The LuLac Edition #2281, November 30th, 2012
NOT SO SWEET 16 FOR MELLOW
He was once one of the most powerful men in Pennsylvania history. Some would refer to him as a political Midas. Elected to the State Senate at the age of 27, Bob Mellow served four decades in the 22nd Senatorial district. Despite his win at a young age, Mellow was not a wild child politico trying to change the world. Instead, he was a student of power observing how things worked in the Senate. Early on he sought out the counsel of Luzerne County’s Martin L. Murray, seeing the machinations of power in the glacially moving capitol of Harrisburg. He built relationships with Henry Hager, Michael O’Pake, T. Newell Wood, Frank O’Connell and Charles Lemmond. He recognized that dual power in the Senate could help his region. As his seniority grew, and challenges against him became non existent locally, he built coalitions all across the state of Pennsylvania. He became President Pro Tempo rare of the Senate, the third in line of succession in the Commonwealth. (It was a post Martin L. Murray held). When the Democrats were out of power, he became the Minority Leader. Any bill that went through Harrisburg had to have the Mellow imprimatur on it.
In Northeastern Pennsylvania he was the man you saw if you needed anything. His office staff was meticulous in their customer service skills. I once needed a letter of recommendation for a job I was seeking. An out of district voter, I walked into his office on a Tuesday, stated my case and by Tuesday got a copy of a letter he sent to the company on my behalf. (I did not get the job).
At first, Mellow said he wasn’t going to be a political hack but hired his father for an office job shortly after being elected. He worked hard to pass the lottery which helps seniors and was a close ally of Governor Shapp. When the Shapp administration ran into scandal, the wily Martin L. Murray created distance for the Democrat Senate by giving Mellow the opportunity to ironically craft an ethics bill. During the Casey, Ridge and Rendell administration, Mellow was involved in the passage of CHIP (the Chidren’s Health plan for the state) as well as property tax reform attached to casino gambling. As a newcomer in the 70s he voted against a pay raise and wanted to reduce the size of the Senate from 50 to 40. By the time the new century and more than 34 years of seniority were under his belt, those tunes changed.
Today, we might conclude that his hard working staff might have been too efficient for their own good. Mellow plead to mail fraud and underpayment of taxes. But the big one was using staff to do political work for himself and like minded allies. My friend Dr. Joe Leonardi once said that we are jailing politicians for being politicians. I agree partially with that because the two are so closely aligned, some days the shades of it will be gray. But I’m sure there was a Bonus gate component in this using staff to reduce your opponent’s chances at success. I personally know people in the Mid Valley who regard Mellow as a hero. There are others who point to his serious disregard for the rules. Mellow made so many rules that in the end he thought he was above them. He got passes on his Blue Cross Board membership where he collected a stipend of $25,000 a year, renting property to himself for office space as well as ruling with an iron first politically. After sidestepping or ignoring the outcries against these things, he thought he could leap frog another hurdle. But the feds have a way of taking the hop out of any frog.
In the end, after he plead to these charges there are those who claim they were a tap on the wrist. More than 200 people wrote letters on his behalf including former Governor Ed Rendell and Austin Burke Chairman of the Scranton Chamber. Mellow made a plea for mercy and had a blowhard of an Attorney that seemed more about making the moment about himself than his client. Some observers felt that maybe this out of town Judge might be buying what the Defense and Mellow was selling. He wasn’t. Mellow got 16 months and will report on January 15th. When he was a younger man, in addition to being a state lawmaker, Mellow was a PIAA basketball official. He’d run up and down the court with the best of them and make the calls. Fair or foul. Somewhere along the way, as Mellow became more powerful and that youthful sporting activity gave way to more meetings and caucuses, Mellow forgot or choose to ignore the rules. Sooner or later the federal referee was going to call foul. And everyone knows there’s always a penalty to pay for that.