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Ousted Democrat now in his opponents' camp

Pension ploy alters allegiances in state House

Friday, July 06, 2001

By John M.R. Bull, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Correspondent

HARRISBURG -- Hours after his Democratic colleagues fired him from a consultant position created for him after his election defeat, former Democratic state Rep. Tim Pesci was given a three-week consulting contract by the House Republicans who defeated him in the first place.

Not coincidentally, it keeps him on the state payroll until he qualifies for a higher pension.

Lawmakers are known for taking care of their own, but Pesci's situation stood out even by state Capitol standards. Pesci's hiring, then firing, then rehiring had leaders in both parties accusing each other of pettiness, intrigue and fickleness.

House Democrats had Pesci on their caucus payroll for almost six months after he left office in January. He was listed as a consultant to the Democratic chairman of the local government committee. It was a six-month deal, worth roughly $30,000.

Nearing the end of his deal with the Democrats, Pesci, D-Freeport, last month asked Democratic leaders to extend his job.

House Democratic Leader H. William DeWeese hemmed and hawed. Pesci cursed him in a "volley of four-letter oaths," according to DeWeese, so DeWeese fired Pesci.

Hours later, Pesci was back on the House payroll, this time as a consultant for the Republican caucus, working on reapportionment.

"I wasn't going to put him into a lifelong phony baloney job," grumbled DeWeese. "He simmers with chronic discontent and is basically a bad sport. This is one of the more sordid maneuvers I have seen in my days in the General Assembly."

"This would not have happened if Bill DeWeese had not acted in a spiteful, vengeful way," said Steve Drachler, a spokesman for House Republican Leader John Perzel, who signed off on Pesci's hiring.

The latest contract calls for Pesci to be a consultant from his June 18 firing by DeWeese until Tuesday. The arrangement keeps Pesci on the payroll into the new fiscal year, which began Sunday -- long enough for him to claim the 25 percent larger pension the House passed for state employees last month.

Pesci, a lawyer who spent 11 years in the House until he left office in January, did not return a phone call to his home seeking comment.

DeWeese called Pesci's hiring by Republicans "incredible."

Pesci, 57, ran a "condescending" campaign against Republican Jeff Coleman, 25, including calling him "Jeffy" in public, then lost to Coleman in a legislative district that is 70 percent Democratic, said DeWeese.

As a favor, DeWeese hired Pesci as a consultant in January, even though some Democratic House leaders were "aghast" that such a good deed was being done for someone who lost a safe Democratic seat, said DeWeese.

Now Pesci is over in the Republican camp and DeWeese is livid and checking to see if Pesci did anything to earn his money when he was working as a Democratic consultant.

The Republicans hired Pesci merely to curry favor with Pesci's friends who are Democrats in the House, DeWeese charged.

A little-known fact of life in the state Capitol is that even with a 104-99 majority in the House, Republicans often times need to court Democrats' votes. Some Republicans may be absent when a vote is called or on the fence about an issue supported by their party leaders.

DeWeese also said Perzel, R-Philadelphia, is "buying" favor from Democrats by paying Pesci as a consultant. House Republicans denied that charge.

Pesci is being paid to help Republicans who are busy trying to draw up new boundaries for legislative districts, done every 10 years to reflect the findings of the census, according to the House Republicans.

Pesci "brings good expertise on this issue" and will be paid $3,967 by the House Republican caucus when his three-week contract ends Tuesday, exactly the amount the Democrats were paying him, said Drachler.

But Drachler acknowledged Pesci's hiring also was designed to assure him the higher pension he was seeking.

"Mr. Perzel thought that was unfair and not an appropriate way to treat a former member of the House," Drachler said.

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