The lady better have big feet

Columnist : Albert Paschall

I remember the first time Dick Tilghman showed up on my doorstep.  Twenty-five years ago I was barely old enough to vote and he had the biggest feet I ever saw.  I looked up from those shiny shoes to the top of the big former Marine and was damn near scared.  “Hi, I’m Dick Tilghman, running for Senate, I hope I can have your vote, sir.”
I was “sir” to him.  The decorated veteran of Iwo Jima and successful business owner was standing on my doorstep calling me “sir” and asking for my vote.  But that’s how the powerful chairman of the Pennsylvania Senate appropriations committee has always run down his shoe leather.  In his district a lot of constituents will remember his shoes because they were everywhere.
There was the time the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation ordered a family owned restaurant to remove their sign from a highway.  The sign had been up for 20 years but some PennDOT bureaucrat claimed it was in the state’s right of way.  The proprietor got Tilghman’s name from the phone book and called him around 10:30 in the morning.   When he saw a bunch of people looking at his sign early that afternoon he went out and angrily demanded to know who they were.  “Hi, I’m Dick Tilghman,” the senator said as he stepped out of the group of PennDOT managers, “and I think we can work something out for you.”
When former Governor Casey hoped to fund a non-profit child care center in the heart of Senator Tilghman’s district he knew he couldn’t get the money without the Senator’s support.  Tilghman gave it.  Somehow the credit started going all to the Governor.  Not a problem for Tilghman.   When Mrs. Casey turned up to dedicate the center the Senator was waiting on the doorstep for her, “Hi I’m Dick Tilghman, thanks for your help.”
Three years ago an international conglomerate set up competitive bids among states to get the best offer to move 3,000 technology jobs that were in Tilghman’s district.  It took 3 months and both of Pennsylvania’s US Senators with two of Pennsylvania’s Congressmen to politically beat the company into submission.  But none of them could write a check.  At a critical meeting when all of the Federal bureaucrats came up long on talk and short on money in comes those big shoes saying “ Hi I’m Dick Tilghman and I think I can help.”   Three days later the Ridge administration committed to a package that kept a $250 million annual payroll in Pennsylvania.
But last week after 30 years of answering his own phone, walking his district and never once asking anybody who needed help where their party loyalties were, poor health forced one of the most honorable and classiest guys to ever serve in Harrisburg to retire suddenly.
Party leaders in Montgomery and Delaware County have to walk the line in choosing the candidate to succeed him and do it fast, the election is in 9 weeks.  For the Republicans State Representative Lita Indzel-Cohen seems to be positioned for the GOP nod.  The Democrats are trying to side step a fight for the nomination by perennial candidate Lynne Yeakel and State Representative Connie Williams.
The smart Democratic money is on Williams mainly because she has money.  The popular Williams took a seat 5 years ago on the very Republican Main Line from a one term Republican who was supposed to be a shoo-in.  The daughter of the late oil magnate Leon Hess has fought hard for two more terms and held her seat handily last year.  The sharpest contrast between Williams and Cohen appears to be party registration.  Both are moderate, well-liked, pro-choice, Jewish women with business backgrounds.  While Cohen will have to spend a lot of time in 8 weeks looking for well-heeled contributors, Williams will be wearing out her shoe leather looking for voters.  Something she has had a lot of practice at.  Yeakel’s only claim to fame is that she ran close to Tilghman’s numbers last year.  The problem with Yeakel is that she is always the also ran never having crossed the finish line in first place.
I’ve never really noticed any of these candidates’ shoes but whatever the outcome of the election the lady better have big feet.  Because shoes like Dick Tilghman’s you don’t fill and maybe she shouldn’t try.  Tilghman could leave a pair in Harrisburg.   Someday they could be bronzed and hung over the door to the Senate chamber as a reminder every day of just how the job should be done.