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Temple ties deep in upcoming elections

In midterm elections, trustees put financial weight behind candidates from both parties.

With the national and state elections heating up in 2014, several members of Temple’s Board of Trustees, the university’s highest governing body, have begun actively fundraising for campaigns across the country through a series of political action committees. 

Meanwhile, Trustee Nelson Diaz has garnered media attention as a possible candidate for Philadelphia mayor in 2015.

Media speculation for a possible 2015 mayoral run began as early as March 2013, when Philly Clout, the political blog of Philly.com, reported that Diaz was considering a run.

“I told them that unless they raise me $1 million, I’m not getting into any race,” Diaz said to the blog. “If you don’t see the money, you don’t get into the race.”

Angel Ortiz, the city’s first Latino councilman and a supporter of Diaz’s potential campaign, later said Diaz was joking.

Diaz did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Other trustees besides Diaz are politically involved as well. Board Chairman Patrick O’Connor’s law firm, Cozen O’Connor, has a political action committee which has donated the maximum limit of $10,000 to three senators outside of Pennsylvania: Mark Udall of Colorado, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Oregon senator Ron Wyden, according to campaign finance records. All three senators are Democrats. Overall, the firm has donated more than $89,000 to influence the 2014 elections.

Trustee H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, who co-owns the Philadelphia Inquirer, recently donated $250,000 to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s reelection campaign, reportedly in thanks for signing the grant for the Museum of the American Revolution, for which Lenfest was a principal donor. Lenfest, who was sworn in last October, was Corbett’s appointee to Temple’s board.

Athletics committee chairman and fellow Inquirer owner Lewis Katz was a freeholder in Camden County, N.J. from 1972 through 1976, and was later the chair of the Democratic Party in Cherry Hill, N.J.

In 2012, Katz donated $25,000 to the Super PAC “End the Gridlock,” which didn’t have a website or mission statement. Katz’s contribution, the eighth largest, ultimately went to the winning campaign of Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer. Katz had also donated to Fischer’s opponent, Republican Bob Kerrey.

Since the governor and state legislature appoint 12 of Temple’s 36 trustees, politically involved trustees are fairly commonplace.

“The governor looks for highly qualified candidates whose professional experience, community involvement, leadership, financial knowledge and/or business acumen will provide meaningful contributions to the Board of Trustees and the Temple University community,” Corbett spokeswoman Janet Kelley said in November.

Trustee Ronald R. Donatucci is the ward leader for the city’s 26th ward in South Philadelphia and has served as register of wills for the city since 1979. Donatucci was appointed to Temple’s board by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2006. Michael J. Stack, appointed by the Pennsylvania Senate in 2001, is a state senator for Northeast Philadelphia.

Diaz, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was the first Latino student in Temple’s Beasley School of Law. On the board, he has been known to disagree with many other trustees. He focuses on admitting more minority and working-class students into the university. He has previously served as city solicitor and was a judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas from 1981 through 1993.

Joe Brandt can be reached at joseph.brandt@temple.edu or on Twitter @jbrandt7.

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