Ex-prosecutor Joins Crowded Campaign

Posted: January 22, 1994

P.J. Stapleton, a Democrat and Philadelphia lawyer, yesterday joined the burgeoning field of candidates for lieutenant governor.

Stapleton, 37, is the son of a longtime state senator from Indiana County and a newcomer to running for public office. A former assistant district attorney under Ed Rendell, he said he was basing his candidacy on his ability to fight crime.

"Historically," he told a group of supporters in the lobby of the Widener Building in Center City, "Pennsylvania's governors have called upon their lieutenant governors in times of crisis. Crime throughout this state has reached crisis proportions, and I want to be the lieutenant governor to tackle the problem. . . .

"I am the best person to deal with crime because I am the only candidate with any law enforcement experience. Of all the Democratic candidates, I am the only one who has actually put criminals in jail."

He laid out a program including: setting up a statewide town-watch program; sending first-time youthful offenders to boot camps; confining nonviolent criminals to their homes; more closely supervising those on probation, and sending criminals convicted of three violent felonies to jail for life without parole.

He said these measures would pay for themselves.

Declaring that "people with jobs don't commit crime," he also said that in the coming months he would discuss "ways to improve education and economic development."

Stapleton began his campaign last summer with economic development as his main issue. In a lengthy interview in the Indiana, Pa., Gazette in August, he didn't even bring up crime. "We thought jobs were the major issue," John Macoretta, a spokesman, said yesterday, "until we started talking to people. It changed after we realized that's what people were more concerned about."

Despite his focus on crime, Stapleton's speech yesterday made no mention of guns.

Macoretta said that Stapleton supported the limited ban on assault weapons that passed the state House last year, and he supported letting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh ban assault weapons completely if that's what they wanted to do.

"We're for letting municipalities do their own thing," Macoretta said. ''The problem in Philly is different than in Venango County. If those guys want to have assault weapons to shoot behind their barn, God bless 'em."

Stapleton is one of at least seven Democrats and eight Republicans eyeing the state's number-two job.

He said that his not having run for office before "doesn't have anything to do with qualifications to govern, to lead. I'll put my experience level up against anyone's."

Although he has worked in Philadelphia for the last several years, Stapleton is presenting himself as the only candidate from Western Pennsylvania, based on his Indiana County roots.

"My name is known in Indiana County and six or seven surrounding counties

because my father has been in office for two decades. There are no Democratic candidates from Western Pennsylvania but for me. That's going to be a positive."

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