Abu-Jamal smear raises profile of Bucks candidate

Flanked by former Gov. Ed Rendell (left) and District Attorney Seth Williams, Congressional candidate Kathy Boockvar speaks out Monday against attack ads linking her to Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Flanked by former Gov. Ed Rendell (left) and District Attorney Seth Williams, Congressional candidate Kathy Boockvar speaks out Monday against attack ads linking her to Mumia Abu-Jamal. (ALEJANDRO ALVAREZ/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 10, 2012

REPORTERS and camera crews from almost every major media outlet in Philadelphia jammed a Center City office Monday for a news conference headlined by former Gov. Ed Rendell, one of the state's best-known politicians.

All for a little-known suburban lawyer named Kathy Boockvar.

Boockvar wants to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick in November, and in a matter of weeks, her campaign has vaulted from fighting obscurity to getting shout-outs from America's Mayor - thanks to her Republican opponents.

The recent surge in interest in Pennsylvania's 8th District - a seat coveted by both parties' brass in Washington but mostly unknown to voters south of Bucks County - was sparked by a GOP group's effort to tie Boockvar to convicted Philadelphia cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

With media coverage that the campaign couldn't possibly drum up on its own, and a new narrative to attack Fitzpatrick for refusing to denounce the Abu-Jamal smear, local Democrats are hoping that the tactic will backfire on Republicans in the area's most competitive congressional race.

"This is politics that has all sorts of different overtones. It's sleazy. It's disgraceful," said Rendell, who as then-District Attorney presided over the prosecution of Abu-Jamal for the 1981 murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner. "It made me disgusted with my profession."

Boockvar, a teenager when the murder took place, has never met Abu-Jamal or done any legal work for him or his supporters. She said on Monday she believes that he is guilty.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) launched a blog and made robocalls to alert voters that "Radical Kathy" has "troubling connections" to Abu-Jamal. The connection: her husband, Jordan Yeager, did legal work for a witness in the case, years later, when she recanted her testimony. He also represented someone arrested for a minor offense at a protest supporting Abu-Jamal.

Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesman James Hallinan said that the episode may turn out to benefit Boockvar because of the attention it has received - Monday was the second time that Rendell has spoken up for Boockvar.

"I think it shows a lot that both of those very busy individuals came and stood with Kathy and had a lot to say about this," Hallinan said of Rendell and District Attorney Seth Williams, who also attended the news conference.

Neil Samuels, chairman of the Bucks County Democratic Party, said that he has spoken with many Bucks residents who are irate over the attack.

"The sort of filth of such an allegation has energized a lot of folks to contribute to Kathy Boockvar financially, to become more active in terms of volunteering and, I think, has alienated some of his [Fitzpatrick's] own supporters who realize that this sort of stuff is beyond the pale," Samuels said.

The Fitzpatrick campaign did not return a request for comment, but in an interview last week, the congressman said he wanted the race to be focused on "jobs and the economy" rather than "distractions." But he repeatedly declined to denounce the NRCC's Abu-Jamal claims.

The campaign itself has opted for a more low-key approach, keeping the press out of many of Fitzpatrick's events and limiting the number of times that he and Boockvar appear together in public to their three debates this month. (The first, at 12:10 p.m. on Oct. 18, will be broadcast on radio by WNPV 1440-AM).

Bucks County GOP Chairwoman Pat Poprik said support for Fitzpatrick has not slowed since the Abu-Jamal episode surfaced."To me, denouncing something that you have nothing to do with is unnecessary," Poprik said. "Both of them should just ignore that extraneous noise and focus on the issues."

The NRCC on Monday sought to preempt the Rendell event by sending reporters a link to a Factcheck.org report that says the attack "gets the facts right."

The report, in fact, condemned the group's "strained attempt" to link Boockvar to Abu-Jamal, saying "the NRCC doesn't directly tie Boockvar to him at all."

Contact Sean Collins Walsh at walshse@phillynews.com or 215-854-5745.

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