The House on Stevens Lane
I've said time and again that if U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum loses re-election in November, a major cause will be the controversy surrounding his residency.
It is an issue where Santorum is the most vulnerable. It an issue that resonates with voters, especially in his base in western Pennsylvania. It is an issue that keeps returning to haunt the Republican incumbent.
It turns out that someone else shares my view - the Santorum campaign.
It's up with a radio ad in the Pittsburgh market attacking Casey for stalking the Santorum family and using campaign operatives to spy on his home on Stevens Lane in the Pittsburgh suburb of Penn Hills. The house is pictured above, in a shot from the Post-Gazette.
The allegation the ad makes is nonsense, but -- as I said in my original post on this -- it is useful nonsense.
It is an axiom in politics that if you can't change the facts, you must change the topic.
This ad is Santorum's attempt -- probably the first of several -- to neutralize this issue by turning it around so it becomes a discussion not about his residency, but about his opponent.
To begin with, here are the facts as I understand them:
Rick Santorum, his wife and his six children do not live in Penn Hills, Pa. They live 217 miles away in Leesburg, Va. It's a common arrangement among elected officials who serve in Washington, D.C.
I see nothing wrong with this. Santorum spends most of his time in D.C. He wants to be close to his family. His family lives there with him. End of story.
But, these kind of arrangements can cause political difficulties. It opens a pol to charges that he has gone native and forgotten the little folks back home.
In fact, Santorum used that very issue -- a home in Washington -- in his campaign for Congress, when he defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Doug Walgren.
So, for voting purposes (and for political purposes), the Santorums do maintain a residence in Pennsylvania -- on Stevens Lane. They own the house and have a mortgage on it. For a while, Santorum relatives were reported to have lived there. More recently, it appears the house is vacant.
The issue arose most recently during May 16th primary. When Santorum showed up to vote in Penn Hills and two of his long-time Democratic opponents, Ed and Erin Vecchio, took exception. They said his house was vacant, ergo, he did not live in Penn Hills, ergo, he could not vote there. They threatened to file a suit over it.
Shortly after, KDKA-TV did a report about Santorum complaining that someone was "stalking" his house.
Later, the Santorum camp used that KDKA report as the basis of its radio ad (From the text of the ad: "According to a KDKA investigative report, a Casey operative admitted to trespassing on Rick Santorum's home in Penn Hills, peering into the windows looking for campaign dirt.")
For the record, the so-called operative was Santorum's old nemesis on the residency issue: Ed Vecchio, whose wife is a member of the local school board and the Penn Hills Democratic party chair. Vecchio denied to KDKA he had been spying on anyone -- and offered to take a lie detector test to prove his veracity.
But, wait there's more.
On reason this issue is so vexing for Santorum is that he keeps sticking his foot into it.
For starters, he failed to pay taxes on the house and was called on it by Vera Miller, a reporter for the local Penn Hills Progress in a 2004 story. He promptly paid.
But, it seems obvious that he didn't pay them because he didn't know about them. The bills were sent to the house on Stevens Lane.
Next, Miller got a tip that Santorum had five of his six children enrolled in a cyber-charter school, which they attended via computer in Leesburg, but that the Penn Hills School District was picking up most of the tab. Her original story ran in October, 2004.
It took a while for the story to gain traction beyond Penn Hills. Erin Vecchio helped. As a member of the local school board, she kept pressing the issue -- and demanding Santorum repay the district the $100,000 or so it paid the cyber-school.
Eventually, the Pittsburgh papers picked up on it and Santorum quickly withdrew his children from the school. The Pittsburgh Tribune ran this story on the dispute in November, 2004. Santorum withdrew his children from the school a week later.
The Penn Hills district later sought reimbursement of the monies paid for the Santorum schooling, but lost its case before the state Education Department.
But, the whole cyber-school thing doesn't resonate well. It smelled like someone who is big and powerful taking advantage of a small district.
But, wait there's more.
Also, in 2004, Santorum and his wife were involved in another flap, this time over jury duty. Several notices were mailed to the Stevens Lane house, but they were ignored. When Santorum did find out about it, he and his wife asked for a delay.
(Note to the Santorum campaign: Have someone check on the mail sent to the Penn Hills home on a daily basis and start forwarding it to Leesburg, Va.)
Santorum and his wife, Karen, finally did show up for jury duty when the Senate was in recess in November, 2004 and neither was picked for a jury.
It was an opportunity for Santorum to do the humble routine and say how important it is for every citizens duty to serve on jury and how glad he to finally do his part.
Instead, he had a Rick Santorum moment.
From the Post-Gazette story on their appearance:
"After local media reported his failure to appear in August, he and his wife made arrangements with the court to serve during the Senate's Thanksgiving recess.
"If this is what people think is a good use of their United States senator's time ..." Santorum said.
This didn't sit well either, being seen -- rightly -- as an example of senatorial arrogance.Such a little house, so many problems.