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Roddey to exit as Allegheny County GOP chairman on upbeat note

| Monday, Feb. 15, 2016, 10:40 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jim Roddey, former Allegheny County chief executive and current chair of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, smiles from the stage at the annual Spirit of Lincoln Dinner at the Westin Convention Center Hotel, downtown, Monday, Feb. 15, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jim Roddey, former Allegheny County chief executive and current chair of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, steps out from the podium at the annual Spirit of Lincoln Dinner at the Westin Convention Center Hotel, downtown, Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. At the dinner, Roddey announced he would be stepping down.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jim Roddey (left), former Allegheny County chief executive and current chair of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, talks with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey at the annual Spirit of Lincoln Dinner at the Westin Convention Center Hotel, downtown, Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. At the dinner, Roddey announced he would be stepping down.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jim Roddey, former Allegheny County chief executive and current chair of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, steps out from the podium at the annual Spirit of Lincoln Dinner at the Westin Convention Center Hotel, downtown, Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. At the dinner, Roddey announced he would be stepping down.

Former Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey on Monday told Republicans that he will step down as chairman of the party's county committee after eight years.

Roddey, 83, of Oakmont said he leaves the local committee in good shape financially and structurally.

“I never like to leave anything when things aren't positive, and I think we are in a good place right now,” he told the Tribune-Review.

Roddey told committee members and party loyalists at the annual Spirit of Lincoln fundraising dinner at the Westin Convention Center Hotel that he'll step down March 1. The committee has 10 days to vote in a replacement; that person would run for the position in June, when his terms ends.

Dave Majernik of Plum is the committee's vice chair.

“I'd like to slow down a bit, and running the party does take a lot of my time,” Roddey said in an interview with the Trib, citing the need for “new blood at the top.”

D. Raja, 50, of Mt. Lebanon said he will run for the chairmanship.

“He leaves big shoes to fill,” Raja said of Roddey.

Raja, who is co-founder of software company CEI, is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, and a board member at the Port Authority of Allegheny County. He ran for state Senate in 2012 and county executive in 2011.

If elected chairman, Raja said, he would run the organization like a business, focusing on organizing committees and working with their leadership, to make the county party the strongest in the state.

“The biggest thing is we have to get candidates elected statewide,” he said.

With 234,956 registered Republicans, Allegheny County has the largest number of any Pennsylvania county, Department of State data show. Under Roddey, the GOP committee's membership rose from 352 to nearly 1,000.

The committee expected 250 to 300 attendees at the dinner and hoped to clear $25,000, Roddey said.

Michael Devanney, a Pittsburgh-based Republican strategist and founding partner of Cold Spark Media, said Roddey brought “stability, credibility and a steady hand to the party at a time when the local organization had lost its bearing.”

Devanney, 37, of Shadyside was the committee's executive director when Roddey was Allegheny County's first executive from 2000-04.

“After Roddey left office, there was a void in leadership because there was no elected official in the area to draw in money and candidates,” Devanney said. “People know if you want something done in Western Pennsylvania for the Republican Party, he is your guy. I am sure he will continue to play a very valuable role.”

Roddey said he intends to work on campaigns, including the presidential campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey's re-election bid.

Democrats Joe Sestak, Katie McGinty and John Fetterman are seeking their party's nomination for a chance to try to unseat Toomey.

Toomey of the Lehigh Valley and economist Stephen Moore, founder and former president of the Club for Growth, were speakers at the Lincoln dinner.

Roddey agreed to chair the Republican Committee of Allegheny County in 2008 when it was dogged by unpaid bills and few staffers. He had served as the county's executive but lost a re-election bid to Democrat Dan Onorato. That loss led him to run the GOP committee, Roddey said.

“It was an opportunity for me to continue in a leadership role,” he said.

He considers the high point of his tenure to be Tom Corbett's winning Allegheny County against Onorato in the 2010 governor's race — an upset in a county in which the number of registered Democrats — 508,862 — more than doubles that of Republicans.

His low point has been in trying to attract candidates to run for office, Roddey said.

“I wish I could have recruited more candidates to run against Democrats in local races,” he said, blaming limited funding for those seeking local office. “We don't have sufficient funds to support candidates' campaigns the way I would have liked to. I picked races where we could make a difference.”

Roddey said he'll remain a member of the state GOP committee and its leadership committee.

“And I am running for delegate,” he said, as he has every year since 1988 when he registered as a Republican in Pennsylvania.

“I was an independent before that,” he said.

Salena Zito is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at szito@tribweb.com. Staff writer Melissa Daniels contributed to this report.

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