What To Make of League Foe Steve Trombley’s New Job?

Steve Trombley

Steve Trombley at Chicago City Hall in October 2009 [Photo by Matt Yonke]

Steve Trombley has a new job. The former CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois (PPI) has just moved to Vermont to take over as CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE). What to make of this transfer?

It had been anticipated by many in the pro-life movement—and probably many in the pro-abortion movement, too—that Trombley would be quietly fired as CEO of what was at that time Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area, once the controversy over their Aurora mega-abortuary had died down.

Trouble for Trombley

The lies and deception surrounding Planned Parenthood’s construction of the huge facility in Aurora, Illinois under the cloak of a wholly-owned subsidiary, Gemini Office Development, drew national media attention, spawned three lawsuits and earned Aurora the dishonor of being declared “Ground Zero” in the abortion wars by pro-life and pro-abortion leaders alike. For a while it looked like the entire $7 million project might collapse.

Trombley eventually managed to open the doors of the “Abortion Fortress of Aurora.” But the lawsuits continue—including my libel suit, Scheidler v. Trombley—and so does the daily impact of one of the most muscular grassroots pro-life communities in the country, due in large part to Trombley’s mishandling of the Aurora project.

Trombley was never fired, but what now to make of his transfer to New England?

Promotion or Demotion?

My first thought on hearing the news last week was that this might be some kind of demotion. But looking at the Charity Navigator stats for PPI and PPNNE, I find that both affiliates have similar budgets ($22,103,978 and $20,497,082, respectively, for fiscal year 2008). At PPI, Trombley drew a salary more than twice that of PPNE CEO Cheryl Gibson ($313,614 versus $173,230)—but that doesn’t tell us what PPNE will be paying Trombley.

Then today I talked to the head of Vermont Right to Life, Mary Hahn Beerworth. She called PPNNE the “plumb” of Planned Parenthood affiliates. PP is very powerful in Vermont, taking in all $11 million of the state’s Title X money and effectively running the state’s public school sex-ed programs. Links between PP and the state health department are so tight that it’s hard to see where one ends and the other begins.

Steve Trombley

Steve Trombley outside Aurora City Hall in October 2007 [Photo by J.T. Eschbach]

It sounds like heading the PP affiliate based in Vermont would be a kind of dream job for the likes of Trombley, a reward for his faithful service to the cause. Or perhaps he’s effectively being put out to pasture; with PPNNE in such a strong position, maybe they figure a bungler like Trombley can do little harm.

My guess is it’s the latter. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned fighting Planned Parenthood, it’s that you can’t often guess what they’re thinking.

Take for instance the strange display of tiny pink slips, supposedly one for each supporter, that they displayed on a sort of fence of strings outside the Aurora facility before it opened. From a distance it looked like barbed wire, while up close it looked more like a pro-life display, especially after some pro-lifer put up a sign reading, “These ribbons represent babies killed by Planned Parenthood in just two days.”

Planned Parenthood just doesn’t do grassroots very well. Where they excel is in manipulating the sympathetic media and intimidating state and local government officials. Maybe the top brass at Planned Parenthood were impressed that Trombley was able to effectively use their stock-in-trade and get the Aurora facility opened in the end.

League Not Finished with Trombley

We’ll have to wait and see what they’ll be paying him in Vermont, and who his replacement will be in Illinois. But whatever the reasons for this transfer, we at the Pro-Life Action League can be sure our relationship with Steve Trombley will continue because of Scheidler v. Trombley.

I first encountered Steve Trombley in the federal coutroom of Judge Charles Norgle when PPI was suing the City of Aurora, trying to force the city to let them open before the completion of a fraud investigation. The judge was having none of it. I shook Trombley’s hand and said, “Nice to meet you”; he reciprocated, but I think he was in something of a daze, because when I next saw him—outside the Aurora City Council—he refused to shake my hand.

I’ve also run into Trombley in Kane County Court for a key hearing in the libel suit, and at Chicago City Hall during the Bubble Zone vote.

But our most interesting encounter was on the 78th floor of the Sears Tower for his deposition in the libel suit. The deposition was held in a conference room at Sonnenschein Nath and Rosenthal, a huge international law firm whose Chicago offices occupy eight floors of the Sears Tower.

It’s David versus Goliath

What was interesting about this scene wasn’t anything Trombley said. His answers to the questions put to him by my attorneys from the Thomas More Society were a tedious refrain of obfuscation. What fascinated me was how this scene represented the entire pro-life movement in a nutshell.

Here was the highly-compensated CEO of one of the state’s most influential corporations, with his squadron of top-shelf lawyers ensconced in palatial offices in one of the world’s architectural wonders, somehow cornered in his lies about his small-fry pro-life opponents, and sweating.

The pro-life movement is the classic David and Goliath tale. With only a tiny fraction of the funding, political influence and media sympathy of our opponents in the abortion industry, we still manage to keep the fight for unborn babies’ lives going. And that story will continue, no matter who’s at the helm of Planned Parenthood’s various affiliates around the country.

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