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Mayor tells jury in federal corruption trial 'I hate fundraising'

Ed Pawlowski testified in his defense this week

ALLENTOWN, Pa, - Mayor Ed Pawlowski moved to Allentown about 20 years ago from Chicago to work for an arm of the Allentown Housing Authority before becoming former Mayor Roy Afflerbach’s community and economic development director.

He told the jury in his federal corruption trial that he was about to leave the city for a new opportunity in Philadelphia before politics were in his future.

“The former mayor, frankly, was crazy,” Pawlowski told jurors about his near decision, in part, to leave Allentown.

But then he was approached about the prospect of running for mayor, an option he said he had never really considered. Pawlowski told the jury that he decided it was the best way to really effectuate change in the city.

“It was a passion for us,” he said of him and his wife, Lisa. “We saw it more as a mission than as a job.”

Pawlowski took the stand this week in his own defense against allegations that he traded favors and city contracts in exchange for campaign contributions. The prosecution rested its case after more than three weeks of testimony, and the defense for co-defendant Scott Allinson rested last week after a little more than a day of testimony. Allinson stands accused of promising to generate campaign donations in exchange for funneling city legal work to his firm, Norris McLaughlin.

Pawlowski will return to the stand 9 a.m. Monday, when the prosecution continues its cross-examination.

When the mayor first took the stand Wednesday, he told the jury that he decided in 2013 to run for Pennsylvania governor in 2014. He testified that he withdrew from the race in February 2014 after candidate and eventual winner, Tom Wolf, announced he was putting $10 million of his own money into his campaign.

“I’m not a wealthy man. I’m just a middle-class guy,” Pawlowski told jurors. “I didn’t have the ability to raise that kind of money.”

Pawlowski testified that he saw the 2016 race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Pat Toomey as a good opportunity for a Democrat. The election would be held during a high-profile presidential race meaning good voter turnout, and it was a seat Toomey previously won by only 70,000 votes, he said.

And it was this decision whether to run that gave the defense its chance to explain the mayor’s free use of a Key West, Florida, vacation home owned by Richard Somach, an attorney at the Norris McLaughlin law firm.

The prosecution presented evidence of Pawlowski using Somach’s vacation home. They also alleged efforts to have Somach appointed solicitor of the Allentown Parking Authority amidst promises of campaign donations.

Somach previously testified that Pawlowski discussed paying to use the house, but never followed through.

Pawlowski testified that he asked Somach in early 2015 to borrow the Key West home, so he could reflect with his wife on whether to launch another statewide campaign.

“I had to really sit down and think, ‘Do I really want to do this again?’” he told the jury.

The mayor testified that he had never previously paid to the use the house because he and Somach were friends. But after deciding to run for Congress, Pawlowski said he decided to pay Somach $1,000 to avoid any “unwanted scrutiny” that a high-profile race would generate.

It was a busy and furious time, however, so the payment never materialized, he said.

“I never got around to paying it,” Pawlowski said. “I didn’t have any money in the bank. I had to sell some stock.”

The prosecution has accused the mayor of directing city staff to assemble lists of engineering and law firms and the amount of business they received from Allentown over the years, alleging he used those lists as a starting point for donors to target and how much he should seek.

The mayor throughout the trial has not shied away from the fact that he has used such lists to fundraise for the city events and his own campaigns.

“As a mayor, you’re fundraising all the time,” he said.

At the direction of his defense attorney, Pawlowski told the jury that political candidates ask family, friends and business associates for money. A general election will draw bigger, nationwide donors that can help candidates with elections and fundraisers, but primaries, such as the one Pawlowski entered in 2015, are a different story, he said.

“When you start out in those primaries, it’s really up to those candidates to work hard and raise money,” Pawlowski said.

The mayor readily acknowledged that he looked to city vendors as a possible source for campaign contributions. He testified that he looked to people and companies that may be in a good position to donate, and city vendors are exactly the types that benefited from policies that led to $1 billion worth of outside investment in Allentown.

Pawlowski told jurors that he learned lessons from the governor's race and realized that he needed to put in the time and effort to fundraising. He started "working non-stop" to raise at least $500,000 by June 30, 2015.

"I hate fundraising," he said. "I don't think there's a candidate alive who likes fundraising."

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