Politics

Even Convicted Lawmakers' Portraits Are Tainted by Crime

by | July 18, 2014

By Angela Couloumbis

There was no fanfare and little advance notice.

Instead, on Tuesday shiny new golden plaques were quietly placed below the stately portraits of certain high-ranking legislators that hang along the Capitol's hallways.

That would be lawmakers convicted of crimes.

After several years of fielding public and internal questions about whether it was appropriate to display portraits of convicted legislators, House and Senate leaders made a decision: Let history be. Just tell it more fully.

"We believed the proper remedy was not to take the portraits down -- because they are a part of history -- but to take a more balanced approach," said Drew Crompton, legal counsel and chief of staff to Senate President Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson).

Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson), put it this way: "Whether positive or negative, history is history."

The portraits, which hang along the corridors on either side of the Capitol rotunda, depict Senate presidents and House speakers over the last few decades, along with some notable past ones, including Thomas Mifflin (House speaker, 1785-87) and Benjamin Franklin (House speaker, 1764).

On the Senate side, a new plaque Tuesday was placed below the portrait of former Sen. Robert Mellow, a Democrat from Lackawanna County who pleaded guilty in 2012 to federal charges related to using Senate staff members to do political work.

On the House side, plaques were placed beneath the portraits of three former House speakers (two from Philadelphia): John Perzel, the onetime Republican powerhouse from Northeast Philadelphia; Democrat Bill DeWeese of Greene County; and Democrat Herbert Fineman, a Philadelphian who served four terms as speaker.

DeWeese and Perzel were convicted during the Bonusgate and Computergate corruption investigations run by the Attorney General's Office. Both investigations involved the use of public resources for political gain.

Here is how Perzel's plaque now reads: "Mr. Perzel was defeated for reelection to the House in November 2010, prior to pleading guilty to a variety of corruption related charges, and was sentenced to prison on March 30, 2012."

Fineman resigned as speaker on May 21, 1977, a day after he was convicted of two felony counts of obstructing justice. His conviction related to federal charges that he had accepted payments from parents seeking admission for their children to professional schools.

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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