Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Berks FOP endorses Rowley for judge; snubs longtime D.A.

There are a few conspicuous absences from the list of endorsements for the November election issued by the Fraternal Order of Police Berks Lodge No. 71.

The biggest snub goes to Berks County District Attorney Mark C. Baldwin, a Republican who has been the top law enforcement officer in the county for the past 16 years.

The FOP is supporting his Democratic challenger John T. Adams, who worked for Baldwin from 1992-94 as an assistant district attorney.

The FOP is also backing attorney Tim Rowley for the one open seat on the Berks County Court of Common Pleas. Rowley, a Republican, won the Democratic nomination in May by 857 votes, but fell short of winning the Republican nomination by 182 votes. The winner was fellow Republican attorney Ron Stanko, a former Berks County Republican Party chairman.

Because judicial candidates can cross-file in both primaries, a Rowley-Stanko rematch will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

The FOP is also recommending retention of Berks County Judge Jeffrey Schmehl.

But the big surprise is the FOP's rebuke of Baldwin. Incumbents usually get the support of the FOP because law officers have had a chance to work with them and build relationships. But the FOP is throwing its weight behind Adams, a little-known challenger who won the write-in nomination in May's Democratic primary.

"The collective opinion of the police officers that are members of our lodge is that a change is needed in the Office of District Attorney of Berks County and John T. Adams is the most qualified person to serve in that position," according to Joseph M. Brown, Lodge No. 71 president.

Baldwin was expecting to coast to easy re-election this year, especially when Democrats couldn't find a candidate to challenge the 16-year incumbent. With the GOP nomination a lock, Baldwin ran newspaper ads asking Democrats to write in his name so he could avoid a contest in the fall.

That didn't happen. Adams received enough write-in votes for the Democratic nomination. Political insiders tell me that disgruntled Republicans were among those supporting the write-in effort against Baldwin.

Baldwin, who has the lowest public profile of any district attorney in Southeastern Pennsylvania and doesn't like to deal with the media, has burned some bridges during his four terms in office.

Apparently, those bridges include the law enforcement community.

Baldwin has been locked in a feud with the City of Reading and its police department over money confiscated in a big drug bust. The city was expecting to reap the bulk of the benefits from the $1 million in seized money, but Baldwin decided to set up the District Attorney's Anti-Drug Fund and allow any police department in the county to apply for the money. Baldwin has been widely criticized by the Reading Eagle for his actions and is facing a possible lawsuit by the city, which wants to keep the $1 million.

In addition to D.A. and county judge races, the FOP also endorsed county commissioner candidates because the commissioners control the purse-strings. (There's even talk of forming a countywide police force in Berks, so you better believe the FOP wants a say in who makes that final determination.)

The FOP is recommending the election of Republican incumbent Mark C. Scott and GOP candidate Christian Leinbach for Berks County commissioner.

The odd man out is incumbent Democratic Commissioner Tom Gajewski, who was passed over for endorsement by the FOP in favor of Democratic newcomer Kevin S. Barnhardt.

Voters will elect three commissioners in November, with the top two vote-getters from one party forming majority control and the top vote-getter from the other party getting the third seat.

And in an unusual move, the FOP endorsed the Democratic candidate for Berks County Recorder of Deeds. Since the recorder of deeds spends all day shuffling paper around, one might wonder what the position has to do with law enforcement. The answer is absolutely nothing.

This appears to be a snub of the Republican candidate, John Fielding, who has worked in the public defenders' office in Berks for a number of years. I guess defending bad guys didn't sit well with the FOP, which is backing Democrat Fred Sheeler for recorder of deeds.

Lodge No. 71 of the Fraternal Order of Police represents police officers from all municipalities in Berks County except the City of Reading and the Pennsylvania State Police. Lodge No. 71 also includes members of the Berks County Sheriff's Office and the United States Department of Homeland Security stationed in Berks.

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