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Democrats find solution to squabble over control of state committee

| Thursday, June 19, 2014, 4:51 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Katie McGinty, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf's choice to head the Democratic State Committee, is withdrawing her challenge to party Chairman Jim Burn and will chair a committee to help elect Wolf in November.

The Wolf campaign on Thursday announced he is forming Campaign for a Fresh Start to get Democrats, Republicans and Independents to vote for him. McGinty, who will play a key role in Wolf's effort to oust Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, said Wolf is “a different kind of leader and this will be a different kind of campaign.”

“We need to shake up the status quo, and that goes from everything to changing the way we campaign to changing the way we govern,” she said.

G. Terry Madonna, a professor of political science at Franklin and Marshall College, said “the last thing he needs is an internal fight to destroy the party. Tom Wolf wants to take a unified Democratic Party into this fall's election.”

Controlling money for the Wolf campaign from national Democratic organizations was said to be one reason that Wolf wanted his own person at the state committee. But in an email to state committee members last week, Wolf's pitch for McGinty was broader: “Democrats throughout Pennsylvania will have an energetic and compassionate voice who will fight for middle-class families. Katie will bring endless enthusiasm to counties throughout Pennsylvania. ... She will be our voice.”

Burn, of Millvale, refused to stand down. On Thursday he congratulated McGinty on her new position.

“She brings a dynamic personality and skill set that will certainly help Tom Wolf as we all move forward,” he said.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he supports Fresh Start and Wolf's approach.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Burn is more worried about himself than the party,” Fitzgerald said.

Burn, a Pittsburgh-area attorney, once served on Allegheny County Council and as Millvale mayor. He has said he would not resign because he believed leadership of the state organization should be a decision from the rank-and-file, not a top-down one.

Wolf's move allows both men to save face without a showdown at the state committee meeting near Harrisburg on Saturday.

Mike Mikus, McGinty's campaign manager, said McGinty had the votes but withdrew in the interest of party unity.

“We applaud Tom Wolf's creation of a new campaign program that will help us take back the majority,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hill.

“This is an innovative campaign effort, modeled after many successful campaign programs, both in Pennsylvania and nationally,” said Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, co-chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

Wolf last week chose McGinty, a former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary under ex-Gov. Ed Rendell, as his choice to head the party. McGinty was one of three candidates who ran against the better-financed Wolf, who won the May 20 primary in a landslide.

McGinty, of Chester County, was widely credited with running a positive campaign. She was a former environmental adviser at the Clinton White House.

Wolf, a York businessman who ran as an outsider, won all 67 counties with a comprehensive TV ad campaign. The owner of a furniture distribution and supply company, he also served in Rendell's Cabinet as secretary of Revenue.

“This is probably the best for the party,” said Pam Janvey, Pennsylvania Democratic Party recording secretary. “If there's anything you don't want, it's to tear the party asunder.”

McGinty can be a campaign spokeswoman without inciting a tug-of-war over control of the party, said Janvey, of Bensalem Township in Bucks County.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com. Gideon Bradshaw is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association. He can be reached at bradshawgideon@gmail.com.

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