With less than six weeks to go before the Nov. 6 election, the Democratic ticket of Joe Hoeffel and Ruth Damsker suffered a major blow in its efforts to win control of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.
One of the co-chairs of the Hoeffel-Damsker campaign resigned Tuesday after authorities busted a huge illegal gambling operation in Montgomery County. The case involves bars and other establishments housing video poker machines.
One of the businesses raided was Cisco's Bar and Grille in the 1500 block of Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown. Cisco's is owned and operated by Joanne C. Olszewski and her husband. Olszewski is an elected jury commissioner in Montgomery County and co-chair of the Hoeffel-Damsker campaign.
Everyone knows that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is now in the gambling business thanks to Ed Rendell, so Olszewski will have a hard time explaining why her family business is running video poker machines.
Olszewski is also first vice president of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee and a member of the State Democratic Committee. Read more about Olszewski's resignation in today's edition of The Mercury.
The other interesting quirk in this story (other than the timing) is that the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, which is handling the investigation, is headed by Bruce L. Castor Jr., who is a Republican candidate for Montgomery County Commissioner.
Castor said his First Assistant D.A., Risa Ferman, is handling the case, but Castor was pictured prominently in the press conference announcing the raids. Ferman is the Republican candidate to replace Castor as Montgomery County D.A.
Reporter Margaret Gibbons pointed out in her story that, "Even before the district attorney's press conference, a story taken from KYW-AM radio citing sources indicating that an unnamed county elected official was caught in the investigation went up on the Castor-Matthews campaign Web site."
Gibbons also asked Montgomery County Democratic Chairman Marcel L. Groen if the timing of the raids were politically motivated.
"I do not believe the underlying investigation was politically motivated, but the timing of the announcement of the investigation coming just six weeks before the election is interesting to say the least," Groen said.
Ferman denied any shenanigans.
"We don't accuse public officials of committing crimes unless we're sure," Ferman told Gibbons. "We're in the business of doing investigations and we understand that a public official's reputation is paramount."
Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Ken Davis isn't satisfied with Olszewski's departure from the Hoeffel-Damsker campaign. He wants the Democratic candidates to push for Olszewski's resignation as a jury commissioner.
"Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and I ask that the rights of Ms. Olszewski be observed as she deals with this difficult situation regarding an investigation for an illegally rigged gambling machine operated out of a business she owns, Cisco's Bar," Davis said in a written statement.
Because Olszewski is a key member of Damsker-Hoeffel '07, the Montgomery County Democratic Committee and State Democratic Committee who has donated and raised a significant amount of money for the Damsker-Hoeffel campaign and Democratic Party, Davis wants Damsker and Hoeffel to consider asking for her resignation as Jury Commissioner in light of these serious allegations.
"Her resignation simply from the Damsker-Hoeffel campaign is not enough," Davis said.
Hoeffel and Damsker have made numerous allegations about corruption in the Republican-controlled county. Davis wasted no time in turning the tables on the Democrats.
"Republican officials have repeatedly been exonerated from recklessly false claims made by both Damsker and Hoeffel," Davis said. "I hope that the alleged crimes of Ms. Olszewski, the only Democratic elected official in the Court House, do not represent the type of culture Damsker and Hoeffel want to establish in Montgomery County."
Davis wants Damsker and Hoeffel and the Montgomery County Democratic Committee to answer the following questions:
• Did Damsker, Hoeffel or any Democratic Party official hold campaign fundraisers at Ms. Olszewski's bar, Cisco's?
• Did Damsker, Hoeffel or any Democratic Party official at any time play, or encourage attendees/patrons to play, the allegedly rigged illegal video poker machines in Cisco's Bar?
• Did any illegal gambling proceeds from the video poker machines in Cisco's Bar find their way in to the campaign coffers of Damsker, Hoeffel or the Democratic Party?
• Have any representatives of JC Vending Inc. made campaign contributions to Damsker, Hoeffel or any Democratic Party organizations?