John Baer: Saidel eyes lieutenant governor job

Jonathan Saidel: Ex-controller
Jonathan Saidel: Ex-controller
Posted: January 13, 2010

THE OFFICE OF lieutenant governor, like the office of vice president, gets attention only during speculation about who might hold it or when its occupant commits a gaffe or when the boss resigns, dies or gets indicted.

It's a near-invisible, non-action job and in Pennsylvania not much of a stepping stone. Not since 1966 has a lieutenant governor been able to parlay the post into higher elective office - though most tried.

So I find it curious that former mayoral contender, long-time city controller and gregarious Philly pol Jonathan Saidel is running for it.

What? He wants to pump his name ID and cred for another whack at mayor? Roll the dice for some future run for governor? Spread his citified sense of humor around at Democratic breakfasts in Blair or Butler County?

If he wins, he'd take a pay cut. He's a lawyer with Center City firm Cohen, Placitella & Roth, certainly pulling down more than the $142,924 the LG job pays. And, yeah, it comes with a nice country house and a pool. I'm just not sure Saidel wants the nearest city to his abode to be Lebanon County's Annville.

Plus 2010 already is expected to be a Republican year and that's not even considering Pennsylvania's 60-year cycle of electing a Republican governor/lieutenant governor for eight years, then a Democratic team for eight years, and this year's the GOP's turn.

So what, exactly, is Saidel thinking?

"I miss government," he tells me, "and I think the job is what you make it."

He adds, "I think I can help the ticket. I have high favorable ratings in the Delaware Valley . . . nobody [running for lieutenant governor] beats me."

And that's another thing.

There really isn't competition for the Democratic lieutenant-governor nomination. The only other sort of announced candidate is former Commonwealth Court Judge Doris Smith-Ribner, also of Philly, who until recently was running for the U.S. Senate nomination and whose Web site for her LG candidacy was, as of yesterday, "under construction."

Why such a paucity of candidates in a year with an open seat? Well, two reasons.

First, few name Dems really expect a Democrat to win the general election. By contrast, there are at least a dozen Republicans running for (or considering) No. 2 on the GOP ticket. These include Philly pastor/political commentator Joe Watkins, City Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr., Bucks County Commissioner Jim Cawley and Chester County Commissioner Carol Aichele.

Second, a likely scenario in a multi-candidate field of Democratic unknowns for governor is ticket-building between two of the contenders. I've written, for example, a possible 2010 Democratic ticket of frontrunner Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato and Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty. That would require Doherty to drop out of the guv's race and file for LG.

The Democratic State Committee meets the first weekend of February in Lancaster. Party chairman T.J. Rooney says if all five candidates for governor are still in the race by then, the party probably won't endorse.

"In that case, it's likely to be an open [May 18] primary," Rooney says.

And while Saidel is traveling the state, raising money and picking up labor endorsements, there is still time - absent a deal among current gubernatorial candidates - for other LG candidates to enter the race. The deadline for filing nominating petitions is March 9.

None of this is to suggest Saidel's on a misguided mission. The city Democrat fixture who served as controller from 1990 to 2005 and briefly ran for mayor during the '07 cycle is a polished pro and promoter who loves campaigning and can raise dough.

If there's no ticket deal and no other name Dem steps up, as one party operative put it, "You can't beat somebody with nobody." *

Send e-mail to

For recent columns, go to

comments powered by Disqus