HARRISBURG - A solid legal background, a willingness to listen, leadership and lots of stamina are among the qualities that anyone serving as Pennsylvania attorney general must have, former officeholders say.
Three former attorneys general and one would-be top state legal officer spoke recently to The Associated Press about qualifications for the job amid the closely watched election contest between Democratic candidate Kathleen Kane and Republican David Freed.
The candidates' experience as prosecutors has been a talking point in the race.
Kane, 46, of Scranton, is a former Lackawanna County assistant district attorney. Freed, 42, of Camp Hill, is Cumberland County's district attorney and says his seven years as manager in the office makes his resume superior to Kane's.
The winner of the Nov. 6 election will succeed Linda Kelly, last year's gubernatorial appointee who agreed not to run for the four-year term. She currently oversees a staff of more than 700 employees and a state appropriation of more than $78 million.
Former Attorney General Walter Cohen said Pennsylvania needs "a leader that is articulate, intelligent, hard-working, and I think both of them are." But Cohen doesn't agree Freed's managerial experience necessarily makes him the better candidate.
"Where do you learn to be a manager? You learn that in business school and they went to law school," said the Harrisburg lawyer and Republican who was attorney general for several months following Ernie Preate's resignation in 1995 after a criminal conviction.
Freed earned his law degree at Penn State University's Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle. Kane graduated from Temple University Law School in Philadelphia.
Gerald Pappert, a Republican who served a year as attorney general to complete Mike Fisher's term when he was appointed to the federal appeals bench in 2004, said he learned how to manage the office in his previous role as Fisher's first deputy. The attorney general also sets office policy and makes the calls on the budget and personnel matters, he noted.
"Managing an office, being the boss so to speak, is important in that job," Pappert said. "And that is an advantage, respectfully, for Dave."
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, the Democratic nominee for attorney general in 2008, said management experience is a plus and called Freed "a nice guy and a solid prosecutor." But Morganelli, who himself has more than 20 years of experience in his job, supports Kane for attorney general.
The former officeholders said the next attorney general's temperament and leadership style will be closely scrutinized.
Pappert said it's particularly important for a new attorney general to win the respect of the many prosecutors, investigators and other key people in the office whose careers span multiple attorneys general. Those people "watch who comes in and watch them very closely," he said. "Those folks deserve strong leadership."
An attorney general must "learn to listen to people and then you have to be decisive, be a leader," said Preate, who served 14 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud and who is now a defense lawyer in Scranton. "You can't pre-judge things ... You have to resist the temptation to take the political shot."
They also described the demands of the office as immense.
The attorney general prosecutes organized crime, public corruption, drug trafficking and Medicaid fraud. The office directs statewide and multi-county grand juries. It represents state agencies in legal actions against them, provides legal advice to the governor upon request, enforces consumer-protection laws, collects delinquent state taxes, represents the state in anti-trust actions and reviews all proposed state rules, deeds, leases and contracts.
"There wasn't enough time in the day to get everything done you wanted to get done," said Preate, a Republican like everyone who has held the post since it became an elective office in 1980.
Pappert said traveling among the regional offices consumed much of his time.
"I was on the road roughly three and a half days a week," he said, adding that the job of attorney general requires "constant time and constant diligence."