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Allegheny County Dems make endorsements

Monday, March 11, 2002

By James O'Toole, Post-Gazette Political Editor

City Councilman Jim Ferlo won the Democratic Party's backing in the 38th state Senate District yesterday, defeating the son of the retiring incumbent, state Sen. Leonard Bodack, D-Lawrenceville.

In another rebuff for a veteran lawmaker, Jake Wheatley won the party endorsement for the Hill District state House seat held by Rep. William Russell Robinson. Those were among the highlights yesterday as the party's elected committee members cast ballots for their choices for a variety of legislative and party offices.

County Councilman Michael Crossey was among those campaigning yesterday among the Democrats gathered at the South Side headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Crossey said he will resign from County Council tomorrow to launch a challenge to state Rep. Tom Stevenson, R-Mt. Lebanon. The county's home rule charter requires council members to give up their seats in order to run for other offices.

The endorsement, in theory, binds the party workers to line up behind the winning candidates for the nominations that will be determined in the May 21 primary. In practice, however, many rank-and-file party workers feel free to disregard the official choice. That and other factors have led to the widespread perception that the endorsement is considerably less potent a political factor than it was years ago. Still, it means something.

Ferlo won the votes of 194 committee members to outdistance Leonard Bodack Jr., with 159, and Bonnie DiCarlo, a financial adviser, with 16.

"Obviously, it's a tremendous honor," said Ferlo. "It was a tough race, I was really running against two people, the senator and the son."

The younger Bodack said after the vote that he hadn't made up his mind whether to continue to pursue the nomination without the endorsement. Staying in the race would not be that unusual a move for most candidates, but it would be noteworthy in Bodack's case. His father, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of the year, is the party's county chairman and as such has an institutional interest in defending the credibility of the endorsement process. Bodack Jr. is a consultant to the party organization, working out of its Downtown headquarters.

DiCarlo remains a candidate for the newly drawn Senate seat, which extends from the city of Pittsburgh out the Allegheny River valley as far as Armstrong County. Others, including consultant Warner Macklin III, could seek spots on the ballot by tomorrow's filing deadline.

In the 19th House District, Wheatley, a member of the staff of city Councilman Sala Udin, defeated the veteran Robinson, 56-to-45. Udin and Robinson are longtime rivals in city politics.

In other contested legislative races:

Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Carrick, easily defeated Michael Waligorski in the 36 House District;

Rep. Ken Ruffing, D-West Mifflin outpolled Diana Olasz, 18, and Dr. Samuel A. Baker, 10, in the 38th legislative district. Olasz is the wife of District Justice Richard Olasz Jr., and the daughter-in-law of former state rep. and county Councilman Richard Olasz. The elder Olasz is considering an attempt to return to the Legislature from the neighboring 35th District, but he did not seek the party endorsement yesterday.

In the 45th District, the county's western suburbs, Nick Kotik won the endorsement with 51 votes, defeating Louis Parrilla, 28, and Michael Finnerty, 16. Kotik is an aide to the incumbent legislator, Rep. Fred Trello, D-Coraopolis. Trello is retiring.

All state House seats and half of the state Senate are up for election this year, but, as usual, the vast majority of the legislative seats on yesterday's ballot were uncontested.

The county Democrats did not vote on candidates for governor or lieutenant governor. Auditor General Bob Casey Jr., who was endorsed by the state party organization, stopped by to circulate among the party troops. Casey is running against former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell.

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