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Ties might not bind Clintons to Margolies campaign

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 10:30 p.m.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, Former Secretary of State speaks during an event at the University of Miamis BankUnited Center on February 26, 2014 in Coral Gables, Florida. Clinton is reported to be mulling a second presidential run.
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Hillary Rodham Clinton, Former Secretary of State speaks during an event at the University of Miamis BankUnited Center on February 26, 2014 in Coral Gables, Florida. Clinton is reported to be mulling a second presidential run.

The biggest name in Pennsylvania's 13th Congressional District race isn't on the ballot.

Marjorie Margolies, a former one-term congresswoman, is reminding Democratic voters of her crucial vote that won Bill Clinton his 1993 budget and cost her the U.S. House seat a year later. Her ties to the Clintons deepened when her son, Marc Mezvinsky, married Chelsea Clinton in 2010.

But whether the Clintons campaign for Margolies could depend on how close they want to get to her political baggage less than two years before Hillary Clinton's possible 2016 presidential run.

Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak at a Temple University Law Foundation event in Philadelphia on April 20, a month before the primary. The event will be about three miles from the border of the 13th District.

“She's had a fairly rocky road, given her ex-husband's issues and some of the other questions about her honesty in those proceedings. So if (Hillary) Clinton comes in, she could be somewhat attached to Margolies,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “But you're somewhat attached to her anyway. She's tied now, in some ways, to your family.”

Margolies and members of her campaign did not respond to requests for an interview. Spokesmen for the Clintons declined to say whether they would endorse, campaign or raise money for Margolies, 71, of Wynnewood.

The 20 years since Margolies lost her House seat were marked by personal, financial and political losses that her opponents now are dredging up.

Margolies' ex-husband, Edward Mezvinsky, pleaded guilty to defrauding banks and clients out of millions of dollars. He traded on Margolies' name and the family's connection to the Clintons, and doctored financial disclosure forms she filed with Congress, according to court records.

State Rep. Brendan Boyle, one of three other Democrats running for the congressional seat, reminded voters of that trouble when Margolies filed her disclosure forms late for this campaign in September.

Margolies told The Philadelphia Inquirer that “a personal attack from a decade ago made from behind the trousers of a campaign spokesperson is no profile in courage.”

Investigators never charged Margolies. She told a bankruptcy judge in 2000 that her husband handled the family's finances and that she signed off on the forms without verifying their accuracy.

“She was present for some of the discussions that Mr. Mezvinsky had with people that later turned out to be victims. I think she introduced one or two,” said Robert Zauzmer, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Mezvinsky.

But investigators did not find evidence she knew her husband's business dealings were illegitimate.

The fraud

Margolies married Mezvinsky in 1975 when he was an Iowa congressman and she was an Emmy-winning television reporter in Washington. She divorced him in 2007 when he was serving a five-year prison sentence.

Mezvinsky brought four children to the marriage; Margolies had two girls she adopted from overseas. They had two sons and adopted three children together.

Mezvinsky lost his House seat in 1976, and the family moved to Margolies' native Philadelphia.

While she continued her television career, Mezvinsky jumped into Pennsylvania politics. He lost a race for U.S. Senate in 1980, won election as chairman of the state Democratic Party in 1981, and lost statewide races in 1988 and 1990.

His business dealings appeared to generate millions of dollars for the family, until a federal grand jury indictment in 2001 exposed frauds reaching back more than 10 years. He pleaded guilty in 2003 to 29 of counts of bank, mail and wire fraud.

From 1995 to 2000, Mezvinsky made $13 million, almost $11 million of it fraudulently, the grand jury indictment stated. He burned through $6 million by taking money from some people, including Margolies' mother, to pay off others, the indictment said.

About $2.6 million went to con men who duped Mezvinsky out of money, including an early version of the Nigerian email scam in which he traveled to Africa to collect millions of dollars he was promised after paying the con men thousands.

“Only in January 2000 did this pattern end, when Mezvinsky ran out of victims from whom to obtain money,” the indictment said. “At that time, he filed for bankruptcy protection.”

Margolies filed for bankruptcy the next month.

Mezvinsky lives in Wellsville, N.Y. Records for their divorce are sealed; the proceedings took two years. Margolies told The New York Times in 2010 that she believed Mezvinsky intended to repay everyone.

After losing her House seat, Margolies won a Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 1998, but lost to Republicans Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker. She ended her 2000 challenge of former Sen. Rick Santorum as her husband's schemes — and her family's finances — unraveled.

Margolies tried to declare bankruptcy, but U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Diane Weiss Sigmund rejected her petition.

“Her consistent response to questions asked by her creditors about the disposition of her assets is lack of knowledge or ‘my husband handled it,' ” Weiss Sigmund wrote.

The excuse “is completely at odds with her public persona, background and accomplishments,” the judge wrote, citing Margolies' political and television careers, authorship of several books and advocacy for women's rights.

Margolies founded the charity Women's Campaign International in 1998.

The vote

The 13th Congressional District encompasses parts of North Philadelphia and southern Montgomery County, deep inside the state's largest media market. Philadelphia and its four surrounding counties are home to one-third of Pennsylvania voters and 38 percent of Democrats — voters Hillary Clinton will need if she runs for president.

Outgoing Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who is running for governor rather than re-election, won the district with 69 percent of the vote in 2012. The winner of the May 20 Democratic primary likely will replace Schwartz in November.

Dr. Valerie Arkoosh led the money race at the end of last year with $644,000 cash on hand — $160,000 more than anyone else and $470,000 more than Margolies. State Sen. Daylin Leach is the favorite of the party's liberal base, and he had the second-most in cash. Boyle won the support of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Committee.

Margolies relies on her deep, decades-old connections in Democratic politics, particularly to the Clintons. Bill Clinton donated $2,600. Former Clinton advisers and administration officials Harold Ickes, Tony and Heather Podesta, and Robert Rubin gave a collective $9,700.

The center link atop Margolies' website, “The Vote,” leads to a 45-second online ad about her tie-breaking vote in favor of Clinton's '93 budget.

“I really didn't want Margolies-Mezvinsky to have to vote with us,” Clinton wrote in his autobiography, “My Life.” “She was one of the very few Democrats who represented a district with more constituents who'd get tax hikes than tax cuts, and in her campaign she had promised not to vote for any tax increases.”

In return for her vote, Clinton visited her district for a conference on entitlement reform a few months later. His appearance was not enough to hold back the GOP tide that gave Republicans control of the House in 1994.

“She took a vote that she knew would cost her her seat,” Borick said. “That itself usually draws some type of loyalty. You toss in the family relationship, and it's going to be hard not to come in on her side.”

Mike Wereschagin is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7900 or

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