PA Lawmaker Criticized After Likening Pipeline Workers To Nazis

May 2, 2019

A Southeastern Pennsylvania lawmaker who opposes the Mariner East 2 pipeline is being criticized by unions that represent pipeline workers, and others, for a tweet one fellow House member called a "poor choice of words."

At the center of the discord was a freshmen Democratic representative and a tweet about Nazis.

On Saturday, Chester County Democrat Danielle Friel Otten got in a Twitter exchange with a pro-pipeline group.

She'd been supporting protesters who were using cars to block pipeline work -- a reaction to Sunoco, the pipeline developer, buying nearby homes that have been affected by construction-induced sinkholes over the last few years.

Friel Otten lives near those homes and was elected, in large part, based on a pledge to oppose the Mariner East 2.

She said she didn't organize the protest, but that once she found out it was happening near her house, it was "really important to me to have the backs of my constituents and my neighbors, and to welcome them to sit on my patio."

During the protest, the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance tweeted that protesters were preventing workers from doing their jobs. In a now-deleted tweet, Friel Otten respondedthat "The Nazis were just doing their jobs too," and linked a PBS article on coercion by people in power.

"What I meant by that, is that this excuse of people just doing their jobs to validate harming people is not an acceptable argument," she said.

Backlash was quick.

Fellow Southeastern Democrat David Delloso, who was elected last year alongside Friel Otten and has an office down the hall from hers, heads the region's Teamsters Union. He said he has received a lot of calls from members upset with his colleague.

"It's a poor choice of words," the Delaware County Representative said. "It's not a fair comparison. I mean these are working folk, these are salt-of-the-earth people."

He wasn't the only dismayed union leader. Jim Snell, the business manager for Steamfitters Local 420, said he at least wanted Friel Otten to walk back the statement.

"The word that was used is a highly offensive word, and the fact that she is a state legislator, a Democrat no less, to use that kind of language so flippantly and to not even issue some type of an apology just blows my mind."

Friel Otten maintains her tweet was misconstrued.

"Maybe it was perceived that way, but it was not a comparison," she said. "I was not comparing the Mariner East Project to the Holocaust. Who would ever do that?"

Her beef, she said, is with gas companies like Sunoco, not with workers.

Condemnation also came from the state GOP, which called for Friel Otten's resignation.

The Anti-Defamation League of Philadelphia urged her to apologize, and a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said that "as general rule, no one should use this type of language in political or policy debate."

Frank Dermody, who helms the House Democratic caucus, was more measured.

In a statement, he declared his support for pipeline workers and said he believes the commonwealth "needs to capitalize" on the employment opportunities that big projects like Mariner East 2 bring.

He didn't mention Friel Otten's tweet, but he noted that Mariner East construction has "met unexpected difficulty" and said he joins Friel Otten in "calling attention to the dislocation of at least five Chester County families as a result of catastrophic sinkhole damage caused by pipeline construction through a residential neighborhood.