Rendell rips Fitzpatrick, GOP over Mumia attacks

Former Gov. Ed Rendell blasted Republicans and GOP Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick Friday for a new political attack attempting to tie Fitzpatrick’s opponent to convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. He said Fitzpatrick should denounce the effort.

“I’m angry, I’m just angry,” Rendell said in a phone interview. “(Politics) has been my lifelong profession, to see it sink to this level, it’s just disgusting.”

Rendell first raised the ad at a Democratic rally in Philadelphia Friday morning, where he called on Fitzpatrick to denounce the attacks on Democratic challenger Kathy Boockvar and for the GOP to drop the accusatory Web post and robo-calls launched Wednesday and Thursday.

“This ad is the worst type of guilt by association – It smacks of the worst type of politics,” Rendell said in the interview. “Kathy has no association, absolutely, with Mumia, in no way or form helped Mumia.”

Rendell, the former Philly mayor and district attorney when Abu-Jamal was prosecuted, said Fitzpatrick “should be embarrassed by it and he should be ashamed.”

“It has all sorts of overtones. It just stinks,” Rendell said, adding that he has offered to do robo-calls helping Boockvar in a hotly contested House race based in Bucks County. Both parties see the race as the one that gives Democrats the best chance to add a seat in the Philadelphia region.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which launched the attack, fired back, citing legal work Boockvar’s husband did representing one of the witnesses who recanted her testimony against Abu-Jamal.

“So Boockvar’s husband accusing the Philadelphia police of pressuring witnesses to the murder of Officer Faulkner is NOT disgusting, but making note of that fact IS? With all due respect, Mayor Rendell needs to take a closer look at the facts and then do some soul searching,” NRCC spokesman Nat Sillin wrote in an e-mail. “Some things are just not worth defending even if party loyalty seems to require it.”

The GOP accusations hinge on work done by Jordan Yeager, Boockvar’s husband, in the mid-1990s and early 2000’s. In 1996, 14 years after Abu-Jamal’s conviction, Yeager represented Veronica Jones, a witness who recanted her original testimony against Abu-Jamal. Yeager, working with a Philadelphia firm at the time, accused police of pressuring Jones by enforcing old warrants after she changed her story.

None of the GOP accusations cite any work Boockvar has done or her own words.

In an interview Thursday night, Fitzpatrick would not directly answer if he thought the Abu-Jamal ads were fair or if he would denounce them.

“Is it true?” he asked in response to questions about fairness.

“This race is not about campaign ads – it’s about the truth and it’s about jobs and the economy and which candidate has the best plan to get people back to work,” he said. Asked what the ads had to do with those issues, he responded, “I’d refer that question to the NRCC.”

(The NRCC is the GOP’s national arm for House races). 

Reaction from Fitzpatrick and Boockvar, along with the prosecutor involved in one of the key cases cited by the GOP critiques, are included in today’s story online and in the Inquirer. My Thursday morning blog post has details of the accusations, but before the candidates personally weighed in.

Boockvar called the attack “the atomic bomb of distraction” Thursday night and said it shows that Republicans are worried about losing the closely-held seat.

Boockvar's husband also once represented Frances Goldin, a prominent literary agent who included Abu-Jamal as a client. Goldin had been arrested on minor charges in 1999 while protesting Abu-Jamal’s sentence. At the time Yeager defended the agent, he and Boockvar shared a small law practice.

In an interview with the Inquirer, Boockvar was asked if she was concerned that her practice would defend someone protesting on Abu-Jamal’s behalf.

“Even when we were in the same practice we had totally different case loads,” she said. “Frankly, it wasn’t a case I was involved in. It wasn’t a memorable thing. This was not a Mumia case, this was a small protest.”

She said she has never met or spoken to Abu-Jamal. She was in her teens when he was convicted, in 1982, though protests have continued long after.

Included in today’s story, the prosecutor in that case said Goldin’s charges were on the level of a traffic ticket, and that Yeager’s work was based on the protest, not Abu-Jamal’s conviction.