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Why not a scepter and crown for John Perzel?

| Sunday, Jan. 14, 2007

Sycophant Republicans in the state House continue to genuflect before their recently deposed leader, ousted Speaker John Perzel of Philadelphia.

Perzel last week was given the title "speaker emeritus" and will be getting an office and staff "respectful" of his former position, a GOP spokesman said. Perzel was ousted in a move led by the House Democrat majority.

What did Perzel do to warrant such respect in the nearly four years he held the job• A quick review:

  • He stymied attempts to make state government more open and transparent.

  • He was a strong supporter of the 2005 legislative pay-jacking, which hiked lawmakers' salaries as much as 54 percent, until public protest forced repeal after four months.

  • He was caught lying to an elementary school student who asked him if he had traveled to a news conference at the school in a limousine. Perzel said he had not, moments before departing in the same Lincoln Town Car -- with limousine plates -- that he arrived in.

  • It was on Perzel's watch that Republicans lost control of the House for the first time in a dozen years.

Had the suck-up House Republicans wanted to accurately memorialize Perzel's tenure as speaker, they should have given him a closet-sized office near the basement men's room.

FAST EDDIE'S INAUGURAL CHOW. Even if you don't plan on attending the governor's inaugural festivities in Harrisburg on Tuesday, you're probably wondering whether there will be anything good to eat and drink at the soiree.

No need for such uncertainty. Gov. Ed Rendell does not have a reputation for letting his guests -- or himself -- go hungry.

The inaugural committee lined up a host of food and beverage companies from across the state to donate samples of their products. Among the Pittsburgh companies participating are Heinz and the bankrupt Pittsburgh Brewing Co. (which probably should be attempting to sell its beer rather than give it away).

Other vendors include the Tastykake Bakery in Philadelphia, the Hershey-based Hershey Co., the Bucks County Coffee Co. and the Bongrain Cheese Co. of New Holland.

Additionally, cooks from Pat's King of Steaks of Philadelphia, Yocco's Hot Dog King of Allentown and Harrisburg's The Spot will be preparing food on-site.

We realize there will be plenty to eat after Rendell and Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll are sworn in for their second terms. Nonetheless, we feel compelled to ask: Why not Primanti Brothers sandwiches?

PULLING THE STRINGS IN HARRISBURG. What will new Speaker Dennis O'Brien's role be in the House?

Holding the top leadership post might prompt some outsiders to believe he's commanding the ship. But two weeks after the Philadelphia Republican's sudden ascension -- with backing of key Democrats -- most observers see O'Brien as little more than a figurehead and frontman for those who engineered his election.

Colleagues and observers who have known him for years say O'Brien does have an independent streak. If he really sees himself being marginalized, he might be inclined to speak out.

But Democrats control the House by one vote and they will run the show under O'Brien. "Possibly a puppet" is how Republican Rep. Mark Mustio of Moon referred to O'Brien's role.

The other key question now is how long O'Brien will remain speaker. Many analysts believe it's only a matter of time before there's a coup to oust O'Brien. The chief financial benefit to O'Brien is boosting his pension, and that could be short-lived if he fails to survive the 2007-2008 session.

PEDUTO READIES RUN. The slumbering beast known as Bill Peduto's mayoral campaign appears to be awakening.

The Pittsburgh city councilman has named Matt Preston as his campaign manager. Preston most recently ran the successful campaign for Democrat state Rep. Chelsa Wagner of Beechview.

Peduto has opened his campaign headquarters in Shadyside and is expected to soon make formal his intentions to unseat Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in the Democrat primary.

The pair are running in the special election to fill the unexpired term of Bob O'Connor, who died in September.

STAIRS IN THE CROSSHAIRS. Republican state Rep. Jess Stairs of Acme, Westmoreland County, is being targeted by conservative Philadelphia businessman Bob Guzzardi.

Guzzardi wrote in a recent e-mail that circulated among Westmoreland Republicans that "significant money" would be made available to a candidate willing to run against Stairs in next year's GOP primary.

"If there is a viable, articulate, hardworking candidate willing to knock on doors in (Stairs') district ... let me know," Guzzardi wrote.

Guzzardi and conservatives in Stairs' district aren't happy over the contributions he has accepted from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, otherwise known as the teachers union.

Guzzardi also probably isn't enamored with Stairs' recent vote for Perzel for state House speaker. Guzzardi spent tens of thousands of dollars last year supporting candidates who pledged not to back Perzel.

RESCHEDULE. Westmoreland County commissioner hopeful Mike O'Barto denies that a Dec. 30 fundraiser was canceled because of lack of support.

O'Barto said the event at Giannilli's II in Unity Township was postponed "because of a conflict with the holiday season."

It's been rescheduled Feb. 3. "There's plenty of support," O'Barto said.

O'Barto, a Unity Township supervisor, is challenging incumbent commissioners Tom Balya and Tom Ceraso in the Democrat primary.

OMISSION? The Westmoreland County commissioners were quick to put a formal rebuttal on the county's Web site to a recent audit that lambasted the computer inventory system.

The rebuke was in response to a six-month audit by Controller Carmen Pedicone that disclosed what he called major inadequacies in the county's inventory system. He claims the failures have resulted in computer equipment misplaced, missing or deployed only after months of sitting in storage.

Not too surprising is that Pedicone's actual audit did not get equal billing.

CAMP COWHER FINALE. Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher did not spend all last week cleaning out his desk at the team offices. He also made a sojourn to one of his favorite training-camp hangouts in Westmoreland County.

Cowher, team fitness and strength coach Chet Fuhrman and a few friends were seen dining at the Spitfire Grille in South Greensburg late last week.

Spitfire owner Courtney Pallitto said Cowher, who often visited during breaks at training camp in Latrobe, did not reveal his future plans.

"He indicated he is just going to step back and take it easy for a while," she said.

-- compiled by Tribune-Review staff

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