Email indicates state election chief forced out


Former Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes.(Photo courtesy of the York Daily Record)

(Harrisburg) — Pennsylvania’s former elections chief indicated in an email sent last month to Gov. Tom Wolf that he was forced out of his cabinet-level job, although he resigned.

The Associated Press on Monday obtained an Oct. 11 email from ex-Secretary of State Pedro Cortes in which he told Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf that he could not understand why he was being pushed out.

“I have done a great deal of soul searching in the last 24 hours,” Cortes, 51, emailed early that afternoon. “I remain at a lost to understand why you would dispense with my services without sharing with me concerns you had about my professional performance or personal life. Wished I had that opportunity.”

He signed off, “Yours truly, Pedro,” and included his personal cellphone number.

The Wolf administration, in response to the AP’s Right-to-Know Law request, also released an Oct. 12 letter to Cortes from the Democratic governor’s chief of staff, Mike Brunelle. The letter says Cortes had told Brunelle on Oct. 10 he planned to resign and outlined the next steps with human services regarding Cortes’ retirement benefits, returning his state vehicle and similar matters.

A Wolf spokesman declined to elaborate on the documents, which did not explain what Cortes meant by his “professional performance or personal life.”

The governor’s office said last month Cortes had resigned, but offered no details.

Cortes has not responded to requests for comment, including two phone messages left at his home Monday.

Cortes is also a Democrat, and Wolf nominated him when the governor took office in 2015. Cortes served in the same Cabinet role for seven years under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, at times alongside Wolf, Rendell’s revenue secretary in 2007-08.

Cortes’ abrupt departure drew considerable interest in the Capitol, where many of the state’s highest-ranking political figures said they were in the dark about what was behind it.

The resignation was made two weeks after Cortes’ agency learned from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that Russian hackers unsuccessfully tried to access Pennsylvania election systems before the 2016 presidential election.

Wolf appointed Robert Torres , the Department of State’s top deputy under Cortes, to serve as interim secretary.

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