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Protesters demand to hear Senate candidates' presentations

| Sunday, Jan. 14, 2001

Republican bickering over the selection of a party nominee for a special election boiled over Saturday, causing campus security guards to intervene to keep order and prompting one candidate to withdraw from the running for the state Senate seat.

Richard Stampahar, chairman of the Allegheny County Republican Party, had called a 'meet the candidates' session at the Community College of Allegheny County campus in McCandless.

But committee members from the party's 40th Legislative District were not invited - only the 66 delegates named by Stampahar and the party chiefs of Butler and Westmoreland counties to choose among the four candidates.

So when angry committee members showed up at the session and raucously demanded to be allowed in the meeting room, campus officers prevented them from entering.

'We can't have protesting in the building,' said security guard Raymond James, who then called for backup.

Stampahar relented and allowed the three dozen or so protesting party members to listen to the presentations.

One of the candidates, Scott Cessar, a Pine Township lawyer, told delegates during his presentation that he was unhappy with the nomination process and withdrew his name from the running.

The vacant slot represents parts of northern Allegheny, southern Butler and western Westmoreland counties. The seat was vacated earlier this month by Melissa Hart, who won election in November to former U.S. Rep. Ron Klink's 4th District seat.

The remaining Republicans vying for a spot on the March 20 special election ballot are state Rep. Jeff Habay of Shaler; Michael Turzai, a Bradford Woods borough councilman; and state Rep. Jane Orie of McCandless.

The Democrats have not yet named their candidate. They are voting within the next 10 days and are allowing all 358 of their 40th District committee members to vote.

Democratic candidates who have expressed interest in their party's nomination include state Rep. David Mayernik of Ross; Ross Township Commissioner Dan DeMarco; Harrison Township businessman Len Stanga; former state Insurance Commissioner Cynthia Maleski of Harrison; and Westmoreland County Recorder of Deeds Tom Murphy.

The Republicans decided to select 66 delegates, or conferees, to choose their nominee. Last week, Stampahar appointed the 54 Allegheny County conferees. Twelve other conferees were chosen by the Republican Party heads of Butler and Westmoreland counties.

But Habay and Turzai said that Stampahar's choice of conferees stacks the deck in favor of Orie. Several members of the Republicans' 40th District committees in the three counties said they were not being fairly represented and that their recommendations for delegates had been ignored.

Habay called for Stampahar's resignation as county party chairman. And state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, of Cranberry Township, called for the resignation of Butler County Republican Chairwoman Evelyn Rodgers.

David Faulk can be reached at dfaulk@tribweb.com or (724) 779-7159.

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