A heated he-said-she-said has erupted in the waning days of the tense PA-9 Republican Congressional primary in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Two female supporters of candidate Dan Meuser have told City & State PA that opponent George Halcovage subjected them to rage-filled outbursts while he served as chair of the Schuylkill County Commissioners.
Mary Beth Dougherty, a then-staffer for state Sen. Dave Argall, says Halcovage cornered her in a courthouse elevator in February 2015 and screamed at her over a policy disagreement. Former Schuylkill County Detective Dolly Malec recalled a similar altercation with Halcovage in the same county courthouse over her handling of a bomb threat.
Halcovage denies having anything more than ordinary conversations with both women and says their comments coming to light in the waning days of the primary are politically motivated.
“I have heard nothing about that until now – when I am in the middle of a campaign,” he said. “There are people who may have personal vendettas against me and who have never been for me.”
Dougherty says her motivation to come forward is partly political. She wants Halcovage to lose over the alleged encounter that she says was so frightening that she called the police.
But the issue that she says elicited such a vitriolic reaction three years ago from Halcovage was mundane: Dougherty had sent an email earlier criticizing county officials for obstructing a land bank proposal that she supported.
“A friend of mine works in the county office and I had stopped in to say hello. George spied me and says, ‘Can I talk to you?’” she remembered. “Then we get into the elevator and he gets in my face, pointing at me and saying, ‘Don’t ever send an email about this again.’”
She said Halcovage was screaming so loudly at her that his face had turned red. She said he threatened to ruin her job with Argall and blocked her attempts to leave the cramped compartment. She said that she had to yell several times before he relented.
“I could see the fury on his face,” she recalled. “I can still see the expression on his face today.”
Halcovage denies engaging in anything more than a normal conversation with Dougherty but agreed that they had discussed the land bank in the county courthouse elevator. Both also agreed that Dougherty was at least perturbed enough to report the incident to the Schuylkill County DA and Pottsville Police Department.
“I saw her on the day in question when leaving the courthouse and explained to her the reasoning behind our policy in what I felt was a very professional way,” Halcovage said in a phone interview. “Surprisingly, she went to the city police and an officer eventually spoke to me.”
Dougherty says she only wanted to log the encounter and didn’t pursue further action to avoid publicly incriminating a fellow Republican. Today, she said, she wants people to know about Halcovage’s temper in case he makes it to Washington, D.C.
“I did it (deciding not to go public) to protect my party – and I shouldn’t have,” she said. “I’ve been helping Dan Meuser and this is part of the reason. I cannot see George Halcovage as my Congressman.”
Retired Schuylkill County Chief Detective Dolly Malec offered City & State PA an account of a similar incident involving Halcovage – this time over the handling of a 2014 bomb threat.
During tense moments after a caller left a voicemail threatening to blow up the courthouse, Malec relayed the recording to investigators from the Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center and Homeland Security. Later, as the call had been made to the county commissioners main telephone line, she sought out Halcovage to inquire if he knew of any possible suspects. The caller, who was later arrested, had mentioned Halcovage by his first name.
When she informed Halcovage that she had shared the recording with outside law enforcement officials, she said, he slammed down a portfolio and began reprimanding her in front of other county officials.
“He said not to share the tapes with anyone and that (Pottsville police) Chief (Rich) Wojciechowsky was in charge,” she wrote in a statement to the county DA after the alleged argument. “I told him it was my job to let (Homeland Security) know what was going on.”
Halcovage asserted that Pottsville city police had instructed him not to let anyone near the phone that had captured a voicemail of the threat.
“I asked Chief Malec and the others to leave the office. Neither of the other two county employees took issue with my request,” he said. “I never acted inappropriately or unprofessionally at any time.”
Malec says Dougherty had recently encouraged her to talk to a reporter about the alleged incident. She acknowledged that she also supports Meuser, but is not involved with his campaign.
Unlike Dougherty, Malec said she did not feel threatened by Halcovage’s alleged behavior – merely that she found it unprofessional.
“I didn’t think of it as threatening...I’ve had guns pointed at me before. George Halcovage doesn’t scare me,” she said. “But I felt like he flew off the handle because he thought I was beneath him and because I was a woman. And you don’t talk down to someone in law enforcement like that. It’s deplorable.”
During a phone interview, the candidate reiterated that his political enemies were seeking to discredit him ahead of the hotly contested three-way Republican primary (Scott Uehlinger is the third candidate for the party nod) to succeed Congressman Lou Barletta, who is forgoing the PA-9 seat to challenge incumbent US Sen. Bob Casey in the November general election.
But he could not speculate why both women had been moved to log reports with law enforcement years ago over what he described as simple disagreements.
“I don’t know what their motive was. I’m a people person. I’ve had thousands of normal interactions with constituents,” he said. “They must just be the exception.”
Although Halcovage was only a colleague in the world of Schuylkill County politics and not her superior, Dougherty drew a rough parallel between the incident to harassment issues that have come to light in the #MeToo era. She felt she was treated differently because of her gender.
“In those few seconds when he wouldn’t move, I knew that fear of not knowing where this was going,” she recalls. “I was crying – I was so upset. I don't want anyone else who has to work with him to have to feel that way.”