Toxic: Sheriff's Candidate Shies Away From Everytown Support

(AP Photo/ Cheryl Senter)

Not long ago, my colleague Tom Knighton noted that the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety was spending several hundred thousand dollars in support of a sheriff’s candidate in Erie County, Pennsylvania. That’s a staggering amount of money in a local election, and it’s not going unnoticed. In fact, as the campaign enters its last week, the donation has become one of the primary topics of conversation. After all, a New York billionaire like Michael Bloomberg and his pet gun control group taking an interest in a local race in northwestern Pennsylvania is unusual. And judging from the response that the local paper got from Democrat Chris Campanelli about Everytown’s intervention in the race, voters can’t be too happy about Bloomberg’s independent expenditures in support of his campaign.

Democratic nominee Campanelli, 62, told the Erie Times-News that he had “no involvement” with the Bloomberg group.

“I solicited nothing from them,” he said. “I never actually heard of them. And to be honest with you, how can I control how somebody spends their money? It’s not up to me.”

You’ve never heard of Everytown for Gun Safety? Methinks the sheriff’s candidate protests a little too much. It’s worth noting, though, that while Campanelli says he has no idea who Everytown is, he didn’t denounce the group’s massive spending on negative ads targeting his opponent, Republican Brian Shank.

The group has aired ads that highlight allegations of misconduct that Shank faced as a corrections officer for the State Corrections Institute of Cambridge Springs, a minimum-security prison for females, before his retirement in 2014.

In an earlier interview with the Erie Times-News, Shank said, “We all have things in our past where we’ve not made great judgment calls in our life. And, you know, we move on, we learn from them.”

Hey, you know who else has been accused of inappropriate conduct while on the job? That’s right. The man paying for those ads attacking Shank.

Several lawsuits have been filed over the years alleging that women were discriminated against at Bloomberg’s business-information company, including a case brought by a federal agency and one filed by a former employee, who blamed Bloomberg for creating a culture of sexual harassment and degradation.

The most high-profile case was from a former saleswoman. She sued Bloomberg personally as well as his company, alleging workplace discrimination. She alleged Bloomberg told her to “kill it” when he learned she was pregnant. Bloomberg has denied her allegation under oath, and he reached a confidential settlement with the saleswoman.

The Washington Post interviewed a former Bloomberg employee, David Zielenziger, who said he witnessed the conversation with the saleswoman. Zielenziger, who said he had not previously spoken publicly about the matter, said Bloomberg’s behavior toward the woman was “outrageous. I understood why she took offense.”

Ads attacking the character of candidates are nothing new, and Shank himself seems to have acknowledged at least some inappropriate behavior while he was serving as a corrections officer, so I wouldn’t necessarily call that ad out of line (though the old adage about glass houses and throwing stones comes to mind). However, that’s not the only ad running. I’m not sure if this one is more out of line or counterproductive for Bloomberg.

The ads also take aim at Shank for being among a small group of people who received a citation from the city of Erie for carrying a gun at a rally in Perry Square in June 2013 in violation of a city ordinance that prohibited firearms and other weapons in public parks.

A state appellate court struck down the city’s ban, which had been in place since at least 1976, forcing it to drop the charges against Shank and seven others, all of whom held a concealed-carry license at the time.

So Brian Shank and several others challenged an illegal local gun control ordinance that was later thrown out by the Pennsylvania courts as a clear violation of the state’s firearm preemption laws, and that’s supposed to be a bad thing? Oh, I understand why Michael Bloomberg believes that it was awful for Shanks to do something like that, but I doubt many voters are going to see it the same way. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a lot better about voting for a sheriff who was willing to challenge the constitutionality of bad laws instead of just blindly enforcing them.

Campanelli, for his part, has mouthed the same type of platitudes we’ve heard from pro-gun control Democrats for decades; he’s a gun owner, and a hunter, and he’s not “here to take people’s guns,” though he’s willing to accept the help of people who want to do exactly that. He might not have asked for them, but he certainly hasn’t criticized the ads paid for by Michael Bloomberg and Everytown for Gun Safety, any more than he’s criticized the anti-gun and anti-Second Amendment views they hold.