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Scandal ends Ramaley's Senate bid

Rep. Sean Ramaley vowed he is innocent Thursday as he abandoned his campaign for the state Senate, setting off a hectic scramble among Democrats to fill the open nomination.

It was the Beaver County lawmaker's first public comments since he and 11 others were charged three weeks ago in a legislative corruption scandal.

Ramaley, 33, of Economy said "one unflattering picture" of him would dominate the campaign as a "distraction," hurting his chances and possibly damaging other Democrats on the Nov. 4 ballot.

"Unfortunately in politics, perception, not truth, is reality," Ramaley said during a news conference at the Downtown offices of his attorney, Phillip Ignelzi.

Analysts say Ramaley's continued candidacy likely would have given Republicans a victory in a district normally considered a safe seat for Democrats. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 3 to 1 in the 47th District, which includes most of Beaver County, part of Lawrence County and a slice of Allegheny County.

Ramaley is charged with six criminal counts in connection with his first legislative race in 2004. Former House Minority Leader Mike Veon, a Beaver Falls Democrat, is accused of hiring Ramaley for a no-show job that allowed him to campaign, according to a state grand jury report.

State Attorney General Tom Corbett's office charged Veon with 59 counts of theft, criminal conspiracy and conflict of interest for allegedly running a multimillion-dollar political operation out of his Capitol office.

Democratic Party officials have until Aug. 22 to find someone to replace Ramaley in the race against Republican nominee Elder Vogel Jr., 52, a New Sewickley Township supervisor. The winner will replace retiring Sen. Gerald LaValle, D-Rochester.

Ramaley and his attorney said the charges pursued by Corbett, a Republican, were politically motivated.

Not so, said Kevin Harley, the attorney general's spokesman.

"This is a grand jury investigation. The grand jury recommended that the attorney general file charges against Representative Ramaley and the other 11 defendants," Harley said. "The charges are detailed in the grand jury presentment, and additional evidence will come out on Oct. 7 at (Ramaley's) preliminary hearing in Harrisburg."

Dr. Michael Sisk of Center, who on Wednesday was named Beaver County Democratic chairman, said he will discuss the vacancy with his counterparts in Allegheny and Lawrence counties and develop a "streamlined process" for selecting a nominee. Party officials will interview potential nominees, Sisk said.

Sisk said that Ramaley made a "difficult decision" and no one pressured him to drop out of the race.

Two previous candidates -- Beaver County Commissioner Joe Spanik and political newcomer Jason Petrella of Monaca -- said they want the nomination. Spanik dropped out of the race after Ramaley won the party's endorsement. Ramaley defeated Petrella in the April primary, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Spanik said he's "very interested" in the nomination, noting that he was a "team player" by ending his bid for office when the party endorsed his opponent.

"I'm the best man for the job, and my numbers in the primary validate that," Petrella said.

Another possible replacement is Jerry Hodge, a longtime Beaver County political activist and lobbyist for a national trade organization.

Hodge, who said he's interested in the nomination, was removed from the executive committee of the Beaver County Democratic Committee when he supported Jay Paisley's unsuccessful 2006 primary campaign against Veon.

"The other candidates I've seen so far are all Veon or (Sen. Gerald LaValle) loyalists. I'm not sure any of them can win in this district," Hodge said.

Hodge was among the first Beaver Valley Democrats to publicly question Veon and LaValle about the Beaver Initiative for Growth, a nonprofit the lawmakers used to funnel state money into their district. The organization later attracted the attention of state investigators.

"I've had a number of people call me about this and ask me to run," Hodge said.

Paisley, a former Democrat, said he plans to run for the Senate post as an independent.

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