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Vulakovich picked for state Senate run

| Saturday, June 16, 2012, 1:14 p.m.
State Rep. Randy Vulakovich draws a lot on Saturday for his speech when Republicans in the 40th Senate district met at the Marriott Pittsburgh North at Cranberry Woods to choose the candidate who will run for former Sen. Jane Orie's seat. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

Last-minute contender state Rep. Randy Vulakovich dashed early front-runner Melissa Hart's hopes to return to political office when he received the Republican nomination on Saturday for the 40th District Senate seat vacated by convicted former Sen. Jane Orie.

Vulakovich, 62, of Shaler said he's committed to winning the special election and retaining the seat after the district merges with the 38th state Senate District under a proposed redistricting plan.

"Right now, my focus is on winning and bringing some normalcy back to the 40th District. Later, I can focus on the new Senatorial District. That's my intention," said Vulakovich, who represents the 30th Legislative District. He will face off Aug. 7 against Democratic nominee Sharon Brown and Independent Don Bindas, who plans to file his nominating petitions on Monday.

In her Twitter feed, Brown, 59, of McCandless, said she is "looking forward to a spirited campaign with Randy Vulakovich."

Hart, 50, of Bradford Woods, held the 40th District seat through the 1990s until she was elected to Congress. She was defeated by Jason Altmire in 2006. Hart was considered by many to be the front-runner for the nomination until Vulakovich announced just a week ago that he would pursue it.

"The people made a decision, and that's fine," Hart said, adding that she would support Vulakovich's campaign. "I will do what I can for him."

Because the 40th District covers two counties, Republican Party rules dictate that a conferee meeting selects the party's nominee for the special election. Conferees had 10 candidates to choose from yesterday, but two dropped out before final balloting began, including Allegheny County Councilman Matt Drozd and attorney Scott Brady of Ross. Brady asked conferees to support Vulakovich.

Hart touted herself as the candidate best able to step into the position and quickly move forward, as the post expires at the end of 2014.

"I wasn't asked by political bosses to run for this," Hart told the 81 Republicans conferees from northern Allegheny and southern Butler counties.

Drozd said all Republican committee members within the district, not just conferees, should have selected the nominee.

"I'm not yelling at you. I'm yelling at the process!" Drozd said during a fiery speech to conferees.

Some conferees said they liked Vulakovich because he has a good reputation as a state representative, with good constituent service. He previously was a Shaler police officer.

"My emphasis is on jobs, jobs, jobs," he told the conferees, and added, "I already had my career, and now, I'm on a mission."

Vulakovich said he wasn't sure how well conferees would respond to his late entry into the race. He announced his intent on June 8, after state officials revealed the latest redistricting plan.

"It made a difference. It changed the dynamic," said attorney Alan T. Shuckrow, 43, of McCandless.

Vulakovich and Hart stayed in the first and second slots through all four ballots that winnowed down the field of 10. The nominee had to receive 42 votes. On the final ballot, Vulakovich received 48 votes to Hart's 33. Political novice Matt Shipley, a government contractor from McCandless, was third through the first three ballots.

Allegheny County GOP chairman Jim Roddey said Vulakovich is well-poised for a potential faceoff with state Sen. Jim Ferlo, who represents the 38th District, if Vulakovich wins in August and the redistricting plan goes through.

"It's a seat we can win, and a seat we can hold," Roddey said.

Candidates

Republican

Name: Randy Vulakovich

Age: 62

Residence: Shaler

Occupation: State representative for the 30th District

Quote: "I don't act like I'm more powerful than I am."

Democrat

Name: Sharon Brown

Age: 59

Residence: McCandless

Occupation: Owner of Brown Consulting & Research LLC, a health care consulting firm.

Quote: "I will do my darndest to get some legislation for this area that's essential to all, no matter what their political affiliation is."

Independent

Name: Don Bindas

Age: 55

Residence: Franklin Park

Occupation: Owner of Don Bindas Motors in McCandless.

Quote: "I'm just outraged by this (political) system, this cronyism. It's just unbelievable. It's time we all unite and say no."

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