In an unusual move, Pennsylvania's treasurer is calling on a state Senator to resign.
Treasurer Joe Torsella doesn't often weigh in on contentious political matters unless they have something to do with state finances. But in a statement, he said fellow Democrat Senator Daylin Leach of Montgomery County has shown a troubling pattern of "lashing out" against people who have accused him of sexual misconduct.
Plus, the treasurer said a comment Leach recently made about the Lower Merion School District sounded to him like a threat of political retribution.
The district disinvited Leach from a public forum this month, saying it was concerned the controversies that surround him might distract from education.
Leach then told the Delaware County Daily Times he was dismayed, in part because there are school grants he could direct to Lower Merion, but now the district can't make its case to him.
Torsella took that as a threat of political payback.
"Threatening a link between public funding decisions and political retribution is, as we all know, crossing a bright line," he said. "[Leach] should resign and, should he choose to run for reelection in 2020, I will oppose his renomination."
Leach's spokesman, Zakary Pyzik, said the senator's words were reported out of context and are being "twisted to fit a certain narrative."
"A colleague and I witnessed this phone call," he said. "Sen. Leach did not threaten LMSD's funding...the grant process can sometimes be difficult to navigate and Sen. Leach is always there as a resource for his constituents - that's his job and that's what he was trying to convey."
Torsella noted the grant comment wasn't the only reason he decided to call Leach to step down. It is just part, he wrote, of a "pattern of lashing out...that is outrageous and completely inappropriate for a public official."
The pattern Torsella is referring to, and the controversies the Lower Merion district cited in Leach's disinvitation, have been ongoing for some time.
In late 2017, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Leach was accused of treating women inappropriately, based on accounts from former staffers. More recently, Senate Democrats launched an investigation into Leach after a woman accused him of coercing her into performing oral sex in 1991, when she was 17 and he was a 30-year-old attorney.
The senator has maintained his innocence.
He told PennLive the most recent accusations against him are "preposterous," and said he has "never even so much as shaken hands with Cara Taylor," the woman who said he coerced her.
He is suing Taylor and two other women for defamation.
Torsella is not the only Democrat to call for Leach to step down.
Governor Tom Wolf first asked for his resignation in late 2017, after the Inquirer reported about his treatment of staffers. When the new allegations surfaced this year, Wolf reiterated that position.
Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman has also urged a resignation, as have Democratic party officials in Delaware County, and Leach's home of Montgomery County. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who serves as a statewide row officer alongside Torsella, also joined that call.
Leach ultimately ended a Congressional bid after the 2017 allegations. In the wake of his more recent lawsuit, he announced a decision to step down from his position as minority chair of the Senate's powerful Judiciary Committee.
Torsella said in his statement that while he has "every confidence the pending Senate investigation will be thorough and transparent," he believes that public officials "should be held to a higher standard."
Statements from Torsella and Leach's spokesman are included in full below.
"I agree with the recent letter from Montgomery County Democratic elected officials and party leaders that is now time for Senator Leach to step down, for the reasons in that letter. In considering any serious allegation all parties, whether those coming forward or those being accused, are entitled to a fair hearing and 'due process' before arriving at any judgment, and I have every confidence the pending Senate investigation will be thorough and transparent. But public officials are and should be held to a higher standard, and public office should not be the vehicle to resolve private grievances. I am especially troubled by a pattern of lashing out, seen most recently in Senator Leach's reported comments threatening a potential loss of grant funding for the Lower Merion School district--and his earlier filing of an unusual defamation lawsuit against several women--that is outrageous and completely inappropriate for a public official. Threatening a link between public funding decisions and political retribution is, as we all know, crossing a bright line. He should reign and, should he choose to run for reelection in 2020, I will oppose his renomination."
Leach, via Zak Pyzik:
"Sen. Leach's words are being twisted to fit a certain narrative. A colleague and I witnessed this phone call - Sen. Leach did not threaten LMSD's funding. Sen. Leach has been to this legislative forum many times over the years and it's very common for attendees to ask him which types of grants the state has available, how to apply for grants, etc. The grant process can sometimes be difficult to navigate and Sen. Leach is always there as a resource for his constituents - that's his job and that's what he was trying to convey."