Green Beret claim threatens David Oh campaign

David Oh , at-large Council candidate.
David Oh , at-large Council candidate.
Posted: August 25, 2011

City Council candidate David Oh is struggling with allegations that he embellished his military record, threatening his campaign in a race in which he was considered a front-runner just a week ago.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported Friday that Oh's former commanding officer disputed Oh's claim that he had been an officer in an Army Special Forces unit and was a former Green Beret.

Oh immediately contested the story, promising "an official response" within days. But the controversy has festered for nearly a week without an official statement.

Oh, who admits having misleading references on his campaign website, called The Inquirer on Tuesday to read a statement in which he apologizes to the public and the Green Berets "for any confusion or misimpression I created." He offered to return campaign contributions to anyone wanting money back.

But before finishing the statement, he said it still needed changes and promised to call back with a final version. On Wednesday, he failed to return repeated calls.

The fallout has escalated, ranging from dozens of Special Forces and other veterans expressing outrage on Internet message boards to a decision Tuesday night by Philadelphia's Fraternal Order of Police lodge to rescind Oh's endorsement.

"The vote was to withdraw the endorsement because of his exaggerated military credentials," FOP President John McNesby said. "We have a lot of military personnel in our ranks, so this is something that our members take pretty seriously. . . . We can disagree on a lot of things, but he clearly fudged his record. To do something like this and expect the endorsement of the police, it's just not going to happen."

McNesby said he spoke with the head of the city firefighters union and expected it to rescind Oh's endorsement as well. Firefighters' union president Bill Gault did not return a call.

Oh, 51, a lawyer making his third run for Council, was the leading vote-getter in the May primary among nine Republican candidates for an at-large seat. Five GOP candidates will appear on the November ballot, and the two leading vote-getters will win seats. The top two finishers in the Republican primary have not lost in the general election in recent memory.

Oh's website accurately says he resigned as an assistant Philadelphia district attorney in 1988 to enlist in the Army. He was commissioned a second lieutenant after finishing Officer Candidate School and was later assigned to the 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne), a reserve unit in the Maryland National Guard.

In 1991, the unit was activated for Operation Desert Storm and sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., for training. Oh became a candidate for Special Forces training and went through a preliminary three-week assessment course, but was not picked to continue for full Special Forces training, which requires months of training at Fort Bragg.

Oh's commanding officer, Col. James E. Croall, said last week that Oh should not have referred to himself as a Special Forces officer or a Green Beret because he had not successfully completed the full training regimen.

The only prominent Green Beret reference on Oh's current website is an endorsement video from a Northeast community leader, Glenn Devitt, with a quotation used as a headline: "David Oh has served this nation as a Green Beret."

But on a campaign website used in his 2003 and 2007 campaigns, Oh stated: "I am proud to have served my country as an officer in U.S. Army Special Forces (the Green Berets)."

So far, only one of Oh's Republican Council opponents has publicly criticized him for the exaggeration.

"I think he knew what he was doing and I don't think he was truthful," Michael Untermeyer said. "I think it's a major issue. . . . The state of our political affairs today, people are interested in electing public officials with the utmost integrity and honesty."

The other candidates were more restrained. "It's an issue David has to address," said Joe McColgan, a former Navy lieutenant. "I'd rather talk about issues affecting 1.5 million people – jobs, education, and taxes."

"I think it's an unfortunate situation," said Al Taubenberger. "Beyond that, I don't have any comments."

Political analysts say Oh compounded the problem with his uncertain handling of it over the last week.

"There's nothing more you can do than apologize and hope it doesn't undo your candidacy," media consultant Larry Ceisler said. "You can't split hairs over this. It's a black-and-white issue when you come to military service, especially when the country's involved in two wars."

"It's damaging," political consultant Dan Fee said. "He pitches himself as a reformer and a truth teller at a time when the city needs new leadership. . . . And then this makes it sound like he's trying to get one over on people."

Ceisler noted that in past races, Oh had significant support outside the Republican Party among progressives and liberals in Center City and Northwest Philadelphia. "It will be interesting to see whether they'll stay with him," he said.


Contact staff writer Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|