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Capitol Portraits: History Or Disgrace?

HARRISBURG — During his time in the Pennsylvania Senate, Bob Mellow was President pro tempore in the early 1990s. The title pretty much amounts to leader of the senate.

Now, Mellow and several other former leaders in Harrisburg are better known as convicts, having used their power in corrupt ways. Still, there are very visible reminders of those men in the historic state capitol.

While students sang patriotic songs inside the state capitol rotunda Tuesday, the wheels of state government were turning. In the house chamber, lawmakers recognized a former Penn State quarterback for his achievements. And every day, former leaders of the house and senate are honored with portraits that hang on either end of the rotunda.

Even Benjamin Franklin has a portrait in the state capitol.  And so does former Senator Bob Mellow from Lackawanna County.  We showed you his portrait last week after a second round of corruption charges were filed against him.

Mellow’s picture hangs alongside other Presidents pro tempore of the senate and only now, there is talk about possibly removing the portrait of Mellow and some others who are serving time for corruption.

“History will be the ultimate judge of whether or not the good work outweighs the mistakes that were made and the laws that were broken,” said Senator John Yudichak (D) 14th District.

The state capitol building is a national historical landmark marked by ornate artwork on the outside and inside of the building. On the inside are portraits of some of the most powerful lawmakers over time, including John Perzel and Bill DeWeese, both Speakers of the House, who are both serving time for corruption.

Lawmakers say the decision to leave the portraits of Perzel and DeWeese is up to Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the senate.

Officials in the house say their historical value is important, even if what a select few men did while in power was an unfortunate part of history.

“Right or wrong, it’s a part of history,” said Rep. David Millard (R) Columbia County. “No matter what you feel what they may or may not have been involved in, it’s a part of history. Those portraits represent a point in time, of what they served in this capitol.”

A spokesperson for Senator Joe Scarnati, the current President pro tempore  says there have been discussions about taking down Mellow’s portrait but for right now “if you are a President pro tempore, you will have your portrait hung.”


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