Northamp­ton DA can­di­dates tan­gle

In TV fo­rum, sharp words traded over Houck’s res­i­dency, Car­roll’s stuffed mon­key

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Ri­ley Yates

The two can­di­dates for Northamp­ton County district at­tor­ney traded barbs at a tele­vised can­di­dates de­bate Mon­day night, with Repub­li­can Tom Car­roll fac­ing ques­tions of his racial sen­si­tiv­ity and Demo­crat Terry Houck forced to de­fend his per­sonal roots in the com­mu­nity.

Car­roll bris­tled when asked about a more-than-decade-old in­ci­dent in which he re­signed from the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice days af­ter he left a stuffed mon­key on the desk of a black col­league. He called the queries part of an “agenda driven by the left” and in­sisted he meant no of­fense by the mon­key, which he said was in­tended as a joke to cheer up a col­league he con­sid­ered a friend.

“I can’t imag­ine that any­one would equate a hu­man be­ing to an an­i­mal,” said Car­roll, who be­came flus­tered as one of the

tele­vised de­bate’s mod­er­a­tors, PBS host Mon­ica Evans, con­tin­ued to press him over the mon­key’s sym­bol­ism.

“This is garbage,” Car­roll said, adding: “This is just an agenda driven by the left to mis­di­rect the is­sues.”

Houck, mean­while, was asked to de­fend his Northamp­ton County ties, since he lived in Bucks County un­til just one month be­fore long­time District At­tor­ney John Mor­ganelli an­nounced he wasn’t seek­ing re­elec­tion.

Houck noted that he has served as the sec­ond-in-com­mand in Mor­ganelli’s of­fice for 13 years, and worked in Le­high County for sev­eral years be­fore that. Houck said he’s pros­e­cuted some of the most high-pro­file cases in the county in his ten­ure, and said Mor­ganelli never wor­ried about res­i­dency when he of­fered Houck the first deputy’s job.

“I’ve never once had a vic­tim, not one sin­gle time, ask where I live,” Houck said.

Car­roll said the is­sue was fair game, and he high­lighted his Bethlehem roots dur­ing his open­ing state­ment of the de­bate.

“You get a job up in Northamp­ton County 13 years ago and you de­cide not to live up here and move up here,” Car­roll told Houck. He said that raised “a le­git­i­mate ques­tion of po­lit­i­cal op­por­tunism.”

The live de­bate was held at the PBS39 stu­dios in south Bethlehem and was spon­sored by the sta­tion and The Morn­ing Call. It was con­ducted be­fore an au­di­ence of dozens of sup­port­ers from both can­di­dates’ camps.

The de­bate of­fered Houck and Car­roll a chance to in­tro­duce them­selves to vot­ers be­fore the Nov. 5 elec­tion by paint­ing the broad brush­strokes of their re­sumes and their le­gal philoso­phies. But it also marked an op­por­tu­nity for each to con­trast him­self with his op­po­nent.

And con­trast them­selves they did.

Houck, 63, has been a pros­e­cu­tor for three decades. A for­mer Philadel­phia po­lice of­fi­cer, Houck trum­peted his ex­pe­ri­ence, given a ca­reer in law en­force­ment. He noted he has been en­dorsed by po­lice unions across Northamp­ton County.

“This is my life. This is my pas­sion. And this is who I am,” Houck said.

Car­roll, 57, of Bethlehem said he has 30 years of le­gal ex­pe­ri­ence as a de­fense at­tor­ney and a pros­e­cu­tor. He cast him­self as a law en­force­ment-friendly re­former, of­fer­ing crit­i­cism of the war on drugs and say­ing it was “al­most out­ra­geous” that Northamp­ton County doesn’t have a di­ver­sion­ary court that caters ex­clu­sively to vet­er­ans.

Car­roll said his ex­pe­ri­ence as a crim­i­nal de­fense lawyer who has worked in 18 coun­ties across Penn­syl­va­nia gives him a good per­spec­tive on what is work­ing and what is not.

“I’ve also had a sole prac­tice of crim­i­nal de­fense and I’ve cov­ered cases in 18 coun­ties in the com­mon­wealth of Penn­syl­va­nia,” Car­roll said.

Car­roll is a for­mer as­sis­tant district at­tor­ney in Northamp­ton and Montgomery coun­ties, serv­ing in both as a chief pros­e­cu­tor in ju­ve­nile cases. He is also a long­time GOP ac­tivist, as the chair­man of the Le­high Val­ley Tea Party and the Bethlehem Repub­li­can City Com­mit­tee.

In 2007, Car­roll re­signed from his post as an as­sis­tant district at­tor­ney at the court­house in Eas­ton af­ter col­league Con­stance Nel­son said he left a stuffed mon­key at her desk in mimicry of her at work, The Morn­ing Call re­ported in June.

Nel­son said the mon­key em­bar­rassed and an­gered her, given the long­time trope com­par­ing blacks to apes. Nel­son told the news­pa­per that when she con­fronted Car­roll about it, he told her, “F- you if you can’t take a joke,” she said.

On Mon­day, Car­roll de­nied ut­ter­ing those words, say­ing he left the of­fice af­ter the in­ci­dent and did not see Nel­son again.

“That never hap­pened,” Car­roll said. “That never hap­pened.”

Houck, who was Nel­son and Car­roll’s su­per­vi­sor at the time, said Car­roll was given the op­tion of re­sign­ing or be­ing fired. He said he re­mem­bers Nel­son com­ing into his of­fice “shak­ing” so much that Houck was “fright­ened to death for her.”

“In the light most fa­vor­able to Mr. Car­roll, it was ex­traor­di­nar­ily bad judg­ment,” Houck said.

The de­bate also saw points of agree­ment. Nei­ther can­di­date said they would lobby for tougher gun laws. Both said they will pros­e­cute death-penalty cases. Both also said they will co­op­er­ate with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment.

The de­bate was mod­er­ated by Evans, Ni­cole Radzievich of The Morn­ing Call and Muh­len­berg Col­lege po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Christo­pher Borick.

RICK KINTZEL/THE MORN­ING CALL

Northamp­ton County District At­tor­ney can­di­dates Repub­li­can Tom Car­roll, left, and Demo­crat Terry Houck shake hands Mon­day af­ter a de­bate at the PBS39 stu­dios in Bethlehem. The de­bate is part of PBS39’s “Who Will Lead?” se­ries.

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