Where the heart is

FILE PHOTO State Rep. Pamela DeLissio owes a hug to Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Rochelle Friedman.
FILE PHOTO State Rep. Pamela DeLissio owes a hug to Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Rochelle Friedman.
Posted: April 04, 2014

I BELIEVE PAMELA DeLissio lives in Roxborough.

She believes it. The court believes it. Deed and mortgage records show she owns a property on Cinnaminson Street.

So why did she for years list an address in Harrisburg as her primary residence?

Roxborough is in the 194th Legislative District - it runs from Lancaster Avenue in Philly up the Schuylkill into Montgomery County - and she is the state representative. The state constitution requires a candidate to live in a district for one year before an election.

Starting in 2009, DeLissio listed 304 Saddle Ridge Court in Harrisburg as her "primary residence."

Until last Thursday.

After a challenge to her nominating petition - she is running for her third term in the May 20 Democratic primary - was filed, she changed her "primary residence" from the Harrisburg townhouse she bought in 2006 to her Philadelphia property, which she bought in 1997.

No U-Haul was involved.

Spoiler alert! Early this week, Commonwealth Court ruled that DeLissio lives in Philadelphia despite her car being licensed, registered and insured in Harrisburg, and despite having taken a homestead tax break in Harrisburg and not in Philadelphia.

The way the law reads, according to Senior Judge Rochelle Friedman, the difference between a "domicile" and "residence" and "principle home" is determined by "physical presence" and - here's the kicker - "intent." Anytime you hear "intent" you can feel the fog descend. How do you prove "intent?"

The law is written by politicians so they can hide behind it. Pennsylvania had permitted legislators to accept gifts, in any amount, from anybody until Wednesday, when the House (shamed by recent events) banned cash gifts (except from spouses, relatives and - uh-oh - "friends") to end that nefarious practice.

House members Ronald G. Waters, Vanessa Lowery Brown, Michelle Brownlee and Louise Bishop had been in the papers for accepting cash gifts. State Sen. LeAnna "I am the f---ing senator" Washington faces charges for using her office for personal gain.

You've got a friend in Pennsylvania and your friend has cash.

Back to DeLissio. She told me she bought the Harrisburg property in 2006 and started listing it as her "primary residence" in 2009, a couple of years before she was elected to the state House. From the time she was sworn in January 2011, she has paid Philadelphia wage tax on her $78,000 state salary, she says.

She bought the Harrisburg townhouse, she told me, because "I was partner in a company located in midstate" and was regularly commuting to central Pennsylvania.

Why did she claim it as a primary residence?

Insuring a car costs much less in Harrisburg than in Philadelphia - 25 to 50 percent less, depending on your coverage.

She got legal advice that "I was spending sufficient time there to justify" it, she says, but switched it back to Philadelphia because of "constituent perception."

The perception would be that she took advantage of the Harrisburg habitat to save on insurance for her not-quite-cherry 1999 Nissan Xterra with 216,720 miles.

That perception is correct.

Not a felony, not crawling into the lobbyists' grab bag. Simple chiseling.

Whatever DeLissio saved in bucks, she's lost in face.

Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

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