• R, state rep, 172nd
  • Ran against Tim Kearney, D, challenger in general in 2006


December 2006Edit

  • State Representative Thomas Caltagirone, D, sent a letter to Democratic colleagues in the PA House saying he plans to vote for Republican John Perzel as Speaker in January, 2007. His vote gives John Perzel the one vote he needs to become Speaker in the Democrat-majority State House.

Template:PA House Leadership



* He addressed my questions, but I did not like his answers.
* I wanted to hear a real commitment to cut the cost of government, to rein in powerful municipal unions such as those to which Pittsburgh's firefighters and police belong, and to empower taxpayers in every school district. But what I heard were the stone-cold hard facts of political life in Harrisburg.
* Tax increases never stop. He was asked where it ends. "You try to control costs as best as you can," he said.
* The most disheartening answer was to a question about how to control perpetually escalating school district budgets. Perzel said that the people responsible -- school board members -- are elected at the local level. "That is the way we are set up." Perzel would have impressed Mr. Obvious.
* Perzel could not name one representative who believes "We spend too much on education. Nobody." I believe him.



Perzel fixes up image on Pa.'s tabEdit

Source: By Mario F. Cattabiani, Inquirer Staff Writer

Stung by PR gaffes, the state House speaker hired an outside consultant at a cost of $5,000 a month.

HARRISBURG - The day after the state House voted to repeal the unpopular legislative pay raise, Rep. John M. Perzel took the first step in what some are calling the speaker's "extreme makeover."

Perzel (R., Phila.) hired a public relations consultant on Nov. 15 to buff his image after months of brutal depictions in the media, mostly over the pay-raise issue.

And you're paying for it: $5,000 a month.

The speaker already has a press secretary, another outside media consultant, and access to a pool of 46 public-relations staffers whose job it is to put the best spin on House Republicans - in print, on TV, and over the Internet.

Robert J. Philbin, who is handling the new PR campaign for Perzel, said the two started negotiating the contract in February 2005, months before the pay raise was passed in July. He acknowledged, however, that part of his job was to temper the fallout.

"Speaker Perzel does not dodge bullets. That's not what he does," said Philbin, the chief executive officer of Hershey-Philbin Associates of Camp Hill. "He needs strong communications counsel when he makes a move."

In March, Philbin created "The New Speaker John Perzel Press Kit" and had 1,500 copies of it printed at a cost to the state of $4,500. Perzel has been speaker since April 2003.

"You can't put lipstick on a pig," said Gene Stilp, a Harrisburg activist and one of the leading critics of the pay raise. "The first thing he should do if he wants to improve his image is not to spend this kind of money to improve his image."

Said Matthew Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative Harrisburg think tank: "It is going to take more than a $60,000-per-year PR firm to clean up the speaker's mess."

Perzel declined to be interviewed for this article.

Since Philbin started, getting access to Perzel - known by reporters for speaking his mind, often in raw and unfiltered ways - has been increasingly difficult for reporters.

He has declined many interview requests. Instead, at Philbin's insistence, reporters have had to take the unusual step of putting questions in writing. Philbin has argued that it allows Perzel to give more thoughtful answers.

It also, he has acknowledged, reduces the risk that Perzel will go off-script and say something inflammatory.

Perzel was roundly ridiculed for one such comment in September, when he publicly defended the pay raise by arguing that immigrant cow milkers in Lancaster County make between $50,000 and $55,000 a year. Reporters were unable to find any who did.

In Perzel, the anti-pay-raise movement has found a wide target. He was a leading architect of the pay raise. He voted for it and accepted it.

A source close to Perzel who said he was not authorized to speak for Perzel said the decision to hire Philbin was cemented in October after a news conference in Pittsburgh was mishandled.

The event, at an elementary school where Perzel was donating books, was supposed to have produced good news coverage in a part of the state where many people were irate over the pay raise. But unknowingly, Perzel stood in front of a classroom wall covered with small paper pink pigs - the adopted symbol of the anti-pay-raise movement.

He left town as an editorial called for voters to unseat him.

One House Republican, who asked that his name not be used so as not to antagonize the speaker, said Perzel needs the additional media help because he "was tired of always looking like Darth Vader."

House Republicans also pay Marty O'Rourke, a Philadelphia-area consultant, $60,000 annually to handle local media relations for three members, including Perzel.

The speaker is not alone in spending taxpayer dollars for outside media consultants.

Sen. Vincent Fumo (D., Phila.) pays $60,000 a year from his Appropriations Committee account to public-relations expert Ken Snyder. Philadelphia media consultant Larry Ceisler gets $42,000 annually from House Democrats for his expertise with press relations.

Philbin said the bulk of his work to date has focused on arranging regional forums for Perzel to meet with other House members and their constituents. So far, the speaker has held such meetings in the Poconos, central Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh.

"One of the main complaints has been that he represents Southeast Pennsylvania and nowhere else," Philbin said.

In February, Philbin wrote an opinion column, sent to editors across the state, lauding Perzel for his decision to craft a new lobbying disclosure bill.

It was titled "Independent Spin" and began this way:

"House Speaker John Perzel, arguably the most powerful political figure in Pennsylvania today, has put lobbying reform... right where it belongs: front and center in the statewide public sphere, leaving many observers apparently blinded by his footwork."

Philbin didn't disclose in the column that he was being paid by Perzel. He merely signed the piece "R.J. Philbin, contributing editor, CapNews." CapNews is one of several arms of Philbin's agency.

Although he agreed to be interviewed for this story, Philbin declined to answer questions about his column.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, called the column "electioneering propaganda."

"Taxpayers shouldn't pay for that," she added, "especially since it is being made to look like it is coming from a neutral source."

Despite closer attention to how he is perceived, Perzel has still grabbed his share of critical headlines of late.

Last month, The Inquirer reported that Perzel, a director of Geo Group Inc., attended the company's annual meeting in Florida on the day the House was expected to give final legislative approval to a major property-tax relief plan.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.