by Lowman S. Henry | February 01, 2005

Efforts to muddy Ridge image will prove fruitless

As the nation’s first Secretary of Homeland Security departs the Bush cabinet, speculation abounds over his future. Tom Ridge has had an illustrious career in government. Rising from an assistant in the Erie County District Attorney’s office, he went to Congress, was twice elected Governor of Pennsylvania, and the man the President turned to in one of our nation’s most difficult hours.

All of this sounds like a script for a Presidential campaign. In fact, it has been said about Tom Ridge over the years that if you called central casting for a governor, he would be sent to the stage. Given the lack of an “800 pound gorilla” in the 2008 Presidential sweepstakes, Ridge is a plausible contender.

If you want proof of his viability you need look no further than a spate of headlines generated by two media hungry congressmen attempting to dish mud on the shiny Ridge image. Representatives Henry A. Waxman of California and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi have raised questions about Ridge’s relationship with Philadelphia lawyer/lobbyist David Girard-diCarlo.

Had these backbenchers bothered to spend any time in Pennsylvania the Ridge-diCarlo relationship would have been readily apparent. They are old friends. DiCarlo has played major roles in Ridge’s campaigns for governor, and unofficially in his administration. And the relationship goes beyond politics, the two are personal friends.

Several of Team Ridge’s top staffers have moved on from government into positions in Blank Rome, diCarlo’s law firm. The ties are long and deep. And, they have been fully disclosed and carried out in the spotlight that focuses on governors and cabinet secretaries.

Waxman and Thompson are trying to make political hay out of trips Secretary Ridge made to diCarlo’s Arizona home – something he has been doing for many years, and paid for at his own expense. Since Blank Rome clients do business with the Department of Homeland Security, albeit in full compliance with all applicable laws, the dirt dishing duo feel a congressional investigation is warranted.

As former Secretary Ridge adjusts to life in the private sector, with the possibility of a Presidential campaign in his future, he likely will find such sniping from the sidelines to be a commonplace occurrence.

But, as they say in certain parts of Pennsylvania , this dog won’t hunt. While the usual disagreements over policy matters coursed through the capitol during the Ridge Administration, there was never even a whisper or hint at ethical impropriety. Like the last Republican governor, Dick Thornburgh, Ridge was fanatical about such things and would broach no conduct which could be construed in a negative light.

Both Republicans and Democrats seeking to derail Ridge’s not-yet-certain Presidential campaign will have to settle on a different strategy. Unlike the Clintons , whose Whitewater and Rose law firm dealing left a veritable buffet of legal and ethical issues for opposition researchers to feast upon, such issues will not be a factor in Ridge’s political future.

His opponent’s time would be better spent preparing to take on Ridge over policy issues. While the culture of national politics will most certainly create a number of these scandal churning efforts, they won’t work against Ridge. Which is good news, because with the serious domestic and foreign policy issues confronting America our energy will be better spent debating solutions rather than engaging in the politics of personal destruction.