Internecine warfare is afoot among top officials in the Republican Committee of Allegheny County. It appears the GOP's pas de deux with the tea party is playing a role.
Committee chairman Jim Roddey went to editors and reporters at the Tribune-Review yesterday to say he was endorsing Heather Heidelbaugh over Ed Kress for county council's GOP at-large seat formerly held by Chuck McCullough, a few days after council's Republicans snubbed her.
Roddey lashed out at GOP councilman Vince Gastgeb over the decision, saying "he needs to demonstrate some leadership."
It is an odd battle. The GOP is trying to ride the momentum from Tom Corbett's win in Democratic Allegheny County in the governor's race -- in which both Roddey and Gastgeb played major roles -- into the county executive's seat this year. Roddey was the last/only Republican to hold the position, but in this fight he's not taking the establishment side -- he's the aggressor.
Roddey has been openly courting tea party candidates (the movement is becoming a force in local Pennsylvania politics, he claimed in February), though that left egg on his face when Pittsburgh Tea Party leader Patti Weaver dropped out of the exec race March 23, citing problems raising money (which had been a Roddey calling card). Heidelbaugh has been aligned with tea party politics -- she has given talks to the group on voter fraud -- and Roddey is also fighting for the GOP treasurer candidacy of Ned Pfeifer, an organizer for Phyllis Schlafly's philosophically-aligned Eagle Forum movement.
Gastgeb on the other hand wants the party to focus all its efforts on the executive race. Even the GOP's biggest cheerleaders admit the exec race is a long shot (Roddey beat Cyril Wecht by only 5,300 votes in 1999), so some would rather put all their energy into that, instead of multiple races. (Exec is the only county administrative position the party has won since its new charter was adopted the same year.)
While party unity loses in this fight, Heidelbaugh was happy to win Roddey's endorsement (the county GOP committee does not formally endorse, as the Dem committee does). "Mr. Roddey’s support is very important to me, as is the support of all Allegheny County Republicans. I am humbled by the honor and believe I will be victorious on May 17th," she said in a statement issued today.
Roddey also endorsed D. Raja over Chuck McCullough in the GOP exec race, but that is not surprising given McCullough's pending trial on charges he misused an elderly client's funds. Roddey had already announced his support of Weaver and Raja when they announced their campaigns, but has avoided voicing the same for McCullough (his former county solicitor).
Raja released a statement thanking Roddey and vice chair Dave Majernik for their nods. “I am grateful for the support of Chairman Roddey and Vice Chairman Majernik. Both men have long been effective voices for ethical government. I look forward to working with them and leaders across the region to bring responsible, accountable government back to Allegheny County,” he said.