WASHINGTON – Peter Yarrow, who rose to fame in the 1960s folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, is set to do a fundraiser for Democratic congressional candidate Martha Robertson later this month in Ithaca – even though he infamously pleaded guilty in 1970 to a charge of “taking indecent liberties” with a child.
Not surprisingly, Republicans are making Yarrow’s appearance an issue in Robertson’s spirited race against Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, in the Southern Tier district that includes Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties. The Reed-Robertson race is expected to be among the hottest congressional contests in the country next year.
“It is absolutely deplorable that Martha Robertson would kick off her congressional campaign by having a convicted sex offender headline her fundraiser,” said Ian Prior, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “If Robertson’s judgment is so bad that she would even entertain the idea of raising money with a man who molested a 14-year-old girl, she has no business representing the people of the 23rd District of New York in Congress.”
Prior said Robertson should cancel the fundraiser and return any money she’s raised in connection with Yarrow’s name.
But when asked if Robertson would be doing that, campaign spokesman George Koutsos turned his attention to Reed – and recent controversies over his late payment of property taxes and his improper, but quickly corrected, payment of one tax bill out of campaign funds.
“The only candidate who has done anything illegal in this race is Tom Reed,” Koutsos said. “The only candidate who has paid his property taxes with campaign funds is Tom Reed. The only candidate whose failed record we should be questioning is Tom Reed.”
Yarrow was sentenced to three months in prison in connection with a 1969 incident with a 14-year-old girl in the nation’s capital.
“It was an era of real indiscretion and mistakes by categorically male performers. I was one of them. I got nailed. I was wrong. I’m sorry for it,” Yarrow has said, according to CNN.
In 1981, President Jimmy Carter pardoned Yarrow, who has, since the 1960s, combined his folk music career with social and political activism.
For example, in 2000 Yarrow formed Operation Respect, a nonprofit aimed at preventing bullying in schools, and last month he appeared at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
And he has given nearly $15,000 to Democratic candidates since 1998, including four-figure donations to presidential candidates John Kerry and Barack Obama. Yarrow also performed for Obama volunteers during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Yet when Yarrow planned to do a fundraiser for Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, in 2004, Frost ended up canceling his appearance and returning the money he raised in connection to it as Republicans latched onto the folk singer’s past as a campaign issue.
Due to Frost’s brief alliance with Yarrow, Republicans sent out a mailer that featured a “Martin Frost Child Molester Timeline” in that 2004 race, which Frost lost to Republican Pete Sessions.
Yarrow’s fundraiser for Robertson, chairwoman of the Tompkins County Legislature, is scheduled Sept. 29.
An email advertising the event said guests will be able to meet Yarrow at a private event at 6 p.m. that will feature “Signed “Puff the Magic Dragon” Pop-up Books for Sponsors & Hosts.” Sponsors will pay $1,000, while hosts will pay $500.
A concert will follow at 7:15, with the suggested donation price for a ticket set at $100.