John Baer: It's a political party, a good time to catch up with big shots

Posted: December 13, 2010

NEW YORK - So many pols, so many questions.

Who paid for Castille? Who's Corbett's budget secretary? Who's up for challenging Nutter? What's next for Eddie and Arlen?

The annual Pennsylvania Society weekend provided an opportunity to seek some clues to these and other mysteries.

So, around and through the parties and receptions that draw the commonwealth's body politic here each December, and have for the past 112 years, I stalk the likely suspects.

I see state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille and ask who's footing the bill for his Manhattan stay. The chief, you may know, recently attracted attention for taking gifts of weekends and golf outings from law firms whose lawyers practice in his court.

"I can't tell you," he tells me. "It's a matter of security. You'll see when I file [a required ethics statement] in May."

I press the question of whether allowing judges to accept gifts is a policy under review. It is, he says, and notes that current standards permit "normal societal hospitalities."

Sounds to me like legalese for "take any damn thing you want."

Any timeline on this review, I ask?

"No," he says, which makes me think, hey, what's the deal, Castille?

I ask Gov.-elect Tom Corbett about a tip that Gov. Tom Ridge's former education secretary Charlie Zogby is a front-runner for budget secretary, a job that promises to make the task of Sisyphus seem easy.

Corbett, lately loath to make any news, smiles and shrugs and later adds: "I'm a man of few words. . . . I'm not Ed."

Well, who is?

Bill Green isn't. When I ask the councilman if he's go/no-go on a primary versus Mayor Nutter, he launches into some story about seeing a traffic signal somewhere bearing both an indicator to proceed and also one to stop.

So that's where you are, I venture? He nods.

Biz-guy Tom "Fort" Knox is only slightly less evasive. "Yeah," he says, he's thinking of running and expects to announce one way or the other next month.

And state Sen. Tony Williams says that he initially opted out of taking on Nutter next spring, but that now "I'm listening" to some folks trying to get him in.

The mayor? Doesn't seem worried; was at the theater Friday night with family and friends for "West Side Story."

I catch up with outgoing Sen. Specter and ask what's next. Well, he says, he's en route to a reception at . . . No, no, I say, I don't mean this weekend!

He smiles and offers: "I'm taking [former Democratic Senator and current U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace] George Mitchell's advice. I'm not doing anything precipitous."

Hmm. Maybe there's an opening for deputy envoy.

Gov. Ed's here, and a source close to his afterlife says he's looking to join the board of a national infrastructure venture and working toward a TV contract with MSNBC for a once-weekly gig on either "Morning Joe" or "Hardball," shows he frequents.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, fresh from a seventh trip to New Hampshire since spring, tells me that he continues stalking a presidential bid, but that "I'm just walking down the road right now."

Actually, it seems something more than a walk. He's quoted in Friday's Washington Post saying he hasn't seen another Republican contender who might move him to say, "Let this cup pass."

But back to earthly pursuits.

I catch GOP state Senate President Joe Scarnati and GOP House Speaker-designate Sam Smith, huddled. Both are from far-off Jefferson County, where "the wild life" refers to animals, not social schedules.

Such power in one place, I quip, asking if it's true that Penn State's main campus is moving to Punxsutawney.

"What do you mean?" asks Smith. "We're moving the Capitol there."

And finally, former House Speaker John Perzel's former top aide, Brian Preski, who, along with his boss, awaits trial on a boatload of corruption charges, breezes by and asks, "You're going to write my book, right?"

To which I respond, "As soon as you're acquitted."

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/baer.

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