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Dr. Wecht's sweet science

Published by Tim McNulty on .

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Speaking of Pittsburgh politics, there's nothing quite like a Cyril Wecht letter. He's the undisputed heavyweight letter-writing champ (as we've written before), equally skilled at lawyerly jabs as lunging a scalpel right for the heart.

The latest edition (in part above) is a classic of the latter category, wherein the former coroner accuses county exec Rich Fitzgerald of reneging on an alleged 2010 deal (made in Fitz's Squirrel Hill home) to name him medical examiner upon taking office this year. He takes swipes at Fitzgerald's hopes for higher office; his staff choices ("passive, controlled automatons"); his anger toward D.A. "little Stevie boy Zappala"; the lack of coroner's inquests into police shootings since his departure in 2006 ("almost all of which involve white officers and African-American victims"); and mentions letters from some 50 city leaders (including Sophie Masloff and Elsie Hillman) supporting him for M.E. And much more.

Wecht sent copies of his 8-page letter to Fitzgerald to reporters at the Post-Gazette, City Paper (where we stole this pdf) and other media outlets. He signs off to the exec with "I look forward to your response," and so do we.

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Daily Santorum: Sunflower strategy

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Rick Santorum should pick up his eighth state in the caucuses in Kansas tomorrow. Social conservatives are powerful in the state, and Gov. Sam Brownback is rallying with him this afternoon. With Romney and Gingrich blowing the state off, he's in line to big up a good chunk of the state's 40 delegates, even if Bob Dole is coming to Romney's defense.

(And he'll win it despite his connection to another Russell, Kan., native.)

The big action is in Mississippi and Alabama, where Santorum is either tied for second or third in the polls. One of Santorum's biggest criticisms of Romney is he can't win in the South, and his SuperPAC has begun advertising against him in both states.

He's still not expected to win the overall race. At Salon, Steve Kornacki looks at what Santorum could do next:

So what can Santorum cash-in his new stature for? In the ideal scenario for him, he'll get extremely lucky and Romney, for whatever reason, will invite him onto this year's ticket. Running on the losing ticket might not boost him that much (Dole's '80 campaign, launched after his '76 VP bid, comes to mind here), but if he and Romney were to win, the equation would change for Santorum, and he'd be in position to follow the Bush 41 model. But that scenario, for many, many reasons, is a longshot.

Alternately, he could return to Pennsylvania and pursue statewide office there again – but now not as a defeated ex-senator making a desperate comeback bid but instead as a former presidential candidate with a national profile. The problem here, though, is that there's not an obvious opening on the horizon, with Republican Governor Tom Corbett presumably seeking reelection in 2014 and Republican Senator Pat Toomey presumably doing the same in 2016. At this point, Santorum would probably have to wait until 2018 (at least), when Democrat Bob Casey's Senate seat will be up (assuming Casey wins this year).

Public schedule after the jump:

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Casey breaks with Obama again

Published by Tim McNulty on .

casey7_160Sen. Bob Casey broke with the Obama administration in a politically-charged vote yesterday for the second time in almost a week.

Casey joined 10 other Democrats in a losing effort to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, a week after supporting a failed GOP measure allowing employers to opt out of medical coverage against their religious beliefs. Casey's votes on the bills this election year track WVa's Joe Manchin, the only other Dem in the Senate to vote with Casey on both measures.

The pipeline vote may have had its intended effect -- Republicans running against Casey were itching to blast Casey over the matter but couldn't. (Read Keegan Gibson's nice overview here at PoliticsPa.)

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Pgh Dems: All in the Family

Published by Tim McNulty on .

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Everything is connected in Pittsburgh politics.

My full story today on the Democratic committee's nomination of Marty Schmotzer for Chelsa Wagner's vacant 22nd House seat notes he has the support of 19th Ward chair Pete Wagner, Chelsa's father. The nomination has to be ratified by the party's statewide executive committee, whereupon Chelsa's aunt Eileen Wagner sits. As does Schmotzer himself -- "I sure will," he said, when I asked if he'd be voting to ratify himself.

The connections go deeper. Schmotzer's opponent Erin Molchany is pressuring the committee to reject his nomination, saying that his 1997 firing by then county Clerk of Courts Joyce Lee Itkin after taking (then repaying) $50,000 in taxpayer funds should disqualify him from the job. Typically the statewide committee leaves election choices to local Democrats, but the Molchany camp makes the case that the executive board has acted on its own before, deciding in 1993 to nominate Barbara Burns to an open House seat over Don Walko.

Walko -- who was then a Democratic ward leader, and later won the House seat before becoming a county judge -- called the process "immoral." But Burns had an ace up her sleeve in getting the committee's nod: she had the support of House Majority Leader Ivan Itkin. Itkin would run a losing campaign for governor against incumbent Tom Ridge the year after Schmotzer was fired from his wife's office.

UPDATE: Below is an email another Schmotzer supporter -- Auditor General Jack Wagner -- is sending around to state committee members:

Dear State Committee Executive Board Member,

My name is Jack Wagner, Pennsylvania State Auditor General.  I am writing to you today on behalf of myself and my sister-in-law, Eileen Wagner, Allegheny County Democratic Committee Member and also Pennsylvania State Committee Executive Board Member.

We are asking for your support for Martin Schmotzer for the Special Election of Pennsylvania State Representative -  District 22.  We want you to know that we 100% support Marty because he is a family man and a solid individual with a strong work ethic who will represent the 22nd district well.  Martin was an outstanding elected official for 10 years for the Baldwin Whitehall School Board.

Marty overwhelmingly received the endorsement of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee for both the full 2 year term (60%) and also this very important Special Election (67%).

We offer our support to Marty and hope you will as well.

Sincerely,

Jack Wagner - PA State Auditor General

Eileen Wagner - PA State Committee Executive Board

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Turzai: Pgh seat still moving to Lehigh

Published by Laura Olson on .

After postponing their next meeting indefinitely, at least one of the state Legislative Reapportionment Commission members -- House Majority Leader Mike Turzai -- is ready to get on with the show, calling for the panel to vote on new maps on Wednesday.

Turzai visited the Capitol newsroom scribes to drop off a copy of the letter he sent to commission chairman Stephen McEwen yesterday, asking him to schedule that meeting.

"We have been negotiating in good faith to reach an agreement on an updated plan," he wrote. "We have sought to move the process forward. ... I has been 33 days since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its opinion with a directive that the Commission should avoid 'delay as it is called upon to faithfully execute its task upon remand.'"

Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson replied: "We’ll be ready on whatever date the Chairman calls for a meeting and a vote."

The commission's executive director, Charles O'Connor, said this afternoon that the chairman has received the request, and had not yet shared a decision with O'Connor on whether to schedule a meeting. He added that he does not expect a scheduling decision today.

UPDATE, 5; 30 p.m. - House Democrats are disagreeing with Turzai's call for a vote on new maps next week:

"There has been good progress on the House plan in recent days, using a process suggested by Judge McEwen," said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody in a statement. "But the work is unfinished and the commissioners still have not cracked the toughest nuts. A vote next Wednesday would be premature. Without making more progress in reducing the number of municipal splits, the LRC will risk having a second plan rejected by the Supreme Court."

Turzai, who was in an unusually chatty mood, did confirm that the majority-minority district originally proposed for Allentown's growing Latino population will still be included in the updated version.

"It would move a seat from Pittsburgh to Allentown," Turzai said, though he later edited his remarks to say that while seats will still be shifted in a way that reflects the western population losses, that the seats to be relocated are still being negotiated.

Under the commission-approved map, it was former Democratic Rep. Chelsa Wagner's South Hills seat that was to be relocated to Allentown. A special election has since been called for that seat, which will select a legislator to fill out the rest of this year's term.

A new Allegheny County lawmaker also will serve out the 2013-14 session in that seat, before the district moves east under the still-pending maps.