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Published: Thursday, 8/15/2002

Even insiders can't unravel soap opera

There must be a lesson for the citizenry in this whole Sandy Isenberg-Dock Treece mess, although God alone knows what it might be.

I worked the phones all day yesterday, swapping speculation with politicians and political onlookers alike, and this much I can report with absolute certainty - no one quite knows (or is willing to say, even off the record) just what all is behind the Isenberg-Treece smackdown.

All I know is, Ms. Isenberg (AKA She Who Must Be Obeyed, or, SWMBO) killed my Tuesday column, which is too bad because it was kinda funny.

The premise was my failure to find just the right “happy nonretirement” greeting card for two elected officials (SWMBO and Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger) who'd announced their plan to (1) “retire;” (2) start collecting their pensions, and; (3) turn right around and reclaim their jobs at full salary, thereby (4) cranking off plenty of registered voters.

Trouble was, the double-dipping column I finished Monday afternoon was no longer current later that evening, when Ms. Isenberg - or rather, her fax machine - announced she was pulling her hand away from the cookie jar.

“I was wrong,” she bravely faxed via her public-relations firm.

But that was then.

This is now.

Now, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who much cares about the double-dipping controversy (Judge Puffenberger's lucky day!), because it seems soooo long ago, given the more interesting controversies that have since surfaced.

A press conferences with bribery accusations! Another press conference with heated denials! Emergency hospitalization! A lawsuit!

The head spins ...

But on its face, it's almost inconceivable to think SWMBO would bribe Mr. Treece to bow out; all things being equal, the long-entrenched Democrat would likely have stomped her Republican opponent soundly come election day.

Dock Treece, after all, is the guy who lost a township trustee race, coming in third in a race for two seats - and he was an incumbent!

If Mr. Treece claimed SWMBO tried to bribe him to stay IN the race, that would make sense, since he presents little more than a gnat-like political threat to a veteran like Ms. Isenberg.

No, SWMBO would have been better off had he remained her opponent.

And yet, nearly everyone I spoke with yesterday had little trouble believing that Mr. Treece believes his bribery claim.

As politician after politician described it, being an elected official is a lot like junior high: it's all about behind-your-back gossip. A Government Center insider told me:

“I wouldn't doubt it if someone said, `Geez, Dock, you could probably be on the port authority or something, but you blew it by running against Sandy,' and he took that to mean an offer.”

Personally, I'm almost sorry to see this scandal, because it buries one of the county's eyebrow-raising political quotes.

Back before Mr. Treece, a money manager, leveled his spectacular accusation, he publicly mulled the idea of pulling out of the race because volatile market conditions demanded his time and attention.

“It's easy to lose interest when you're making money,” he said, thereby separating himself forever from history's long list of other, more civic-minded rich guys.

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