The Manchurian Candidate

Gentle Reader: 

I tried.

I tried to keep an open mind about Upper Providence Supervisor candidate Tom Yeager.  I tried really hard. 

I watched all three plus hours of the YouTube podcasts he did with Matt Cubbler that are posted on his campaign page.  And the pitch I heard coming out of his mouth was the same uniformed, anti-incumbent, exploitive, township-bashing rhetoric I predicted a couple of weeks ago.  I’ll elaborate on this below.

I learned that his fundraiser was an actual Casino Night, which is not only illegal, but the most non-transparent way of funneling money into a political campaign without having to reveal one’s donors.  More on this below, as well.

Despite all of this, and my first-hand experience with his former running mate Jim White and his little clique of Upper Providence First Worst Mike Vereb disciples, I still wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and allow him a chance to prove he’s his own man before forming an opinion. 

So I met with him at his invitation.

And Tom Yeager does indeed seem like a nice guy.

Apparently, at the very time we were meeting, while Yeager was trying to assuage my concerns about White’s limited involvement in his campaign, White was busy re-posting yet another slanderous anti-Vagnozzi screed on the Patch.

Jim White, I was told, cannot be controlled by Yeager.  Even when White was told directly by the candidate, and the political consultant, and the Republican party, that his angry, angry online rants are only hurting Yeager’s election chances. 

At the end of the day, Yeager never answered the question I posed to him directly numerous times, and that is:  When we are in a climate that is conducive to winning back a seat on the Board for conservatives, why is the campaign messaging put out by you, and your surrogates, focused on bashing Al Vagnozzi?  Why are you running almost exclusively against the other Republican?  Is there not enough material in the records of the Democrats to make a case for more Republican voices on the Board?

That was the only question I wanted answered, and it never was. 

This leads me to only two possible conclusions, and neither of them are good for Upper Providence:

Either Tom Yeager is a total Manchurian Candidate who does not understand the agenda of the people with whom he is in bed,

Or

Tom Yeager completely understands the agenda of the people with whom he is he is in bed and is totally fine with executing on their agenda.

Those of you that follow me on social media or on “Remember Parkhouse” know that for me this year, this election is primarily about sending a message to the Board of Supervisors:  Don’t even think about a zoning change for Parkhouse.  

But I also follow our Board, probably more closely than most, and I also want to see good government with no abuses of power, the likes of which I personally experienced and elaborated upon in the past.  

I love this community and I want to stay here without fear of persecution from the government.

I know from previous experience that the only thing politicians understand is votes and I intend to use mine to send that message.

Not only am I NOT voting for Calci and Bansal, but I am throwing one of my two votes for Township Supervisor away.

I’m bullet voting for Al Vagnozzi. 

I cannot cast a vote in favor of Tom Yeager. There are just too many troubling questions.

Let the chips fall where they may for the other Supervisor seat.  All of the choices are equally bad, and I’m tired of voting for the lesser evil. Candidates have to actually EARN my vote, otherwise they don’t get it.

As sure as I am that Rifkin will be back after the election is over, I’m equally sure that the people pulling Yeager’s strings are no friends to preserving the zoning on Parkhouse or executing on good government.

This is a power play and Tom Yeager is their means to getting their hands on that power.  Whether he is a willing accomplice or a rube doesn’t matter.

Let’s break it down.

The Messaging

A lot of the print and online messaging coming out of the Yeager camp is generic stuff you see from any candidate: anti-development, fiscal responsibility, and transparency.

But all of it has a distinctly anti-incumbent and anti-Vagnozzi tone to it, doesn’t it? This is a holdover from the unnecessary primary Yeager and White ran against Vagnozzi and Newlin.  And despite the story that it was Yeager who approached White about running for Supervisor, and not vice-versa, I’m not buying it.  White has been relentlessly pursuing power in Upper Providence for the last six years, and doing it in a particularly nasty way.  The anti-Vagnozzi messaging has his direct and indirect fingerprints all over it.

And I’d be willing to accept the “I can’t control Jim White” excuse, except I see a subtler version of the anti-Vagnozzi messaging coming from Yeager’s wife on Facebook.

Again, is there NOTHING in Calci’s record to criticize?  Nothing at all?

DEVELOPMENT

One of the easiest campaign messages a non-incumbent candidate can run on is “stopping development.” 

Much of this messaging from the Yeager camp is simply based on assuming the voters are completely ignorant of the land development process.  It’s a good gamble, but it’s also dishonest, and it’s a shame, because, instead of using these pricey campaigns as an opportunity to educate voters on the process and how they can effectively influence it, the anti-development message is used to inflame emotions, which almost always leads to bad election results and poor leadership.  

Whether Yeager understands the land development process or not is immaterial, since almost all of the people involved in his campaign, except White, have an understanding of it, and they are just fine with the misleading messaging.  Which means, if he gets elected, on day one, he will already be breaking his campaign promises.

Nobody can “stop development.”  The Board can only control development through our zoning, but they cannot stop it. Telling voters that they can is not only a lie, but it’s something that is going to come back and bite that candidate should he actually win and then have to run for re-election.  Then they’ll wish they’d spent more time educating instead of spouting hyperbole.

“Smart development” messaging is just as bad. What does that even mean? Are you going to re-zone the whole Township so it’s “smarter?” How will this be accomplished? Or is this just a fancy campaign buzz phrase that looks slick on a mailer?

Bottom line: Land owners have a right to develop their land.  When Township Supervisors try to “stop” development, the result is a lawsuit leading to the Soviet-era monstrosity of multi-family tenements we see backing up to 422 in King of Prussia.

PARKHOUSE

And speaking of Parkhouse, the best and most generous thing that can be said about the Yeager campaign’s messaging on Parkhouse is that he is all over the place. Here is the message he and his running mate, Jim White, put on Facebook when they tried to hijack the Remember Parkhouse sign giveaway back in April:

Then only a few short days later, they took a decidedly different tone, and opted to back the “Township” CYA line, promoting the Township’s deliberately misleading and politically inspired FAQs and insinuating that “misinformation” was being spread by the Remember Parkhouse group.

Then we saw the evidence of what they are telling their supporters about their stance on Parkhouse:

And finally, predictably, it comes back to accusations of “lies.”

For what it’s worth, Gentle Readers, Remember Parkhouse doesn’t need to “lie” about anything. Our story hasn’t changed from day one. We only want to be able to trust our elected leaders to do what’s right on the inevitable zoning change request that Rifkin will submit.

While I truly believe the development of this property will affect the entire township in ways that have not been anticipated, as the resident Parkhouse bore, kindly indulge me while I repeat that our comprehensive plan never anticipated Parkhouse would be anything other than open space. Imagine the impact Rifkin’s development plan will have on the township’s infrastructure, our services, and our school district.

That’s to say nothing of the storm water runoff that will be generated by this development and hit the Schuylkill River just upstream from Mont Clare and Phoenixville.

Trust is not built on the shifting sands of political messaging.

TRANSPARENCY

To quote our tax collector, political campaign bill defaulter, and administrator of the faux Facebook page Upper Providence First Worst, Julie Mullin:

Leaving aside the rich irony of this elected official lecturing the world about “transparency” when she deliberately hid her campaign expenses from a Right to Know request and regularly posts anonymously on an anonymous faux community page that she runs, there is, indeed, a point to be made here.

Transparency, like development, is an easy campaign platform to adopt.

Like the development issue, most of Yeager’s issues with Township transparency stem from his lack of knowledge of the process.  And admittedly, it can be a little difficult to navigate the process if you don’t know where to start, or you are not carefully following the ongoing serial of the Township meetings. Issues can span weeks, months, or sometimes years, and if you aren’t paying close attention, it’s easy to miss some things.

And again, I will mention that many of the people floating around the Yeager campaign have this knowledge.  So does the other Republican running for office, Al Vagnozzi.  Either Yeager has left a wealth of information on the table, chooses to remain willfully ignorant, or he knows he’s being disingenuous and doesn’t care.

In his podcasts with Matt Cubbler, Yeager bemoans the lack of a public “plan” for Board to follow. 

As the old adage goes, “budget is policy.”  And the Upper Providence Township budget is posted on line.  Any deviations from the budget must be voted upon in a public meeting, which is something else he mentions during the podcast.  It’s not out of an out-of-control spending spree.  The Board passes a balanced budget every year and the township’s financials are audited by an outside firm every year to ensure fiscal accuracy.

For a longer range plan, look no further than the Township’s comprehensive plan, which is currently undergoing it’s 10-year update.  The last update was dated 2010, but was not actually passed until 2012, if memory serves.  So the complaint about the Comp plan not being updated is not only premature, but it could have been explained to him by any one of a number of resources he has available.

Both the budget and the comp plan are posted on the Township’s website.  All public meetings are available for viewing.  Are you seeing everything that’s going on?  Surely not, especially with a five-member board, where two members can meet and discuss issues without violating sunshine laws because two members do not constitute a quorum on a five-member board.  With a three-member board, a quorum was two members, so, in order to not run afoul of sunshine laws, many more policy discussions were held in public.

Please direct all complaints about the lack of transparency of the five-member board to Mr. Jim White.  He can be reached at the same address as Yeager campaign headquarters.

HURRICANE IDA

This is the hardest issue for me to write about, because people are truly hurting.

There is no denying that Hurricane Ida was devasting to our Township, particularly those in Mont Clare.  Having been down there cleaning up during the immediate aftermath, I found the spirit of community wonderfully inspiring, and it overshadowed the heartbreaking tragedy that was evident all around.  A Facebook page to publicize needs of the community was implemented. 

Overall, this was a great thing.  The Mont Clare community is resilient and strong.  Even though by some accounts, this was a 500-year event, this isn’t the first flood to hit this riverside community and it won’t be the last.  Upper Providence is surrounded on two sides by the Schuylkill River and the Perkiomen Creek.  The township staff knew what to do and the residents knew what to do, and they pulled together and did it. 

Several folks spoke up at the September board meeting thanking the Township for all of their help.

But then things went sideways when the Township ceded control of the operations to the County a few weeks after the storm. 

While the Facebook pages tried to stay mostly focused on needs fulfillment, a few posts that were more about politics than needs started to slip in.  And then it became a mob.  And even though we have five board members, four of whom were eager to turn things over to the County, for some reason, all of the anger was focused on the one who wanted to keep things in house:  Vagnozzi.

When an Inquirer reporter showed up in the neighborhood, knocking on doors and looking for “the angry residents,” I knew there was an agenda behind it.

To my knowledge, there is only one political candidate focusing his efforts on the Mont Clare community, and that’s Tom Yeager.

Look, I totally get he heartbreak and anger that follows a disaster such as this.  I even understand the community lashing out at the Board, because emotions are high and people literally lost everything. And everyone’s experience was different. I do NOT fault the residents for ANY conclusions they come to.

But it positively breaks my heart that all of that positive community energy that I saw arising in the immediate aftermath of the flood was turned around, tainted, then exploited for the benefit of a politician. 

The Fundraiser

Did nobody involved with this campaign tell Yeager that Casino Nights in PA are illegal?

Several years ago, one of the local Republican Committees was, in fact, successfully sued by one of the local Democrat Committees for having a 50/50 raffle on the grounds that gambling is illegal in Pennsylvania.  This became a prominent issue for local Republican leaders and was a notable hobby horse for Area 4 leader Doug Hager. As a result, there hasn’t been a Republican fundraiser with so much as a raffle or door prize in years.

That is, until last week. 

I’m not sure why someone who has made “transparency,” one of the central talking points of his campaign would hold a fundraiser that is not only illegal, but is arguably the least transparent method for tracing donations that are made to a political campaign. 

Oh, that $5,000 cash donation from the big developer?  Let’s just report that as “table winnings” and be done with it.

Pennsylvania Law regarding casino nights:

Only casinos can operate live cash gaming. You cannot sell casino chips and you cannot redeem casino chips for anything, (not even raffle tickets), not even in the name of a charity. Many people seem to think that they are within the law using this strategy for a casino night fundraiser. They’re wrong. By selling casino chips to guests you are breaking the law. By converting your guests ‘winning chips’ into ‘raffle tickets’, you are breaking the law. Guests using raffle tickets that they won during casino play for a chance to win items on a ‘Chinese Auction’ is in fact, also breaking the law. It’s all illegal, and you don’t have to believe me – just contact Lieutenant James A. Jones Jr., Western Section Commander for the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. I am certain he will confirm it for you. His email is jamesjones@pa.gov.

The Pennsylvania State Police have a helpful slide show that even the most informationally challenged people can find and understand. 

After all, if Casino Nights were legal, wouldn’t all politicians be having them all the time instead of rubber chicken cocktail hours and comedy nights?  Wouldn’t that be a handy way around reporting your donations? 

Hopefully, the table games I saw set up there were clearly marked “for amusement purposes only” and weren’t used for fundraising.  We won’t know at all until we see the campaign finance reports, and even then, we may never know for sure.  Because if there was money raised by gambling, I’m pretty sure all of those funds will need to be returned.

The Puppetmasters

It’s time to talk about my primary objection to Yeager. And don’t worry.  I also told him this in person.

Let’s start with this post from his campaigner in chief, Tom Yeager’s wife, Christina.  In this Dr. Jill Biden moment, she talks all about leadership, lies, and how horrible the township has been for the last 6 years. 

If she is unhappy with the way the Township has been run for the last six years, perhaps she should ask their good friend, Jim White, about that.  Because the five-member board was passed six years ago and it was spearheaded by all the people with whom her husband is currently in bed.

Gentle Readers, what do you think had more impact on the township: 

The election of one minority Supervisor?

Or fundamentally changing our system of government, expanding our Board, and turning over control to the party that had never in history governed Upper Providence?

I’ll wait while you research your answer.

In the meantime, let’s talk a moment about who is involved in the Tom Yeager campaign. 

At the front of the line is the White Elephant himself, Jim White. 

When Yeager called Republican party leadership to complain he wasn’t getting any help from the Upper Providence Republican Committee, Jim White’s (AKA “Tom Price”) obviously fictional and potentially slanderous Facebook posts about Al Vagnozzi were brought up.

Yeager told the Republican Committee that White was not at all involved with his campaign.

Yet, all off Yeager’s campaign mailers show the return address of “Yeager for UPT” as Jim White’s address. 

Check out who paid for this image.

Then there was this White love-fest from a few short weeks ago, preserved for all eternity on video:

Their families go on vacation together.  Jim White is going to be “a huge support” for him going forward.

Gentle Readers, if you need reminding, I believe Jim White is someone who is uniquely unsuited for government and should never be permitted anywhere near the reigns of power.  Click here for a refresher. 

For someone who’s been priding himself on his Republican bonafides, there hasn’t been a single Republican case made to vote for Yeager over Democrats Calci and Bansal.  And it’s not like there isn’t any material there.  Almost all of the messaging from the Yeager campaign has been anti-incumbent, and anti-Vagnozzi.

So from where I sit, the entire Yeager campaign is just a continuation of the White/Yeager anti-Vagnozzi campaign from the spring.  As a temporary Republican, I think this is a shame, because I think this Board suffers from a lack of opposing ideological viewpoints and I truly think that there was an opportunity for Republicans to take back a seat on the Board in this political climate.  Another political opportunity sacrificed on the altar of ego.

Meanwhile, the stealth member of the Upper Providence First Worst clique, John Pearson, when he’s not muck raking in Mont Clare, is on assignment “helping” Helene Calci get re-elected. 

Apparently, neither Yeager nor Calci have figured out that this “help” is not given for free.  The bill for this service will be rendered after November 2, probably multiple bills over the course of the next six years.  Will it be sweet, sweet township jobs for cronies?  Or deploying Township resources to benefit cronies?  Or re-zoning Parkhouse because cronies are expecting it?

Probably a little of all that.  The problem is, neither one of these candidates has figured out that all the “help” they are getting on their campaigns comes with the high price tag of their personal integrity, and they have no idea that the pipers will be coming to collect after the election.  The cost for non-compliance is character assassination, the mechanisms of which they are enjoying right now as it’s being deployed in their favor, while the lessons of their benefactors’ reach, and the lengths to which they will go, sink in and teach the candidates to keep their backers happy at all costs. 

In my opinion, that, Gentle Readers, is precisely why they make such good candidates for the Upper Providence First Worst clique.  Independent thinkers need not apply.  It’s why that group went after me four years ago, and why they are going after Vagnozzi today.  What’s the point in having a little power broker group if you don’t have puppets with access to power that you can control?

As I pointed out to Yeager, once upon a time, both Al Vagnozzi and myself were politically allied with White. 

I don’t need to tell you how that ended, do I?

How much more must the residents of Upper Providence tolerate in service to Jim White’s long running vanity project?

But Jim White isn’t the brains of the operation.  Not by a long shot.  White, Yeager, and the rest of the Upper Providence First Worst clique (pictured, right) are just willing rubes, content to bask in the warmth of the benevolence of their ringleader while he happily eats their lunch.  Time after time.

The political moves are most likely being inspired by former State Rep, former chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Committee, and current Josh Shapiro errand boy, Mike Vereb.  His involvement in the Yeager campaign was confirmed by the candidate himself.

It certainly has all of the hallmarks of a Vereb range war.

Start with the Republican vs. Republican messaging, which was the signature characteristic of the Vereb method during his MCRC days and continues to this day. The local Republican organizations don’t even try to beat Democrats anymore; they just attempt to put their weak, controllable candidates in place, so they can cut deals with the Democrats and be happy with the crumbs that fall from the table.

This is not a successful strategy.

Ask Steve Tolbert.  Or Scott Zelov.  Or Fred Connors. Or West Norriton Township.  Or East Norriton Township.  Or Bill Kasper.  Or Jim White. 

Another clue is the carefully placed articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Vereb is a master at cultivating the press, especially female reporters.  There is a reason why Josh Shapiro keeps a hardcore Trump supporter like Vereb as his right-hand man, and that reason is evident in the exclusively fawning media coverage Shapiro enjoys. 

So when reporters show up post-Ida, knocking on doors in Mont Clare and asking, “Where can I find the angry residents?”  and then that article appears on the front page of the Inquirer, perfectly complementing the “anti-incumbent” narrative of one’s pet candidate, you know you’re dealing with an agenda.

For those unaware, after Vereb retired from the State House and resigned from MCRC, he immediately took a six-figure job taxpayer-funded position working for the same man he was tasked with defeating in 2015, Josh Shapiro, currently running for governor himself. Vereb remains by his side to this day.  But he’d been carrying Josh’s water long before that. 

Vereb famously ran interference on the County-owned Arcola Road Bridge reconstruction for almost three years, unfairly blaming the contractor for the delays when Shapiro and Co. bid the job as a fill-in job.  The contractor endured the unfair vocal bashing from the residents while being unable to defend himself lest he never get another County contract again.  Meanwhile, the politicians responsible for the delay that they planned were absolved from being held responsible for the resident inconvenience caused by the prolonged construction period thanks to Vereb’s deflection.

Shapiro let Vereb dedicate the bridge to one of his legislative aides, a man who had never set foot in Montgomery County, but died a very untimely and mysterious death.  The plaque is on the Lower Providence end of the bridge.

When Josh Shapiro ran for re-election in 2015, Vereb was focused not on building the Republican County ticket (arguably his only job as MCRC Chairman), but in getting the Upper Providence Republican Committee to forgo a endorsement and run an open primary so that Jim White would have a shot at running for Supervisor against Al Vagnozzi.

And while the County ticket was completely neglected, when it finally did come together, Vereb split the party over Joe Gale’s candidacy, destroying for all time the credibility of the green ballot, and more importantly, allowing Josh Shapiro and the eminently beatable Val Arkoosh to waltz to easy victory.

It was Vereb who suggested the idea of the five-member board to Jim White.  Vereb who helped him run the campaign.

But perhaps most egregious in my eyes, was Vereb’s role in the sale of Parkhouse.

While running the same kind of interference for Shapiro with Upper Providence residents as he did for the Arcola Road Bridge project, the man who made a statewide issue in the media of what kind of beer Tom Wolf served at his inauguration had nothing whatsoever to say against the sale of Parkhouse. 

Until, of course, it was sold.  Then he spoke in support of the sale supposedly because the County matched his dinky grant for handicap ramps at the Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. 

Here’s the lengths Vereb will go for his political allies:

It’s like killing a canary with an elephant gun, right?

And that’s not even all of them.

Now go ahead and Google “Vereb” and “Parkhouse” and tell me how many hits you get on the most consequential land sale in Montgomery County history and it took place in his district.

Why is Vereb involved in Upper Providence politics?  Is he bored, looking for entertainment as the people he winds up perform flawlessly for his amusement?  Or is he nostalgic for his glory days, looking for some significance after being relegated to Shapiro errand boy?   Or is it some hidden Parkhouse related agenda he is executing for Josh Shapiro, who is heading into the next phase of his never-ending campaign for PA Governor?

Yeah, just sitting back, trying to recapture a little of the glory, yeah. Well, time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister, but boring stories of Glory Days

Bruce Springsteen

It doesn’t really matter, does it?  Mike Vereb never did anything but harm Upper Providence.

None of these people has a shred of credibility on the interests of Upper Providence or Parkhouse. 

I will not be a party to turning Upper Providence into a hobby Township for Mike Vereb.  And that’s why I’m sending a message with my vote.  I would rather throw my vote away than give this pathetic has-been a sliver of the relevance he desperately misses. 

Sorry Tom Yeager, but you’re in bed with the wrong people.  And getting out of that bed is not going to be easy, because should you eventually decide to do that, all of those awesome resources that have been deployed in service to your election will be turned against you. 

I’ve seen this movie before.

Oh, and PS:  I won’t be voting for Julie Mullin either.

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