The outcome of the race for 29th district state senator between the late Sen. James Rhoades (R-29) and democrat challenger PJ Symons may be influenced and ultimately decided by an unseen, but powerful political force in Schuylkill County politics: James Goodman, Sr. Just as the War Board had until recently controlled Republican politics in the county for the past two decades, the “Goodman Machine” has pulled the strings of democratic politics here since the 1960’s.
Rising to power as state representative for the 123rd district, Goodman instantly became the preeminent influence peddler in Schuylkill County as he built an extensive power base by reportedly granting lucrative state employment to local democratic committeemen in exchange for their votes in the county committee. From Mahanoy City to Saint Clair, nearly every prominent democratic official owed his employment or his election to Goodman. In addition, Goodman had every big money donor in his back pocket and only willing to give to candidates of his own choosing.
Goodman was reprotedly not above using his office for personal financial gain either. In the 1970’s, Goodman supposedly partnered with Rip Rowan in a laundry business with a storefront in Mahanoy City. The story goes that Goodman used his influence in Harrisburg to earn contracts with state offices in the county that Rowan would service with state lottery trucks.
As a member of the Schuylkill County Highway Committee, Goodman was dubbed “10% Jim” for allegedly approving bids to macadam legislative roads in his district only for companies that paid him a 10% homage. So, if a contractor won a job to pave a road at a price of $30,000, Goodman would automatically receive payment of $3000 right off the top.
Goodman left the General Assembly in 1987 when he was appointed the Chairman of the PA Liquor Control Board by Governor Robert P. Casey, but his influence in Schuylkill County never diminished. He named his own chief of staff, Edward J. Lucyk, as his successor to the 123rd district seat. Six years later, Goodman’s nephew, Neal, would be installed as Lucyk’s chief of staff. Following Lucyk’s retirement in 2002, Neal ascended into his Uncle Jim’s old seat, a position he has held ever since. Then in 2004, armed with over $30,000 in campaign funds reportedly from members of the liquor association around the state, Goodman’s son, Jim, Jr., defeated incumbent Frank Cori to become Schuylkill County district attorney.
What does any of this have to do with the race for Sen. Rhoades’ senate seat? Plenty.
It is no secret that Rep. Neal Goodman has wanted Rhoades’ seat for years. The only problem is that he knew that he could never beat Rhoades in a head to head campaign due to the senator’s heavy support among teachers and blue collar unions north of the mountain. Rhoades would have had across the board GOP support plus as a resident of Mahanoy City himself, a good chunk of Goodman’s own democratic supporters, making it impossible to beat him.
However, now with the recent tragic passing of the beloved senator, all bets are off. The only thing standing in Goodman’s way is democratic nominee PJ Symons. As I stated in a prior post, Symons could benefit from democratic voters reluctance to vote for a deceased Rhoades, when they know the result will be a second election. With the county currently standing as a 45-44 GOP/dem split, all Symons would need would be a few hundred Republican defectors who remember him as a sympathetic republican figure.
Enter James Goodman.
Goodman still has the clout and influence, especially in the 123rd district, to entice democratic voters who might otherwise move over to Symons to stay home a vote for Rhoades one last time. If Rhoades beats Symons Nov. 4th, nominations for the special elections go back to each respective party’s committee, which Goodman still controls. In that instance, there is little doubt that Neal Goodman would come out of the nominating process as the democratic nominee for state senate.