Corbett taps Schmidt for PPA board

Posted: September 26, 2012

Gov. Corbett's decision to tap City Commissioner Al Schmidt for the board of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, Republicans' main source of patronage jobs, is a move with potential significance for the city's Republican Party.

Schmidt, 41, a leader of an insurgent faction of the Republican City Committee, said he had expressed interest in joining a state oversight board after Corbett was elected governor in 2010.

Schmidt said Corbett aides asked him several months ago if he was interested in the six-member Parking Authority board, controlled by the GOP since then-state Rep. John M. Perzel engineered a 2001 state takeover of the agency.

"Al Schmidt has earned bipartisan support and respect for his integrity, expertise, accounting and financial experience," Corbett spokeswoman Kirsten Page wrote in an e-mail this week. "The governor knows Al personally and believes he is a good fit for the Authority."

"He [Corbett] believes I'll make the agency more efficient and effective," said Schmidt, a former auditor with the U.S. Government Accountability Office. "That's been my whole background, maximizing the efficiency of public agencies."

Schmidt said he hopes to improve customer service.

The PPA figured in Schmidt's first run for office, as the Republican candidate for city controller in 2009.

Schmidt alleged he had been warned by Republican leaders, including the PPA's executive director and party stalwart, Vincent J. Fenerty Jr., to tone down his criticism of Democratic City Controller Alan Butkovitz, because Butkovitz was running an audit of the authority's operations.

Fenerty said he could not remember the conversation.

The PPA's now employs 1,055 full and part-time workers, more than double the payroll when the agency was controlled by Democrats, but with increased responsibilities for airport parking operations, red-light cameras and taxicab regulations. The workers are exempt from political activity restrictions in the City Charter, and dozens hold party positions as committee people or ward leaders.

In 2010, Schmidt led an effort funded by the Republican State Committee to recruit people for mostly-vacant spots as committeemen and ward leaders. Their efforts were opposed by party chairman Vito Canuso and general counsel Michael P. Meehan, the GOP's de facto leader.

Schmidt has tempered his criticism of the party brass since taking office this year as city commissioner, after beating incumbent Joe Duda, a Meehan ally, last year.

Schmidt was also lauded by state Republican leadership earlier this year when he issued a report on Philadelphia voting irregularities that was seized on by supporters of the state's new voter ID law.

Schmidt is the first elected official to sit on the PPA board, Meehan noted. "Most elected officials shy away from it," he said.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city by more than 6-to-1.


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

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