African-American among Corbett cabinet nominees

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Even though Democrats continued to criticize Governor-Elect Tom Corbett for a lack of diversity on his transition team, he named John Wetzel, an African-American, to head the state’s Department of Corrections.

“John Wetzel has shown to have just the kind of experience we need right now in Pennsylvania,” Corbett said during the Dec. 18 announcement. “He successfully managed the finances at Franklin County Jail, keeping expenditures below their budget despite operating a facility that was running at 175 percent capacity.”

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JOHN WETZEL

Wetzel, who has served as warden of the Franklin County Jail since 2002, worked his way through the ranks, beginning his career in corrections as a prison guard in 1989.  In 2007, Gov. Edward G. Rendell appointed him to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.

Wetzel said he is deeply honored to have been nominated and excited at the opportunity.

“A Black man from Chambersburg—that’s news in itself,”  he joked. “But it really is a great privilege to be nominated, and I’m looking forward to it. My kids think I instantly became cooler.”

Wetzel said he has no idea how long the state Senate confirmation process will take, but with several people going through it simultaneously, he said he plans to be at the jail processing inmates for a while

In his new position, Corbett said, Wetzel will be in charge of the overall management and operation of the Department of Corrections, “to ensure the safe, humane incarceration of adult offenders in Pennsylvania.”

Wetzel, 41, is a graduate of Bloomsburg College, and is married with four children.

Democratic Committee Chair Jim Burn had complained that Corbett’s 377-member transition team, which included just 26 minorities and 56 women, was worrisome because it lacked diversity.

Corbett’s other four cabinet nominees to date are all White males; Frank Noonan, Alan Walker, Glenn Moyer and Charles Zogby.

Corbett has tapped Noonan, a U.S. Marine veteran, who spent 25 years with the FBI before joining the state Attorney General’s office in 1998, to serve as State Police Commissioner. Corbett had promoted him Chief of Criminal Investigations in July 2009.

With Corbett’s critics citing his campaign receiving nearly $1 million from the oil and gas industry, and his transition team consisting of  more energy industry representatives than environmentalists, Walker’s nomination might have raised some eyebrows, as he has worked in the coal business for forty years. But he will have no oversight of Marcellus Shale production.

Instead, Walker has been tapped to head the Department of Community and Economic Development.  His 99-year-old father, Ray, founded the Bradford Coal Company as a brokerage in 1935, before moving into coal production. Walker joined in 1973 and sold off the firm’s last mining operations, about 10 years ago.

On Dec. 22, Corbett nominated Zogby, who served as education secretary under Gov. Tom Ridge, as Budget Secretary and Moyer, a Berks County Banker as Banking Secretary.

“Our goal is to enact a responsible, commonsense budget,” said Corbett. “Charles Zogby’s experience and knowledge of the inner workings of state government make him an ideal choice as Budget Secretary.”

Though some voiced concern that the transition team included few African-Americans beyond folks like former state Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Baldwin, and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, Philadelphia consultant Maurice Floyd told the Philadelphia Tribune he was not.

“I can assure that in the next round, where it really matters, that there will be African-Americans,” he said.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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