Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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Now we know who Eli Avila used to be

Do you know who he used to be?

Now we know who Eli Avila used to be

Eli Avila
Eli Avila

Do you know who he used to be?

If you somehow failed to learn that Eli Avila was, however briefly, no less than the secretary of health of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you have only yourself to blame. That’s because, starting with the infamous existential demand he reportedly directed at a Harrisburg hash slinger — “Do you know who I am?” — Avila took great pains to make his identity known well beyond the confines of the capital.

Last week, Gov. Corbett announced Avila’s departure from the cabinet after less than two years. The governor noted only Avila’s considerable qualifications, contributions to the general welfare, and proverbial desire to spend more time with his family (who had remained behind in their native New York). If the secretary’s short stay had anything to do with the confrontations and miscues in his wake, Corbett didn’t say so.

In any case, early retirement was a generous sentence for Avila, whose comic misadventures suggested a serious predilection for taking improper advantage of his power — however modest it was in the scheme of things.

The most troubling episode came shortly after Avila arrived in the capital, when he confronted the owner of a diner over the freshness of his egg sandwich. The secretary served up his revenge far colder than he might have tolerated his eggs, going on to sic local health officials on the joint (to no avail) and to weigh in against the proprietor’s (unsuccessful) efforts to win a state contract.

Subsequent incidents suggested that Avila isn’t just grumpy in the morning. He also tried to order up a special health-secretary badge and requisitioned SWAT-style windbreakers for his team. And one of his aides reportedly took great umbrage at an incursion on the secretary’s parking space — by a bloodmobile.

Now we’ll have to be content to remember Pennsylvania’s undisputed champion of breakfasts by the lawsuit charging him and the state with wrongful retaliation against a sandwich-monger. But at least we know who he was.

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