Former Pa. House speaker Rozzi endorses Kenyatta in auditor general primary

The Berks County Democrat said he will retire from politics at the end of his term to focus on his mental health

By: - January 31, 2024 4:21 pm

Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) speaks during a rally for sexual abuse survivors at the Pennsylvania Capitol on April 4, 2022. (Pa. House Democrats photo)

As he announced his own retirement from politics, state Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) on Monday endorsed his former opponent Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) for the Democratic nomination to run for auditor general this fall.

Rozzi, who championed legal relief for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and briefly served as House speaker, ended his own campaign for auditor general after the state Democratic Party endorsed Kenyatta in December.

Rozzi told The Philadelphia Inquirer in an interview published Wednesday that he would step back from politics when his current term ends this year to focus on his mental health after encountering a bout of severe depression. Rozzi said in October after announcing his run for auditor general that he would endorse his ex-wife Jacklyn Rusnock in a run for his House seat.

In a statement, Rozzi said Kenyatta is uniquely qualified for the role of auditor general, a position in charge of the state’s watchdog agency responsible for flagging waste and fraud in state programs and agencies. 

“I’ve served with him and know that he is never shy about speaking up for hard-working Pennsylvanians,” Rozzi said. “This job is the state’s watchdog and public advocate. No one in the state House is better at delivering a message and focusing voters on it.” 

Kenyatta, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2022, said he is grateful to have Rozzi’s endorsement. He noted Rozzi’s courage in fighting for survivors of sexual abuse and in being honest about his struggle with depression.

Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) endorses Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) for auditor general Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024 (screen capture)

“His openness will help so many others who are struggling in silence,” Kenyatta said. “Like him, I plan to be an auditor general who speaks up for victims, demands justice, and helps deliver a government that works for working people. That starts with beating [incumbent Republican Auditor General] Tim Defoor.” 

Kenyatta will face Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley in the April 23 Democratic primary.

In his interview with the Inquirer, Rozzi said the depression he encountered over the last several months stems from his sexual abuse by a priest when he was a boy. Rozzi said he will spend the rest of his term fighting to pass legislation that would allow adult abuse victims to sue those who harmed them and the organizations that enabled the abuse. 

Serving his sixth term representing the 126th House District, which covers part of Reading and the surrounding area, Rozzi fought for a decade to pass legislation that would create an exception to Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for sexual abuse, which requires those who were victimized as children to file a lawsuit by age 30 or forgo any claims against their abusers.

Rozzi’s effort to pass the legislation led to his election as House speaker in January 2023 when the evenly-divided chamber was unable to muster enough votes for either caucus’ candidate. As speaker, Rozzi attempted to negotiate the bill’s passage and held a listening tour on the subject.

Several other states including New Jersey and New York have passed similar laws to Rozzi’s proposed legislation, which would create a two-year window for people whose legal claims have expired to file a lawsuit.

A version of the legislation came close to succeeding in 2021 as a constitutional ballot measure but an error in advertising the referendum set the effort back to square one. Efforts to pass the legislation this session have been unsuccessful so far as Senate Republicans have packaged the abuse survivors’ window with election reforms including a voter ID requirement. 

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.