Dems spar over deceased candidate

Published by James O'Toole on .

The late Barbara Daly DankoThe late Barbara Daly Danko

The Allegheny County Democratic chairwoman is urging the party's committee members to support Caroline Mitchell, a candidate for the party's nomination in county council District 11, over Barbara Daly Danko, the recently deceased candidate who won the party's endorsement earlier this year, and whose name will still appear on Tuesday's primary ballot. 

The unusual message from Nancy Patton Mills, the party leader, counters the wishes of some Democrats in the district who are urging a posthumous vote for the woman who held the seat until her death from cancer two weeks ago. Earlier in the week, the leaders of the 14th ward Democratic organization and the separate 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club wrote a letter urging a vote for Ms. Danko. If successful, a Danko election would place the nomination in he hands of the district's elected and appointed committee members. Their vote would supplant the normal primary process and its winner would appear on the November ballot. No Republican has filed for the seat, although it is possible that someone could secure the GOP nomination through a write-in vote.

In their letter to fellow Democrats, Kathie Smith, the club president and Sam Hens-Greco, the 14th ward chair, characterized a vote for Ms. Danko as a tribute to the candidate. But it was also clear that the move was an effort to thwart the wishes of county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who had once been an ally of Ms. Danko, but who embraced the candidacy of her challenger after he and Danko clashed on issues including the extent that gas drilling should be permitted on county land.

The letter from Ms. Mills, a close ally of Mr. Fitzgerald, represented a last-minute effort to turn aside a move that, if successful, would inevitably be viewed as a rebuff to Mr. Fitzgerald in a district that he once represented on council.

In the letter she states that, "If Barbara wins the primary, her successor would be picked by the Democratic committee people in her district rather than the Democratic electorate. There are only 223 committee people in the district, but there are 35,247 eligible Democratic voters,'' she wrote. "I recommend that the voters have the opportunity to pick the successor and avoid a special nominating election after the primary election.''

While Ms. Danko's name remains on party slate cards, the chair noted that Ms. Mitchell's campaign members would now be calling on the party workers, who voted overwhelmingly for the late incumbent in a February endorsement vote, and asking them to pass out her campaign literature. The pro-Danko activists’ effort is potentially influential in that Squirrel Hill’s 14th Ward is the largest in the council district. But the seat also includes a variety of other East End neighborhoods, and extends beyond the city limits to Munhall, Homestead and West Homestead.


Varischetti plays favorites in Pittsburgh controller's race

Published by Robert Zullo on .

Nicholas VarischettiNicholas Varischetti

On the long list of contributions totaling more than $141,000 on the campaign finance report City Controller Michael Lamb filed last week, a single $1,000 donation raised a few eyebrows.

The donor? Nicholas Varischetti, chairman of the Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, a state-created financial oversight body that has sparred with Mayor Bill Peduto's administration frequently over the past year.

Mr. Varischetti, a lawyer at Burns White who was appointed to the authority in 2012 by state Sen. Joe Scarnati, an influential Jefferson County Republican, also made a $1,000 donation to the campaign of Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, who is waging a re-election fight of her own against Mark Patrick Flaherty, a former county controller supported by Ms. Wagner's bitter enemy, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Both controller races have generated more than their fair share of interest because they are seen as proxy wars waged by the Peduto-Fitzgerald alliance, which has generated a lot of cash for Mr. Lamb's opponent, City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, against rivals like Mr. Lamb and Ms. Wagner.

"The ICA is an entity that's supposed to provide fiscal oversight, not play political favorites," Ms. Rudiak said, also accusing Mr. Varischetti and the ICA of "playing games" during an ugly fight over Mr. Peduto's first budget last fall.

While there's no prohibition against Mr. Varischetti supporting candidates, Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, said getting involved in local politics could create problems for an overseer.

"It would certainly behoove the overseer to not engage in politics because he does need the confidence of both the public and local officials to conduct his business," Mr. Kauffman said. "I guess the question gets to be perceptions and the citizens and public officials' confidence in his impartiality."

Don't expect that to change Mr. Varischetti's mind.

"I believe it's important to participate in the political process as a member of the Pittsburgh community," he said. "There's nothing in my role on various boards and community activities that prohibits or restricts my ability to participate as a private citizen. And I'm going to continue to participate in that process."

Sadie Restivo, a spokeswoman for Mr. Lamb's campaign, characterized Mr. Varischetti's donation as a nod of support from one financial watchdog to another.

"He thinks he's doing a great job as city controller," she said. "He has given to other candidates in the past."

Robert Zullo: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 412-263-3909. Twitter: @rczullo.


Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks at a town hall meeting in Tempe, Arizona May 14, 2015. (Deanna Dent/REUTERS)Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks at a town hall meeting in Tempe, Arizona May 14, 2015. (Deanna Dent/REUTERS)

1) It took the better part of a week, but Jeb Bush has finally figured out how to properly articulate his stance on the Iraq War.

2) No one involved in the thing where acting State Police Commissioner Marcus Brown removed signs critical of his appointment by Gov. Tom Wolf was especially smart, but no one will be charged.

3) points out the U.S. House Appropriations Committee's vote to cut $252 million from Amtrak, just hours after the deadly train derailment in Philadelphia, and takes us through the reasons why Republicans dislike trains (or mass transit in general). It's an interesting piece, but we think it misses one really important point: oil companies have a vested interest in making sure we all drive our own vehicles to work every day, and oil companies have a vested interest in Republicans.

4) We'd like to take this opportunity to announce that we're not running for president in 2016, even if our announcement seems a little curious because no one really expected us to run and we're probably just trying to maintain a tiny scrap of relevance.

5) Hey, everybody, let's have some fun. You only live but once and when you're dead you're done, so let the good times roll. Thank you, Riley B. King.


Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner presents her opening statement while her challenger Mark Patrick Flaherty listens during the Controller candidate forum held at the O'Hara Elementary School Tuesday night. (Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette)Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner presents her opening statement while her challenger Mark Patrick Flaherty listens during the Controller candidate forum held at the O'Hara Elementary School Tuesday night. (Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette)

1) One really interesting thing from Tuesday night's debate between Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner and challenger Mark Patrick Flaherty was a point of agreement; both candidates said Ms. Wagner's attempts to audit county authorities were legitimate functions of the controller's office. Did they agree on anything else? Not really.

2) A bill to legalize medical marijuana is on its way to the state House after being approved by the Senate on Tuesday. Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to sign the bill if it makes it to his desk, but that's not a given. The House hasn't shown nearly as much interest.

3) We've always been led to believe that Jeb was the smart Bush, but that didn't seem to be the case earlier this week, when the former Florida governor said he would have gone ahead with an invasion of Iraq, even if he knew then what we all know now – that Saddam Hussein's stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were pretty much a figment of someone's imagination. We should note that Mr. Bush tried to clarify what he said on a subsequent appearance on Sean Hannity's radio show ... but really only confused the issue further.

hil answers

4) Maybe Mr. Bush should take the approach being championed by Hillary Clinton, and just not answer any questions at all.

5) And then there was this question, posed to Republican candidates by CNN: "Who is the greatest living president?" For loyal GOPers, there are precious few choices here. It's not going to be a Democrat, and picking a Bush – 41 or 43 – could be viewed as a boost for Jeb. The most common response was to pick Ronald Reagan, a former president who hasn't technically been alive for 11 years. Or has he?


Breakfast Sausage: 5 stories to read today

Published by Mike Pound on .

Empty pews in the Queen of Peace Chapel in Greensburg. (Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette)

1) Religion is still a pretty big deal in the United States, but the numbers of people who say they don't identify with traditional religions are growing, and we're curious about what that might mean in upcoming state and national elections. We've written recently about the decline of influence by the Tea Party; will a decline in influence by evangelical Christians, whose numbers have held steady, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center, decline as well?

2) Rick Santorum would undoubtedly like to hang on to his share of those evangelicals long enough that he could pull off a win similar to the one he engineered in Iowa in 2012. But with new social conservatives already crowding the Republican field, it may be tough for Mr. Santorum to find traction for his yet-to-be-announced campaign.

3) NeighborWatch 2016: Ohio Gov. John Kasich apparently is still waiting for God to tell him whether he should run for president, but it looks like he's made up his mind about one thing – if he runs, he's not going to worry about Iowa.

4) PACs, committees and big checks – our Chris Potter examines how Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald are spreading around campaign cash to support their allies and agendas.

5) Here's a tip for eager political operatives who are faced with figuring out how to interact with camera-toting trackers – folks who work for opponents who constantly run video – when they show up to your events: Don't. When you do – like the Rand Paul aide in the above clip – you're doing exactly what the tracker hoped you would do. And you're the one who will look like an idiot. Also: gross.