HARRISBURG—Bill Scranton’s campaign manager, James Seif, said he knew he was in trouble as soon as the words came tumbling off his tongue.
In a live call-in show on the Pennsylvania Cable Network, Seif told viewers that Scranton’s main opponent for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Lynn Swann, who is African American, was the “rich white guy in the campaign.”
By the end of the show, callers were demanding an apology from Seif, and within an hour Scranton had fired him. His dismissal came at a time when Scranton has been trying to slow Swann’s increasing momentum toward capturing the party’s endorsement on Feb. 11.
“There’s no excuse. It was a stupid thing to say,” said Seif, who added that the comment was not intended as a racial slur.
Seif, 60, said he was trying to say that Swann, who portrays himself as a political outsider, was really part of the establishment.
“I tried to underline the idea by turning around race, to show that it was the opposite of what it looked like,” said Seif, who served in the Reagan administration and was head of the state Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Tom Ridge. “There was no racial thought to it.”
Excerpts of the discussion Wednesday on the Pennsylvania Cable Network program involving James Seif, chairman of Scranton’s campaign, and Ray Zaborney, executive director of Swann’s campaign. Seif’s racially-charged comment came after a caller, identified as only “Peter from Lancaster,” criticized Scranton for defying the Republican State Committee and calling for an open primary instead of one in which a candidate will carry the GOP’s official endorsement.
Caller: Does Mr. Scranton have any principles that don’t eventually give way to his own political expediency?
Seif: I gotta hand it to you, Ray—you got all your callers on tonight. All these calls from Lancaster are a pretty good indication.
Zaborney: Our campaign isn’t the one that sent out an e-mail saying to call in, so . . .
Seif: Bill Scranton has—and I’ve known him for 30 years now—as much integrity as any person I’ve ever known. And that means intellectual integrity as well. His decision on the primary was made after a great deal of thought, a great deal of anger that one of the candidates had been captured by Senate leadership, by the party, by others, and directed into pretending he had the victory sewn up and pretending that he was the outsider. In fact, the rich white guy in this campaign is Lynn Swann. He’s the one that hangs around the, uh . . .
Zaborney: That’s one of the most ridiculous and insulting things that I think I’ve heard in politics. You’re two-for-two tonight—two of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard in politics. Lynn Swann is the outsider, and Bill Scranton’s the guy who’s been in Harrisburg before, who’s been around the trouble before. He’s the guy whose administration supported two pay raises. He’s the guy whose administration supported a bigger PIT [personal income tax] increase than [Democratic Gov.] Ed Rendell. He’s the insider. Lynn Swann’s the outsider.