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Election North/ Turzai's, Orie's common roots could unify efforts, observers say

Wednesday, July 04, 2001

By Edward G. Robinson III, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Mike Turzai had only about two months from the time he received the Republican nomination to run for the 28th District in the state House until the special election was held last week.

It was a scramble to prepare his campaign, but Turzai managed to beat Democrat Thomas Dancison, collecting 4,511 votes to Dancison's 1,430, according to unofficial results provided by the Allegheny County Elections Department.

It was a victory about as convincing as any could be, based on roughly one voter in 10 showing up at the polls. Only 11.6 percent of the district's 51,005 registered voters voted on June 26.

The 28th District includes Marshall, McCandless, Pine, Richland, Bradford Woods, Franklin Park and a portion of Hampton.

Now that he has won the election, the work has just begun for Turzai, a lawyer and former councilman from Bradford Woods. He replaces state Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, who represented the 28th District for three terms before she won a special election in March to fill the state Senate seat that had been held by Melissa Hart. Hart, R-Bradford Woods, was elected to Congress in November.

Turzai ran against Orie for the Republican nomination for Hart's state Senate seat, but political observers hope Turzai and Orie now will work together.

Orie's 40th District includes Turzai's 28th District, and some assume that the two will work to bring funding into the region for education, transportation and economic development.

"They're in a very unique situation," Theresa Thomas, a Republican committeewoman from Franklin Park, said of Turzai, Orie and Hart. Hart's 4th District in Congress also includes municipalities in the area. "They have a unique opportunity to make a difference because they are connected. They're all from the same area."

Like Hart, both Turzai and Orie grew up in the northern suburbs --Turzai in Bradford Woods and Orie in McCandless. Both worked as prosecutors in the Allegheny County district attorney's office.

Orie said she has spoken to Turzai and the two plan to build an alliance that would push for improvements. She said communication between the two is important because they represent some of the same constituents and she is familiar with the leaders in his area.

Orie attended Turzai's election night victory celebration in Sheraton Inn Pittsburgh North in Marshall. "We want to continue to work as a team to move the agenda ahead," she said.

Turzai stood on an elevated stage on election night and told about 200 supporters that he would try his best to keep his campaign pledges and not let anyone down.

During his campaign, Turzai said he would work for tax relief for both businesses and residential property owners and infrastructure improvements to promote managed growth in the northern suburbs.

"How you feel about your family is exactly how I feel about mine," Turzai said, his wife and two sons flanking him. "And I'm going to make sure Pennsylvania represents them, too."

Allegheny County Councilwoman Jan Rea, R-McCandless, said the election has produced a "really exceptional team representing the North Hills."

Even though the leaders will have different agendas, she said, a partnership can be created to improve infrastructure and economic development, which will require Orie and Turzai working to get state funds.

"It's good that we have an open line of communication," Rea said.

While some see Turzai's and Orie's victories as a chance for improvements, others said the elections mean little in terms of how the area is served.

Richard Dunlap, president of Hampton council, said Hart's victory represented the biggest change because another Republican seat was gained in Congress, whereas the seats in the state Legislature remained with the same party.

He said Orie and Turzai held similar political philosophies and were concerned with the same issues. He cautioned, however, that Turzai and Orie are junior legislators without tremendous clout, so having too many expectations would be unfair to them.

Dancison said both Orie and Turzai should work to create a state law to regulate county property assessments.

He said that even though he lost, he remains a member of the community and expects elected officials to keep the area's best interest at heart.

"I expect the leaders to represent the people, not their party, not elected officials from other districts, not political action committees, but 'Mr. and Mrs. 28th Legislative District,' " he said.

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