Rich Lord has the latest chapter in one of the most enduring feuds in Pittsburgh politics. Look for more from Rich in tomorrow's P-G:
Tonya Payne didn’t get far today with her legal challenge to the ballot petitions of state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10085/1045896-100.stm She did, however, get the opportunity to blurt out the most sizzling accusation so far in the run-up to the May 18 edition of the age-old battle for King of the Hill: That none other than City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle had forged petition signatures on Mr. Wheatley’s behalf.
Ms. Payne, of the Hill, was toppled from council by Mr. Lavelle, also of the Hill, last year. She now seeks to oust Mr. Lavelle’s former boss, Mr. Wheatley, in a Democratic primary that also features Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Mark Brentley. Ms. Payne challenged both Mr. Wheatley’s and Mr. Brentley’s ballot petitions, but filed her complaint in Common Pleas court, rather than Commonwealth Court, and thus saw it rejected today.
But not before she said this: “We were actually looking at the petitions that were circulated by Councilman Lavelle, which had forged signatures.”
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph James quickly quieted her, since he had no jurisdiction to hear the evidence, but Ms. Payne detailed her accusations out in the City-County Building hall. A petition circulated by Mr. Lavelle, dated March 7, contained the names of people who denied ever signing it.
One such person, Carla Duncan, accompanied Ms. Payne to court. Did she sign it? “I didn’t,” she said.
Ms. Payne noted that 16 signatures in a row were dated Feb. 29 — and this isn’t a leap year.
“I did circulate petitions for Jake,” Mr. Lavelle said later. “I did not forge any signatures, and this just sounds like Tonya doing what Tonya does, which is finding ways to divert attention from her inability to represent people.”
He had no explanation for the erroneous dates.
Ms. Payne wrote on March 10 to county Elections Division Manager Mark Wolosik, asking for an investigation. No word yet from Mr. Wolosik on whether he passed the matter on to the county police, who would look into it before any referral to the district attorney’s office.
Mr. Brentley, meanwhile, called the affair “a continuation of a vicious battle” between two Hill factions. “It’s been 10, 12 years, and it’s not going to end,” he said, unless someone outside of the feud — read, Brentley, of the North Side — is elected.