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Lucky there wasn't a stampede

| Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006

Don't ever come between a senior citizen and a slots machine. Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll learned that lesson the hard way last week.

Knoll was in Wilkes-Barre for the opening of the state's first casino, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. She gave a short speech just before the doors to the casino opened Tuesday morning.

Knoll was supposed to begin speaking at 9:30 a.m. but ran a bit late.

The natives already were restless by the time Knoll started the speech about 10 minutes late. Shortly after that, the crowd, in its eagerness to finally sample legal slots machines in the state, began to boo the matronly politician.

Could have been worse, we suppose. Knoll could have been trampled in the ensuing mad rush to enter the casino, but she emerged from the incident with only her ego bruised.

A NICE HELPING OF THANKSGIVING CROW. In culinary news last week, executives at Wal-Mart found that revenge indeed is a dish best served cold.

And John Edwards, the former Democrat North Carolina senator, discovered that turkey is a much easier bird to digest than crow.

Edwards was forced to eat lots of the latter after admitting that an unnamed staffer dropped Edwards' name at a Wal-Mart while trying to obtain a new PlayStation 3 for the likely 2008 presidential aspirant and 2004 vice-presidential candidate.

Demand was so high for the PlayStation 3's release that people across the country camped out for days in front of stores so they would be first in line when it went on sale.

The attempted string-pulling wouldn't have been nearly as embarrassing for Edwards were he not a frequent, vocal critic of Wal-Mart's treatment of its employees.

Nor would Edwards have been nearly as red-faced had he not been publicly criticizing Wal-Mart the very day his assistant contacted a Wal-Mart electronics manager in Raleigh trying to land a PlayStation 3.

While the aide tried to get Edwards the PlayStation, Edwards was on a national conference call with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama supporting a union-backed anti-Wal-Mart campaign known as Wakeup Wal-Mart.

During the call, Edwards related how he and his son had chided a fellow student for purchasing shoes at Wal-Mart.

A suitably chagrined Edwards later told the News & Observer of Raleigh that the aide "made a mistake by using my name. He was simply trying to help."

A Wal-Mart release regarding the incident characterized it thusly: "While the rest of America's working families are waiting patiently in line, Sen. Edwards wants to cut to the front."

Despite such unbecoming conduct, the retailer extended an olive branch to Edwards.

"Wal-Mart welcomes Sen. Edwards to visit his local Wal-Mart and explore the extensive line of home electronics, as well as the shoes for men and boys," the statement said.

SAYING SAYONARA SOON? Expect two confidants of the late Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor to leave city government shortly.

Grant Street insiders last week predicted there is no way suspended city Operations Director Dennis Regan will return to his job. Regan has been accused of improperly intervening to prevent disciplinary action being taken against city police Detective Frank Rende.

Though Regan is not an attorney, rumor has it he may be offered some position with the Reed Smith law firm, which was tight with the O'Connor administration. The firm pocketed $60,000 this year when it helped refinance $243 million in city debt.

In addition, Yarone Zober, who served as deputy mayor during the final weeks of O'Connor's terminal illness and now is Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's chief of staff, is a former Reed Smith staffer. Zober recently moved into the City Hall office Regan once occupied.

Insiders also suggested it would not be surprising to see Marlene Cassidy, O'Connor's executive secretary, wind up in the Pittsburgh office of Democrat Sen.-elect Bob Casey Jr. Cassidy is Regan's housemate and Rende's sister.

ORATORY OF A MOST PROFOUND NATURE. Departing lawmakers in Harrisburg are allowed to make final speeches from the speaker of the House rostrum.

According to the legislative watchdog group DemocracyRisingPA, two legislators who soon will be out of office distinguished themselves greatly with their remarks last week.

Let us begin with the esteemed state Rep. Ken Ruffing, D-West Mifflin, who lost his re-election bid.

His eloquent address included pointing to various House members and asking them their favorite movie, which caused DemocracyRising to wonder whether Ruffing "finally had escaped the planet's gravitational field."

Let us move on to state Rep. Robert Flick , R-Chester, who drew vigorous applause from his peers by deriding members of the media who "suckle at the breast of disgruntled lawmakers."

Flick has some experience at this suckling thing himself, only he prefers to do it at the breast of state taxpayers. He voted in favor of last year's notorious and since-rescinded pay raise that boosted lawmakers' salaries by as much as 54 percent, then decided to retire rather than face the voters after his shameless action.

Classy way to go out, fellas.

IT WAS NO TIME FOR SIGNS. A few weeks back, we noted that some Republican insiders were wondering why Dave Fawcett didn't display any GOP campaign signs in the front yard of his Oakmont residence.

Fawcett, the Republican Allegheny County councilman at-large, has since offered an explanation.

He said he couldn't have any signs up because he sits on the three-member county Board of Elections. The panel decides voter challenges and whether to report any suspicious election activity to the District Attorney's Office.

Fawcett said it would have been inappropriate to openly advocate the election of candidates who might later have allegations of election irregularities ruled on by the board.

BACKIN' ACKLIN. Speaking of Fawcett, he will have some competition next year for the Republican at-large council seat.

Kevin Acklin, 30, a Squirrel Hill attorney, plans to seek the nomination for Fawcett's seat and will have a fundraiser Tuesday at the Duquesne Club, Downtown.

Acklin co-chaired the Allegheny County campaign of recently defeated Sen. Rick Santorum. He also operated a local volunteer center for President George Bush's 2004 re-election bid.

THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN• Some Harrisburg types are miffed that Republican operative Mike Long, outgoing state Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer's top staffer, apparently is still running the show at the Capitol despite his boss's disgrace. Jubelirer lost in the primary, largely because he was an architect of last year's pay-jacking, which was later repealed.

Long reportedly is the engineer-in-chief behind Republican state Sen. Joseph B. Scarnati III's bid to succeed Jubelirer for the top GOP post. Scarnati, of Jefferson County and a pay-jacker like his mentor, is now the odds-on favorite for the top job after a lot of behind-the-scenes bickering.

Long is credited with devising the campaign strategy in 2004 that elected state Sen. Robert Regola , a Hempfield Township Republican, over veteran Democrat Allen Kukovich.

ABSENT. Don't read anything into Westmoreland County Republican Committee Chairman Perry Christopher's failure to attend former Chairwoman Kim Ward's announcement last week that she is running for county commissioner.

Ward, a Hempfield Township supervisor, said Christopher informed her in advance that he had to work. Another former GOP chairwoman, Debbie Irwin, was in attendance.

Meanwhile, courthouse insiders believe that incumbent GOP Commissioner Phil Light will not run. Light, who was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Commissioner Terry Marolt, said he intends to announce his decision in a few weeks.

-- compiled by Tribune-Review staff

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