Candidate Brian O’Donnell, who studied the religion, calls tactic “a whisper campaign.”
WILKES-BARRE – Democratic state representative contender Brian O’Donnell says he is an active, practicing Catholic and is disturbed about talk questioning his faith.
O’Donnell, a candidate for retiring state Rep. Kevin Blaum’s seat, belongs to St. Therese’s Church in Wilkes-Barre and attends Mass every Sunday with his family. They receive Communion and have no desire or plans to leave the religion, he said.
A political phone poll making the rounds asks specifically whether a candidate’s belief in Scientology would sway the respondent at the polls. One participant said the pollster identified the polling company as Community Research Group, but refused to divulge who commissioned the poll.
O’Donnell said he has studied Scientology and has “raised” his business on the financial writings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
“I also send my son to the Jewish Community Center camp every summer,” said O’Donnell, considered a strong candidate for the 121st District seat.
“Those are all personal choices.”
O’Donnell said the focus should be on how he would perform as a state representative.
“If this election becomes a referendum on someone’s religious beliefs, and not a complete and intelligent discussion on the future of our area, we will perish as a region,” O’Donnell said.
There’s clearly a “whisper campaign of intolerance” moving through the political race, he said.
“These kinds of whisper campaigns reek of trouble in that they’re a precursor to religious persecution,” O’Donnell said. “We can’t be a community that whispers.”
None of the five candidates battling for Blaum’s seat has claimed ownership of the poll that asks about Scientology, among other questions.
The other four also say they are practicing Catholics.
O’Donnell wouldn’t confirm or deny launching the poll, saying he’s not going to divulge his campaign strategy and doesn’t believe other candidates will either.
Democratic contender Eddie Pashinski said he’s baffled by the Scientology question. He said he knows it was asked because his wife, Millie, took the poll Wednesday afternoon. Millie said she also knew of two other people who had been contacted and were asked about Scientology.
Luzerne County Clerk of Courts Bob Reilly, one of four Democratic challengers, said he heard about the Scientology question from people who took the poll.
Reilly said he had nothing to do with a poll and doesn’t know why Scientology was broached. “I don’t even know what Scientology is.”
Scientology is a religious movement based on the beliefs and teachings of Hubbard.
Supporters of the Church of Scientology say Hubbard’s teachings have helped them overcome problems, including physical and mental illnesses.
According to the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia, critics characterize scientology as an “unscrupulous commercial organization.” It’s often described as a cult and has attracted celebrities such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
Former city Administrator Jim Hayward, the remaining Democratic challenger, and Christine Katsock – the lone Republican contender – say they didn’t know about the poll or the Scientology question and have no idea why it was brought up.
Millie Pashinski said other poll questions centered on some of the following:
The performance of Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton.
Whether endorsement or backing by Blaum and U.S. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke, would make a candidate more or less appealing.
If an “ethnic” last name makes the poll-taker more or less interested in a particular candidate.
Whether union affiliation or government employment is a plus or minus.
Respondents also were asked their age, income and the neighborhood in which they reside. The poll lasted roughly 15 minutes, participants say.
Millie Pashinski said snippet descriptions were presented about each Democratic contender, and the questions were blatantly slanted against Pashinski and Reilly, and strongly in favor of O’Donnell.
It pointed out that Pashinski is a retired teacher who received a large pension and had been a rock band leader, she said.
The poll said Reilly supervised two employees who were arrested and lost their jobs.
O’Donnell was described in a much more flattering light as a small-business owner who is actively involved in non-profits and worked to increase police protection in schools as a Wilkes-Barre Area School Board member, Millie Pashinski said.
“Frankly, I’m expecting that kind of negativism to pop up,” Eddie Pashinski said. “They’ll try to get personal rather than staying on the issues.”
Reilly said it’s “disheartening” that the campaign seems to be turning negative. He said he pledged to “stay on a positive note” but won’t let attacks go undefended.
O’Donnell said he feels the same way.