Break-in at S. Phila. campaign office of state House candidate

Posted: March 25, 2008

Police are investigating a weekend break-in at a South Philadelphia art gallery where state House candidate Christian DiCicco recently established his campaign office.

A DiCicco aide, Jim Engler, opened the office yesterday morning to find eight paintings and a leather couch slashed, the telephone wires cut and several campaign documents missing, including recent poll results.

DiCicco is running against state Rep. Bill Keller in the Democratic primary.

The security system for the building, on Passyunk Avenue near Tasker, had been deactivated for the weekend after it went off Friday night. A motion detector signaled that there had been activity at the gallery's front door, but there was no sign of a break-in, and DiCicco's staff thought that the alarm system might be broken.

Jim Gallo, owner of the Arts of the Avenue gallery, said he'd received several recent telephone calls from Keller supporters "concerning the fact that I was letting Christian use this space."

"They said I should choose carefully between the candidates in this race," Gallo said. "The exact words were, 'You don't want to wind up on the wrong side.' "

He said he took the calls to be mildly threatening, but viewed them more seriously after the break-in and another incident last week when a motorist smashed in the side of his parked car and took off.

"At first you wonder, but then . . . I have my suspicions," Gallo said.

A call to Keller was returned by spokesman Marty O'Rourke, who said Keller had no knowledge of the break-in or any threatening phone calls made on his behalf.

O'Rourke dismissed the value of polling data stolen from DiCicco, saying Keller had done his own polls.

DiCicco and other allies of state Sen. Vince Fumo have been feuding for years with Keller and other allies of John Dougherty, the electricians union leader now running for Fumo's Senate seat.

Dougherty's spokesman, Frank Keel, said yesterday that no one associated with the Dougherty campaign had anything to do with the DiCicco break-in and would not condone any intimidation tactics.

"There's absolutely no place for any of that stuff in any political campaign," Keel told the Daily News in a telephone interview. "We all spent the weekend with our families."

In fact, Keel composed a brief e-mail Sunday night bashing one of Dougherty's opponents, attorney Larry Farnese, and sent the missive to two Farnese advisers, Brian Abernathy and Ken Snyder.

"An emptier suit never existed," Keel said, apparently referring to Farnese. "Proceed with caution. I respect you both, but this is war. And there are no prisoners."

"I just took it as typical intimidation and bullying tactics from the Dougherty campaign," Snyder told the Daily News. "It's a little disconcerting after learning about the vandalism and the break-in."

"It's locker-room bravado, that's all it is," Keel said. "If anyone tries to make anything more of it, they're mistaken." *

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