Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, left, and challenger Mark Patrick Flaherty speak April 16, 2015, during their appearances in front of the Post-Gazette's editorial board. (Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette)
They don't call themselves "independent" for nothing: The 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club backed Rich Fitzgerald this weekend, but it didn't endorse his political agenda. Instead, it backed Chelsa Wagner for county controller over Mr. Fitzgerald's own choice, Mark Patrick Flaherty, while also preferring incumbent Democratic county councilor Barbara Daly Danko over Caroline Mitchell, who Mr. Fitzgerald is supporting.
The vote came Sunday afternoon, after a Saturday-night event at which candidates or their surrogates were able to address club members.
Both Ms. Danko and Ms. Wagner "have had long-time support from us, and I think that was reflected in the vote," said Kathie Smith, president of the club.
Another factor may also have been at work, Ms. Smith added: "I think the vote is a rebuke of the county executive trying to interfere in other races for unknown reasons. I just think county council and county controller need to be independent."
As the Post-Gazette first reported in March, Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Flaherty are both being backed by a new political committee, Better Jobs, Better Future. It's being run by political consultant Mike Mikus, who managed Mr. Fitzgerald's first run for county executive and is working on Mr. Flaherty's campaign this year. Ms. Wagner has sought to make an issue of the controller's independence throughout her campaign, arguing that Mr. Fitzgerald wants a "lapdog" in the office.
Mr. Mikus declined comment.
The club represents Democrats in the 14th ward, which covers Squirrel Hill and adjoining East End neighborhoods, and its endorsement is among the more prominent in local politics. The club itself boasts that its endorsement can confer a 6 percent advantage among voters in the 14th Ward -- the city's largest -- over candidates without the endorsement. (Though nobody's foolproof: The club backed then-Treasurer Rob McCord for governor last year.)
Mr. Fitzgerald, who lives in the 14th Ward, is running unopposed. He and two other unchallenged incumbents, county treasurer John Weinstein and District Attorney Stephen Zappala, were endorsed. Ms. Smith said that if a candidate garners less than 50 percent of the vote, the club would have made no endorsement. It's not clear whether Mr. Fitzgerald was in any danger of failing to meet that threshold: Ms. Smith said the Club doesn't release vote totals.
But Mr. Fitzgerald also wasn't able to swing club members toward his pick for state Supreme Court. He backs Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Kevin Dougherty for one of three spots available on the high court, and spoke on Judge Dougherty's behalf before club members. The Club instead backed three current Superior Court judges: Allegheny County's David Wecht and Christine Donohue as well as Philadelphia's Anne Lazarus.
Ms. Smith said that the endorsed judges "have strong progressive credentials, and they were familiar to club members. I think people didn't know Judge Dougherty."
The Club also endorsed City Controller Michael Lamb over his challenger, City Councilor Natalia Rudiak.
In city council action, the Club backed District 5 incumbent Corey O'Connor over challenger Kimberly Kaplan. But it made no endorsement in the City Council District 9 race: A portion of that district, currently represented by Ricky Burgess, lies within the 14th ward. Ms. Smith said that in a multi-candidate field, a candidate had to earn at least 40 percent to win the endorsement, and three candidates -- Mr. Burgess, businessman Andre Young and real-estate broker Judith Ginyard -- "divided the votes almost equally."
The full press release, complete with endorsements in other judicial races, is below.
14th WARD DEMOCRATIC CLUB BACKS WAGNER FOR COUNTY CONTROLLER
Danko wins endorsement for County Council District 11
The 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club has endorsed two Allegheny County incumbents facing strenuous challenges. Both County Controller Chelsa Wagner and County Council member Barbara Daly Danko for District 11 were given the Club's support for a second term.
At its annual endorsement meeting today the club also selected Lynda Wrenn to represent District 4 on the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education.
Incumbent City Controller Michael Lamb won the Club's endorsement over challenger Natalia Rudiak.
Corey O'Connor was endorsed for City Council District 5.
For the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, the club backed three candidates for three vacancies:
Jennifer Staley McCrady, Rosemary Crawford, and Hugh Fitzpatrick McGough.
The endorsement election followed a provocative program Saturday April 18 featuring Linda Tirado, a former diner cook who has become a fresh, outspoken voice for the rights of low-wage workers and the author of Hand to Mouth – Living in Bootstrap America at Colfax School.
With more than 18,000 registered Democrats, the 14th Ward is the largest ward in the City of Pittsburgh and second largest in the state. The Ward is located in Squirrel Hill, Point Breeze, North Point Breeze, Regent Square, Park Place, and Swisshelm Park.
The Club, which is not affiliated with the Democratic Committee of Allegheny County, is the oldest independent Democratic club in the country and has made annual candidate endorsements for 51 years. Its endorsements are printed in a Voters' Guide and mailed to Democratic voters in the ward. The endorsements and video of Ms. Tirado's talk are also posted at the club's website:
The Club's open endorsement process allows members to hear candidates present their positions before casting their votes for the office seekers who best match their values. Statistical analysis of Club endorsement votes for the past several years shows that candidates who win the Club's endorsement gain on average a 6% advantage in the 14th Ward over candidates without the endorsement.
Here is the Club's full slate of endorsed candidates:
- Pennsylvania Supreme Court: David Wecht, Christine Donahue, and Anne Lazarus
- Pennsylvania Superior Court: Alice Beck Dubrow
- Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court: Michael Wojcik
- Allegheny County Executive: Rich Fitzgerald
- Allegheny County Controller: Chelsa Wagner
- Allegheny County District Attorney: Stephen Zappala
- Allegheny County Treasurer: John Weinstein
- Allegheny County Council District 11: Barbara Daly Danko
- Pittsburgh City Council, District 5: Corey O'Connor
- Pittsburgh City Council, District 9: No Endorsement (this is a choice Club members have to make)
- Pittsburgh Board of Public Education, District 4: Lynda Wrenn
- Allegheny County Common Pleas Court: Jennifer Staley McCrady, Rosemary Crawford, and Hugh Fitzpatrick McGough