If Benjamin Ragheb has his way, Sen. Rick Santorum will be ruled a Pennsylvania resident in name only.
Ragheb, 24, of the South Side, is de facto head of the 1,300-strong local Democracy For America group, since he has organized their gatherings via meetup.com for two years. The group, which evolved from Howard Dean's presidential campaign, has begun to circulate a petition asking Santorum to quit claiming he lives in Allegheny County and receiving a tax break under the Act 50 Homestead Exemption.
Homestead exemptions go to property owners who live in their homes as a primary residence. As has been widely reported, the senator, his wife and their six kids do not seem to spend much time in the two-bedroom home they own in Penn Hills. In response to a City Paper query in December, Santorum's office sent a statement, beginning "Rick and Karen have been residents of Penn Hills since 1995 ..."
Ragheb and other members of the Democracy group aren't buying it. The Santorums already face a fight with Penn Hills School District over the tuition the district has paid to a cyber charter school to educate the senator's kids. But Ragheb's group is staying out of that one. "Homestead exemption," however -- them's fightin' words.
Copies of the petition are available at http://www.pghdfa.org/homesteadtax/ and http://santorumcybergate.blogspot.com/, an anonymous blogger's collection of clickable items related to the case. It includes three purported views of Santorum's southern manse, which resembles nothing available at a Penn Hills real estate office. The petition has been passed around everywhere from Super Bowl parties to bars; organizers are hoping to troll progressive events for more signatures soon. They plan to present it to Santorum's Pittsburgh office and to Allegheny County officials to be named later.
Not that Ragheb believes the senator, faced with the sting of a thousand signatures, will resign -- or pay his back taxes and a possible fine, as state law allows. Though the petition has no legal force, for Ragheb it's a character issue -- and one that may contribute a few more anti-Santorum voters.
"One of the things I've learned is that it's important to tailor your message to your audience," Ragheb says. "I used to tell my parents that if Bush were re-elected, I'd become an alcoholic."