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Westmoreland

State Republicans pick new party leader in close vote

| Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, 2:27 p.m.
Val DiGiorgio
Val DiGiorgio

HERSHEY — Republicans from Westmoreland County cast the deciding votes to elect Chester County GOP chairman Val DiGiorgio as the next state chairman, who will lead the party in the Donald Trump era.

Out of 344 votes cast, DiGiorgio won by two.

He defeated the state party's general counsel, Lawrence Tabas of Philadelphia, after a contentious few months of campaigning to replace longtime chairman Rob Gleason.

The chairman race divided the party, and on Friday evening, party operatives lamented divisions sowed by the campaign.

But attendees were optimistic immediately after the tally, as DiGiorgio and Tabas met, hugged and stood together on the dais, receiving a standing ovation.

DiGiorgio, 49, said the differences revealed during the campaign are small compared to the party's goal of defeating the Democratic Party.

“We all believe in the party. We all believe in conservative principles,” said Michael Korns, Westmoreland County GOP chairman, who cast his vote for DiGiorgio. “I think we're going to get over this in no time.”

Former congressman Phil English of Erie, a DiGiorgio supporter, said it's the kind of “shake-up” the party needs as it looks ahead to the 2018 gubernatorial election.

Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg-based GOP consultant who supported Tabas, said there may be some frayed emotions, but he doesn't think there will be long-term negative effects.

“It was family discussion, and in family discussions there are sometimes sharp elbows,” he said. “And when the family makes a decision, they have to move forward together. And I think that the party will.”

Melissa Hart, a former congresswoman from the North Hills, has known DiGiorgio since he was her chief of staff when she served in the state Senate in the early 1990s. She said he's smart on policy and understands and likes to work with people — qualities that will help him guide the state party.

1st contest in a decade

Republicans haven't had an openly contested chairman race in a decade, and the contest split the party.

DiGiorgio locked up support among much of the party establishment, including U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, state legislative leadership and the two national committee members. Tabas' bid had support of the outgoing chairman Gleason as well as retiring vice chairwoman Joyce Hess.

Hess is being replaced by Bernadette Comfort of Lehigh County.

Gleason, 78, took over party operations in 2006, a banner year for Democrats. He's credited with helping Republicans gain control of the state Legislature and congressional delegation and steering Pennsylvania toward supporting a Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 1988.

Gleason implored the committee to focus on statewide elections, including upcoming judicial races.

Other than supporting Trump and re-electing Toomey, the state GOP hadn't won a statewide race since 2011.

The state committee also endorsed seven candidates for appellate court races this year. State Supreme Court Justice Sallie Mundy of Tioga County, who was appointed to the bench last year, is running to hold onto her seat.

The committee also endorsed for Superior Court Northampton County Judge Emil Girodano, who ran unsuccessfully in 2015; Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman; Philadelphia Judge Paula Patrick; and Blair County Judge Wade Kagarise.

For Commonwealth Court, the party endorsed Allegheny County lawyer Paul Lalley, who ran unsuccessfully in 2015; and Christine Fizzano Cannon, a Delaware County judge.

Kevin Zwick is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-724-850-2856.

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