Earmarks, of course, are perfectly legal, and most congressmen go out of their way to bring home money to their districts. “What Murtha is doing everybody else is doing,” says Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It’s just to such a higher degree that it becomes shocking.” And, while Murtha’s radical approach may well have saved Johnstown–a place that, due to natural or economic forces, always seems perched on the edge of extinction–it also created a city unduly dependent on one man: himself. If other congressional scandals in recent years have primarily revolved around individuals, from Jack Abramoff to “Duke” Cunningham to William Jefferson, the Murtha scandal involves the fate of an entire city…

There are a handful of people in Johnstown who seem to recognize the peril the city will face once Murtha is gone. “All major corporations have succession plans, and, if you want to think about this as a business model, if Jack is the CEO of the area, what is our succession plan here?” Donato Zucco, who served as the city’s mayor in the 1990s and worked closely with Murtha during that period to rebuild the city, told me. “I don’t think we have one, and I don’t know that people are even thinking about it.” When I asked Nick Jacobs what he thought the impact of Murtha’s eventual departure would be, he paused for a moment, as if he were trying to calibrate what he was about to say, before replying: “I think it will be worse than the Johnstown Flood.”