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Western Pennsylvania Democrats recommend 2 locals for top state posts

| Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, 2:36 p.m.
Jack Hanna
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Jack Hanna
Nancy Patton Mills
Nancy Patton Mills

Democratic officials from Western Pennsylvania said this week that the state party should put people from the region in the state's top two leadership roles, arguing that the region will be key to the party's success.

County committee members expressed their support for regional candidates ahead of a meeting this weekend in Harrisburg in which the party is set to pick candidates for interim leadership roles.

“The first congressional special election of 2018 is happening in our backyard. Democrats will need to make up the ground we've lost over the years in order to send more Democrats to Washington and Harrisburg,” Westmoreland County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Lorraine Petrosky wrote in a letter signed Thursday by seven other county committee heads. “We need leadership that understands that the road to victory leads through our region.”

The group endorsed Jack Hanna, an Indiana County committee member and the state party treasurer, to serve as party chairman until a June meeting when the party will select a new leader for a four-year term.

Hanna would replace former Chairman Marcel Groen, who resigned at Wolf's request after Groen was criticized for not doing enough to combat sexual misconduct by elected officials.

The group also endorsed Nancy Patton Mills, the Allegheny County Democratic Committee chairwoman and a member of the Democratic National Committee, to be the interim vice chair. It endorsed Black Caucus Chairwoman Lisa Rhodes of Philadelphia for interim treasurer.

Gov. Tom Wolf endorsed the same candidates in a separate letter, saying the party must have a “strong and united front so (Democrats) can oppose Donald Trump and the backward policies coming from Republicans in Washington and Harrisburg.”

The party's state committee will vote this weekend on the interim officials and on endorsements for the re-election campaigns of Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton. The group might endorse a candidate in the party's crowded primary field for lieutenant governor.

“The main focus we have here in Pennsylvania is to continue to build the party, to continue to be competitive, but the most important thing is to elect Gov. Wolf and Sen. Casey,” Patton Mills said Friday.

Patton Mills said the party hopes to flip Southwestern Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District, where a special election is being held March 13 to replace former Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair. She also thinks that with court-ordered changes to the state's congressional district maps, the 12th District — now represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus of Sewickley — could go Democratic.

She said she will pursue leadership of the party at the June meeting if she has support from committee members.

“What I want to make sure is that the body itself wants me to be the chair, not just the leadership of the body,” she said.

Hanna didn't immediately return a phone call or email.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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