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Politics

3 incumbents fail to win backing from group

| Monday, Feb. 27, 2006

The Legislature's pay-raise fiasco contributed to three local lawmakers not receiving the endorsement of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee on Sunday, their opponents said.

Edward Gainey, 36, of Highland Park, received the party's support for his challenge to state Rep. Joseph Preston Jr. of East Liberty, who has held the 24th District seat since 1983.

Rep. Ken Ruffing, D-West Mifflin, and Rep. Marc J. Gergely, D-White Oak, didn't seek the party's endorsement, and the backing went to their primary challengers. While not all candidates seek a party endorsement, it's unusual for an incumbent to bypass it.

Gainey received 77 votes to Preston's 43.

"The pay raise was clearly not in the best interests of their constituents," said Gainey, who also ran against his ex-boss in 2004 but lost his place on the ballot because of an error in his candidacy papers.

Preston was not immediately available for comment.

Hundreds of Democratic committee members made their endorsements during a daylong meeting at the IBEW hall on the South Side. Committee members could vote only on races affecting the communities they represent. Most incumbents had no challengers for the endorsement.

Party endorsement traditionally gives candidates a boost in organizational and financial support but does not guarantee victory in the primary. Democrats outnumber Republicans about 2 1/2-to-1 throughout the county and by 5-to-1 in the city.

Gainey, former special projects manager for the city of Pittsburgh, said his campaign gained steam in part because of a backlash to Preston's support last year of the General Assembly's self-approved 16 percent to 54 percent pay raise. The Legislature repealed the raise four months later, after voters ousted a state Supreme Court justice for the first time in Pennsylvania history.

In the heavily Democratic districts represented by Ruffing, Gergely and Preston, the winner of the May 16 primary is virtually assured of victory in the Nov. 7 general election.

Ruffing's and Gergely's rivals in the primary also said the pay raise issue had boosted their challenges against the incumbents.

Ruffing voted for the pay raise and was among those taking the money immediately in the form of "unvouchered expenses," although critics said that violated a constitutional provision against midterm raises. Gergely voted against the pay raise, although he initially agreed to accept the extra as an unvouchered expense before deciding to decline it.

County Councilman C. L. "Jay" Jabbour, of West Mifflin, who is challenging Ruffing in the 38th District, picked up the party endorsement without opposition. Democratic committee members were "absolutely upset" that legislators "voted for a pay raise of that magnitude," said Jabbour, the only one of Ruffing's four announced Democrat challengers seeking the party endorsement.

Ruffing did not return a call seeking comment.

County Clerk of Courts George Matta, Gergely's rival in the 35th District race, also won the endorsement without opposition.

Gergely said he didn't seek the endorsement because the process is divisive and the "party doesn't need spring primary fights at this time." Gergely also said he shouldn't be targeted over the pay raise because he voted against it and voted for its repeal.

Matta said the raise is still an issue because Gergely "voted no and turned around and took the pay."

Pay-raise backlash might have caused veteran legislator Rep. Thomas Petrone, D-Crafton, a close call on the endorsement in the 27th District. Petrone, who voted for the pay raise, was endorsed, 44 to 42, over challenger Mike Galovich, of Crafton Heights. Galovich has attacked the incumbent on the pay raise.

Galovich, 46, a county Register of Wills employee, said he will stay in the race. The committee's close vote sends a message that public outrage on the pay raise "is still simmering."

Petrone conceded the raise "was the wrong thing at the wrong time" and said he had donated his increase to charity.

"But I do think there are more pressing things for this state and this city that we've got to get on with and address," Petrone added.

In the 19th District, state Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr., D-Hill District, who voted for the raise, won the endorsement over two challengers, county Councilman Bill Robinson and Pittsburgh School Board member Mark Brentley Sr. Wheatley had 45 votes; Robinson received 32; and Brentley got 22.

The chosen

The Allegheny County Democratic Committee made these endorsements Sunday:

U.S. Congress

4th District -- Jason Altmire

18th District -- Chad Kluko

14th District -- U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle

12th District -- U.S. Rep. John Murtha

State Senate

38th District -- Sen. Jim Ferlo

42nd District -- Sen. Wayne Fontana

46th District -- Sen. Barry Stout

State House

16th District -- Rep. Sean Ramaley

19th District -- Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr.

20th District -- Rep. Don Walko

21st District -- Rep. Frank Pistella

22nd District -- Chelsa Wagner

23rd District -- Rep. Dan Frankel

24th District -- Edward Gainey

25th District -- Rep. Joseph F. Markosek

27th District -- Thomas Petrone

30th District -- Shawn Flaherty

32nd District -- Rep. Anthony DeLuca

33rd District -- Rep. Frank Dermody

34th District -- Rep. Paul Costa

35th District -- George Matta

36th District -- Rep. Harry Readshaw

38th District -- C.L. Jabbour

39th District -- Rep. David Levdansky

42nd District -- Matthew Smith

44th District -- Darlene Restich

45th District-- Rep. Nick Kotik

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