CHRIS KELLY: Kane V. Kane
NORRISTOWN — You meet memorable characters hanging around a courthouse, especially when it’s 90 degrees with 97 percent humidity and you are fool enough to risk public suffocation for a nicotine fix.
Two such characters appeared Wednesday as I committed time-lapse suicide outside the Montgomery County Courthouse, where state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane was on trial for perjury and other offenses. Sun-scorched and short on time, the couple was relieved to stumble upon anyone voluntarily inhaling carcinogens.
Her tattoos documented a lifetime of poor choices. Emerging from the ankle of her right foot, a badly rendered Ms. Pac-Man chased a series of dots that continued on her left foot, trailing a ghost she can never catch. Judging by his ill-fitting suit and Olympic chain-smoking, I deducted that it was the guy’s day in court.
“What’s going on with all the TV trucks?” she asked.
“They’re here for the Kane trial,” I said. Further explanation proved necessary.
“Oh yeah, her,” she said, exhaling a Weather Channel-worthy cloud of tainted vapor. “I heard a lot about that, and I read some (stuff) on my phone, but I didn’t know that was happening now.”
“Started Monday,” I said. “It’s been in all the newspapers.”
“Nobody reads newspapers anymore,” the guy hissed, swimming in his sweat-soaked suit.
“Well, maybe you should start,” I said. He grinned and lit another butt.
I wished them luck and went inside, up to Courtroom C, a barrister’s ballroom illuminated by skylights and eight ornate chandeliers. Spectators settled into creaky oak pews with oxblood cushions that matched the carpet.
Past the bar, the attorney general chatted with her army of lawyers, including Gerald Shargel, whose long list of victories includes a 1990 acquittal for infamous mob boss John Gotti, who after a later conviction died in prison in 2002. Dressed in a black blazer, red print blouse and sharp skirt, Ms. Kane seemed as cool and confident as the “Teflon Don.” Facing charges that could put her behind bars, she showed no sweat.
If she hadn’t been sitting at the defense table, you might have mistaken Ms. Kane for a competent, clear-eyed prosecutor preparing to slam-dunk an airtight case. Instead, that role was filled by Bucks County First Assistant District Attorney Michelle Henry, who was deputized for the trial. Ms. Henry — physically shorter and deliberately less glamorous than Ms. Kane — stood tall on the evidence, which piled high all week.
This should have been Kathleen Kane’s time to shine. The first woman and Democrat elected to the state’s top law enforcement post, she took office as her party’s brightest rising star. She had the political potential to be a future governor or U.S. senator, and was destined for a star turn in Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency.
First Woman To Win Any Job Once Locked Up By The Old Boys’ Network is political platinum in this mean season, especially as Republican presidential pretender Donald Trump keeps reminding female voters of every chauvinist moron who ever made their debasement a condition of advancement.
Instead of riding Hillary’s coat tails to an easy re-election, however, Ms. Kane is on trial for perjury, false swearing, obstruction of justice, official oppression and criminal conspiracy. Her law license is suspended and she chose not to run for re-election.
Once a budding icon of feminist cool, the West Scranton native — with her flowing brown locks and blonde highlights — looked like a cut-rate Melania Trump awaiting instruction from the smart, powerful men hired to liberate a desperate damsel in distress.
How in hell did we get here?
Well, for all her political promise, Ms. Kane sorely lacked practical experience and professional maturity — lethal weaknesses her enemies targeted but which she could or would not acknowledge. Trial testimony of former staffers revealed her as a vindictive, incompetent manager who abused her power to smite political enemies and intimidate employees. Then she lied under oath to shift blame onto underlings who did her dark bidding.
Kathleen Kane has many enemies, but none worse than herself. This was clear to me as we chatted in her Scranton office in June 2014. She had already lost two communications directors over her unwise and unnecessary tussles with the press, and offered me the job. She admitted making mistakes (like issuing empty threats to The Philadelphia Inquirer), but still bristled at what she saw as unfair attacks on her reputation.
I was stunned to learn that she not only read the bile discharged in the comments sections of media websites, but actually let such garbage get to her. She was the state attorney general, yet somehow she fretted over the petty insults of anonymous, cowardly cranks who couldn’t carry her briefcase. Public life is no place for the thin-skinned. Unfair attacks on reputations have been a staple of politics since Plato.
“You’re bigger than that,” I said, hoping it was true. I liked Ms. Kane and identified with her as a fellow egomaniac with low self-esteem. While nervous about her tendencies toward self-sabotage, I took the job. A couple of weeks before starting it, I opted to stay put at The Times-Tribune. It was one of the few good choices I’ve made in a life littered with avoidable foibles.
If I had gone to work for Ms. Kane, I might have been in Norristown on Wednesday as a testifying witness. From bad tattoos to ill-fitting suits to illegal leaks of grand jury testimony, choices chart the course of every life, big and small, public and private. Kathleen Kane is innocent until proven guilty, but the verdict on her political and professional career is in: Her rising star has gone supernova, a hot mess that swallowed itself in a futile feast of revenge against political enemies Ms. Kane should have brushed aside like mosquitoes too weak to carry Zika.
Shortly after Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy gaveled a recess for lunch on Wednesday, Ms. Kane and I shared a brief encounter as a stone-faced handler ushered her to an exit.
“Hello,” she said. I replied in kind.
“How are you?” she asked.
“I’m OK,” I said. “How are you?”
It was a stupid question, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Ms. Kane responded with an icy glare that could have cut the day’s oppressive heat by at least a dozen degrees.
The attorney general had nothing to say in her own defense Friday, except that she judged the prosecution’s case as too weak to require her to take the stand. Her defense team called no witnesses, apparently planning to present their entire case during Monday’s closing arguments.
And so this weekend serves as an ellipsis, a series of dots chasing the ghost of what Kathleen Kane might have been if she hadn’t cannibalized her future to satisfy an insatiable appetite for self-destruction.
CHRIS KELLY, The Times-Tribune columnist, honestly mourns the fall of Kathleen Kane. Contact the writer:email@example.com @cjkink on Twitter. Read his daily blog at blogs.thetimes-tribune.com/kelly.