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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Something is the Matta: Anonymous allegations in county controller race

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 5:24 PM

There'll be plenty to say about this weekend's Democratic Party endorsements -- and I'll be posting excerpts from our Saturday night political forum over the next 24 hours.

But there was one other weekend development which didn't get quite as much attention. On Saturday -- the last mailing day before the party's endorsement vote was held -- Democratic committeepeople received an anonymous postcard targeting one of the candidates for county controller, George Matta.

Postmarked March 4, one side of the postcard asks five questions. They are, in order:

1) George Matta?

2) George Matta??

3) George Matta???

4) For County Controller????

5) ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

The flip side of the card argues that "This Election Is Too Important to Kid About." It accuses Matta of "Pay to Play Politics," and notes that when Matta challenged Marc Gergely in a 2006 race for state representative, the Post-Gazette endorsed Gergely "based on Matta's Campaign Record of Lies And Deception." (Indeed, the P-G endorsement is plenty harsh.)

The postcard also notes that Matta was sued for racial discrimination when he was Allegheny County's Clerk of Courts. Among the allegations was the claim that Matta used racial epithets when discussing county employees. In a deposition stemming from that lawsuit, Matta denied using the word "nigger" in the conversation attributed to him. And while he acknowledged using the word in other contexts, he didn't do so "in a derogatory manner." (Matta denied the discrimination charges, and the case was later settled.)

That lawsuit was also brought up in an open letter sent out last week by another Democratic county controller candidate, Valerie McDonald Roberts. But while McDonald Roberts acknowledged sending the letter at the Saturday night forum, she denied having anything to do with the postcard.

"I did not send out the postcard," she said. "I am able to ... bring up issues that need to be brought up. But if I do, it will be my signature on it ... I do things above-board, and only above-board. " A spokesman for the third Democrat in the race, Chelsa Wagner, also denied any part in the mailing. 

"We've spent enough money putting out a positive message about our candidate," said J.J. Abbott, whose candidate actually won the party endorsement.

I spoke with Brad Matta, the candidate's son, who confirmed the Matta camp is aware of the postcard. And they aren't happy about it: "There's no place in Democratic politics for making charges you can't attach your name to," he said.

There are, in fact, rumors that Matta is taking the postcard to the District Attorney's office. Brad Matta would not confirm that, exactly, but he did note that according to state law, when money is paid for mailings or other advertisements "expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate," the ad is supposed to "clearly and conspicuously" identify "the [responsible person or organization] who made or financed the expenditure for the communication."

"At this time, we're looking at the appropriate channels to address" the mailing, says Matta. 

The campaign also sent us this response last week, when we asked about McDonald Roberts' letter. Since much of that response seems germane to the postcard's allegations too, we'll reprint it here:

Unfortunately, when some candidates find themselves facing almost certain defeat they panic and do things they might not normally do. Interjecting race into a political campaign in the desperate hope of gaining some advantage is not something we would have expected from Valerie McDonald Roberts.

What she alludes to in her mailing to Democratic Committee members as racial insensitivity on the part of my father are disproven allegations coming from an angry employee he dismissed while serving as Clerk of the Allegheny County Courts.

Attempting to elevate baseless allegations from an angry x-employee into a credible charge that George Matta made racist comments is a sorry act from a panicked candidate.

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