Kathleen Kane, a Democrat running for Pennsylvania attorney general, is tapping into public anger over the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse case, telling a group of voters in Philadelphia that she was “outraged” by it.
Sandusky, a former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach convicted of abusing boys over a 15-year period, may inadvertently help Kane become the first woman elected to the state’s top law-enforcement office. How she fares on Nov. 6 may serve as a referendum on Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican.
The Sandusky probe began in early 2009 under then-Attorney General Corbett, who was elected governor in 2010. Kane has called for an examination of the investigation. Almost three years after the probe began, Sandusky was charged in November 2011. While describing the case as “successful,” David Freed, Kane’s Republican opponent, has also called for a review.
“We cannot allow politics to play a role in law enforcement any longer,” Kane, 46, told the group. “We have to elect someone who was not running for political reasons, who doesn’t have a political agenda or ambition.”
Kane, who would be the first Democrat elected to the office if she wins, is also appealing to women for their votes.
“Who’s protecting the constitutional rights of the women in Pennsylvania?” Kane said at an Oct. 15 meeting with about 40 neighborhood residents of the state’s biggest city. The former Lackawanna County prosecutor who has two sons, ages 10 and 11, cited a bill pending in the Republican-led state Legislature that would mandate ultrasound examinations for pregnant women prior to an abortion.
“We need a woman to do it,” called out Yolanda Maldonado, 43, from a folding chair at the Max Myers Recreation Center in Northeast Philadelphia. “Because you can understand us.”
Corbett, 63, defended the ultrasound bill in March.
“You just have to close your eyes” during the procedure, which produces fetal images, Corbett said, drawing criticism from opponents of the measure.
“We will have a check and balance in our government with having a Democratic attorney general,” Kane said in an interview. “We will also have a different voice and a different perspective by having a woman and a mother as attorney general.”
Born and raised in Scranton, Kane attended the University of Scranton and Temple University’s law school in Philadelphia. She joined Post & Schell PC in Philadelphia before becoming a prosecutor for 12 years in Lackawanna County, leaving in 2007. She’s married to Christopher Kane, who owns Kane Is Able Inc., a Scranton-based warehouse and trucking business, and they live north of the city in Clarks Summit.
An Oct. 17-21 poll showed the Democrat leading Freed 39 percent to 26 percent among likely voters, according to the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion and the Morning Call newspaper, both in Allentown. Yet 34 percent of the 444 respondents were undecided.
Only Republican men have won the office since it began appearing on the ballot in 1980. Attorney General Linda Kelly, a Corbett appointee, chose not to seek election to a full term.
“The Sandusky case on the whole has raised dissatisfaction with the attorney general’s office, which has been a Republican office,” said Chris Borick, who directs the Muhlenberg institute. He said the case was “perhaps the greatest scandal in modern Pennsylvania history.”
“As a Republican candidate, Dave Freed is in some ways paying the price,” Borick said.
Freed, the 42-year-old Cumberland County district attorney, has faulted Kane for her statements about the Sandusky probe.
“My opponent is out there saying, ‘I will investigate the governor,’” Freed said in an interview. “I can’t make a judgment on the case until I read all the grand jury transcripts, read the police reports, talk to the people involved.”
Freed touts his experience as a district attorney since 2006. He has worked as a prosecutor since 1997, including a stint in York County. A graduate of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and Penn State’s law school, Freed lives in Camp Hill, outside Harrisburg, with his wife, Amy, and their three children. Amy is the daughter of Leroy Zimmerman, the state’s first elected attorney general.
“I’ve done everything from the smallest shoplifting cases all the way up to capital homicides, complex drug cases, arson,” Freed told a breakfast meeting of a business group in Ivyland Oct. 9. “You name it, we’ve done it.”
Afterward, Freed said in an interview that he understands public attitudes about the Sandusky scandal and that a review of its handling would be appropriate, given its high profile.
The case also has been a focus for Democrats in the state House of Representatives, where some have questioned why it took 33 months to bring charges against Sandusky. They’ve asked the U.S. Justice Department to review the handling of the probe.
Lawyers for Sandusky have appealed his conviction on 45 criminal counts in a case that arose from a teenager’s complaints of inappropriate touching several times over a four- year period. The former coach, 68, was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison. The resulting upheaval led to the firings of Penn State President Graham Spanier and coach Joe Paterno, who led the school’s football program for 46 years.
Almost half of Pennsylvanians surveyed about the Sandusky case, 49 percent, said Corbett’s handling of the probe should be reviewed, according to a poll last month by Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research in Lancaster. Almost two- thirds said Corbett did a fair or poor job in the investigation.
The governor’s approval rating has hovered from 30 to 33 percent since August in the Muhlenberg College poll released Oct. 22. His disapproval score was higher, at 41 percent, in the latest survey of likely voters.
“In a sense, the attorney general’s race is a surrogate referendum on the governor,” said Thomas Baldino, who teaches politics at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre. Referring to the Sandusky investigation, he said: “The issue is a convenient shorthand for public unhappiness or support for Corbett.”
Since the attorney general is “independently elected,” the Kane-Freed race doesn’t provide a proxy for Corbett’s popularity, said Kevin Harley, a spokesman for the governor.
“She’s a complete demagogue, or has never taken the time to actually review the case,” Harley said. “Because of Tom Corbett and the men and women in the attorney general’s office and state police, Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 out of 48 counts and will spend the rest of his life behind bars.”
Kane, who handled child sex-abuse cases as a county prosecutor, has said the Penn State community constitutes a “large voting bloc” and can be a rich source of campaign cash.
“There are questions that need to be answered,” she said in the interview. “We need and deserve the truth.”
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