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Sheffield, Coy spar over election investigators

March 26, 2002|BY STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - With the general election still more than seven months away, the candidates in the running for the 89th district house seat are already questioning one another's motives.

Last week, Republican Chris Sheffield sent a letter to Democrat Jeffrey Coy accusing him of hiring private investigators to "sneak around" in his past.

Sheffield said he expected some scrutiny when he filed on March 11 to run in the primary, but said he was surprised to learn Coy sent people to check out public records in Fulton County, where Sheffield grew up and lived for several years as an adult.

Coy, a 10-term incumbent, said he directed two legislative assistants using vacation time to look up Sheffield's records in various Fulton County offices, but said such action was neither unusual nor the start of a negative campaign.

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"This is typical in any campaign. It's called oppositional research," Coy said. "I have had it done on me for 20 years."

Coy said Sheffield, who is running for his first political office, should get used to the questions.

"If you are not willing to have every part of your life examined, don't run for office," Coy said Sunday.

Coy and Sheffield are each running unopposed for their parties' nominations in the May primary. They will face one another in the November general election. The district covers the boroughs of Chambersburg and Shippensburg and several townships in Franklin and Cumberland counties.

Sheffield said he has nothing to hide and has been up front that he and his wife, Dawn, declared bankruptcy in 1997 while living in Fulton County.

Sheffield, a Shippensburg, Pa., attorney, said he believes that by digging into his past Coy is back-pedaling on his pledge to run an issues-oriented campaign.

"If you intend to run a positive campaign based on issues then why even engage in this kind of dirt gathering," he said.

Sheffield posed this question in the letter he sent Coy last week. He sent copies of the letter to local media.

"It is difficult for me to believe that the use of private investigators to go sneaking around into someone's past will assist you in any way to run a positive campaign based upon the issues," he wrote.

Coy said Sunday he received the letter. He said he had authorized two legislative aides to use a couple of days of vacation time to check public records in Fulton County.

"This is routine. If someone said they graduated from a university, well in public life it gets checked out," Coy said.

Coy said his own life, including his votes while a state representative for the last 20 years, are all matters of public record.

He also questioned Sheffield's motives.

"It looks like someone is desperately trying to get their name in the paper," Coy said.

Rep. Pat Fleagle, R-Franklin, who is running unopposed for his eighth term representing southern Franklin County, said similar background checks are occurring more frequently in state political races, but said he has never done that during his 14 years in office.

"I get disgusted with action like that, though I'm sure Republicans have done it," he said. "It's one more discouragement for people running for office."

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