By William Bender, Of the Times Staff
Illegal immigration and the Federal Aviation Administration’s airspace redesign plan at Philadelphia International Airport emerged last week as two major issues in the 7th District race. While U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon and Joseph Sestak agree the borders needs to be sealed and the FAA needs to be stopped, they differ on how to make it happen.
The Republican-controlled House recently passed a flurry of legislation over the past two weeks to construct a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), deport illegal immigrant gang members and strengthen penalties against those who build or finance border tunnels.
“We in the House have done the responsible thing. We have voted twice now to shut the border down,” said Weldon, who said his constituents are concerned that illegal immigration is a threat to American jobs and homeland security. (AMEN, CURT!!!!!)
Echoing the sentiments of Democrats on the Hill, Sestak said the House legislation is an election-year effort to compensate for Congress’ failure to address the issue sooner.
Sestak joined the club Thursday, but he blamed the problem on Weldon’s “dismal leadership.”
“We have had a Congress that has failed to provide oversight over the executive branch,” he said, adding the FAA proposal will pose safety problems, adversely impact the environment, lower property values and increase overhead noise.
“Where has Curt Weldon been?” Sestak asked a group of supporters at Jeanne Frantz’ Ridley Park home. He said Weldon should have stood up to the FAA sooner and forced the administration to hold more public hearings in the county. The Democrat recently added an FAA information section to his campaign Web site.
The Weldon camp can’t believe Sestak is pushing this issue, since the congressman has been an outspoken opponent of the airspace redesign plan.
“Meetings with the FAA are not going to stop this,” said Weldon spokesman Michael Puppio. “The seniority of a 10-term congressman who knows the inner workings of the FAA and is the second-ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee is what’s going to stop this plan.”
Of course, no one could stop the FAA from moving forward with the extension of runway 17-35. Last year, that project was opposed locally and by Weldon, then-U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, and state Sens. Connie Williams and Ted Erickson, among others. Construction starts next month.
A Democratic CREW?
We ran a story Thursday on a report from the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) naming Weldon as one of the “most corrupt” members of Congress. The group included Weldon in its annual report based on news reports showing his friends and family may have benefited from his congressional work.
After checking the campaign finance reports, I noticed that Daniel Berger, a member of CREW’s board, is a major contributor to Sestak’s campaign.
His Philadelphia law firm, Berger and Montague, has given $12,850 to the retired Navy admiral so far. Berger himself maxed out with $4,200 in Sestak contributions. And he has poured gobs of cash into other Democratic causes including the campaigns of congressional candidates Lois Murphy and Patrick Murphy, U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Robert Menendez, and Senate candidate Bob Casey Jr.
The list goes on. For quite a while, actually.
Berger did not return a phone call or an e-mail Thursday, but CREW spokeswoman Naomi Seligman Steiner said her organization has “no idea who our board members support or don’t support.” She said the report was compiled by staffers, and neither Berger nor any other board member has a say about which politicians are targeted.
Weldon isn’t buying it. “Partisan hypocrisy is obviously CREW’s stock-in-trade,” his spokesman said, alluding to CREW’s Democratic ties.
While four Democrats, including U.S. Rep. John Murtha, are named among the 21 Republicans in the CREW report, none are in particularly competitive districts.
Paging Ned Flanders
Bob Edgar, former Democratic congressman in the 7th District, says it’s no mere coincidence that he ran into Weldon and Springfield GOP boss Charlie Sexton at Tinicum’s Philly Diner last weekend.
“I call it a Godcidence,” Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, said at a Sestak fund-raiser. “A Godcidence is just an inch more than a coincidence.”
Don’t worry, I’ve never heard of it either.
But Edgar said it’s not a coincidence — certainly not a Godcidence — that gas prices just happen to be coming down weeks before the mid-term elections. “I think there’s a little bit of manipulation there,” he said.
Sexton also used religious terms to describe his reaction to seeing Edgar and his wife once he realized who they were. “I said ‘Oh, my Christ, that’s Bob Edgar,” he recalled.
And, really, what else can you say when a political nemesis you haven’t seen in 20 years is staring at you from across the diner, eating scrapple?
Elsewhere on the trail
First Lady Laura Bush will attend a fund-raiser for Weldon Oct. 4 at the Springfield Country Club. Tickets are $500 each ..The books close Saturday for the quarterly Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports ..Weldon will be in Concord Monday morning with U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn, talking about women’s issues ..Sestak will continue his early morning train station stops this week and plans forums on immigration reform, college affordability, national defense and other issues.