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Turzai apologizes to U.S. Rep. Klink for misconduct by campaign workers

Candidates' trickery catches the eyes of opponents days before election

Thursday, October 29, 1998

By Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Saying "we were wrong to do what we did," Republican congressional candidate Mike Turzai apologized to his opponent, U.S. Rep. Ron Klink, for allowing his campaign workers to accost Klink at public appearances and attempt to videotape Klink and his home.

  Mike Turzai finishes his apology to applause from his wife, Lidia, and supporters yesterday. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

In a news conference last night at his Cranberry campaign headquarters, a somber, husky-voiced Turzai read a brief statement in which he apologized to Klink and Klink's family for the conduct of his campaign workers over the past week. He also said he regretted not apologizing sooner.

"In all earnestness, I've wanted to do this since last week, but I didn't. I have no excuses. We were wrong to do what we did," Turzai said, reading from handwritten notes scrawled on a yellow legal pad. "I am fully responsible for the actions of this campaign, and I regret what happened. While I assumed responsibility last week, I didn't apologize and I should have."

With his wife, Lidia, standing beside him, Turzai, 39, of Bradford Woods, also told his family and supporters that he regretted allowing his campaign to veer away from legitimate issues in favor of negative tactics aimed at discrediting his Democratic opponent in the 4th Congressional District race.

"I resorted to political spin and that was wrong, too," he said. "Lidia and I and my family have run a positive, true grass-roots campaign for over a year. This campaign has strayed and it's time to get it back on course."

With six days remaining before Tuesday's election, Turzai pledged to run a positive campaign focusing only on his campaign platform and said his commercials and mailings will not mention Klink. He said he has ordered his staff and supporters to refrain from "any negative tactics."

Turzai declined to answer questions after concluding his remarks and left his headquarters to attend a debate with Klink in New Castle, Lawrence County.

Klink did not immediately issue a response to Turzai's statement.

Turzai's apology came on the day the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called for him to do so in an editorial.

It also came a week after Turzai's campaign workers twice confronted and attempted to videotape Klink: once on Oct. 19 at a campaign stop in New Kensington and a second time on Oct. 21 outside the Duquesne Club, Downtown.

The second videotaping incident, in which two of Turzai's campaign workers, Klink and Klink's chief of staff, Joseph Brimmeier, all claimed to have been shoved or struck, prompted calls to Pittsburgh police. Brimmeier said Turzai's supporters, Wilkinsburg lawyer David Chontos and campaign worker Mike Devanney of Wexford, peppered Klink with questions and accused him of having an affair.

No charges were filed.

Turzai initially said he did not orchestrate the videotaping incidents or an Oct. 19 incident in which his campaign hired a helicopter usually used for WPXI-TV news gathering and had the pilot fly over Klink's Murrysville home.

The videotaping incident caused Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, to write his Republican counterpart and ask that the National Republican Congressional Committee cut its financial support to Turzai's campaign and "publicly rebuke this candidate." Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., declined the request.

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