Thursday, March 5, 2009
Like the appearance of new buds on tree branches, one sign of spring is the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsement.
And just as those buds will eventually flower, an endorsement controversy may be about to bloom.
This Sunday, county commitee members will migrate to Heinz Field, just like birds winging their way from warmer climes. There they will roost and decide which Democrats to endorse in races up and down the ballot -- from mayor down to district judge.
With one exception.
As you'll see from the County Committee Web site, the endorsement in one particular race -- the magisterial district judge for district 5-3-10 -- will be decided at a special time, in a special location. Committee members from the Lawrenceville wards covered by this district will be making their pick on Saturday, at St. Mary's Lyceum in Lawrenceville.
And who is running for this seat? The often-controversial head of Lawrenceville United, Tony Ceoffe.
Although they need not be lawyers, district judges rule on low-level neighborhood disputes of various kinds. And already CP has heard mutterings among some critics of Ceoffe, whose hard-fisted approach to neighborhood improvement has grated on some, even as others praise him for helping to engineer Lawrenceville's efforts to turn itself around. And some doubters haven't forgotten Ceoffe's involvement in a dispute at a Lawrenceville polling place back in 2007.
Is Ceoffe getting special treatment?
Not so, says Jim Burn, chair of the county committee. The committee is holding a special endorsement, he says, because party officials didn't realize until too late that there was going to be a race in Lawrenceville at all.
"We had this race down in our books for being held in 2011," Burn says. (Indeed, the last time this seat was up for grabs was 2005, and magistrates serve 6-year terms.) Incumbent Eugene Zielmanski
decided to step down (UPDATE: Zielmanski had to vacate the office because of age requirements; see comments below), but due in part to miscommunications with the Department of Elections, Burn says, "We weren't made aware of the Lawrenceville race until we already put the candidates in the electronic voting machines."
So Burn decided to hold a special endorsement meeting for this race alone, sequestering it from the regular endorsement process. He did so, he says, in part to avoid opening a "Pandora's box" in which other candidates, who missed deadlines for seeking the endorsement in their races, would seek special treatment.
So far, Ceoffe is the only person to have filed a letter of intent seeking the endorsement. Which means, of course, that Ceoffe is the only person who currently stands to benefit from this weekend's only special endorsement process. Which, yeah, sounds a little suspicious even to a trusting soul like me.
But Burn says that because of the snafu, the deadline for notifying the party has been extended in this race until tomorrow at 5 p.m. That is made clear on the party Web site, he points out. "One candidate in particular should get down there right away," he said -- referring to Susan Banahasky, who plans to oppose Ceoffe but who hasn't notified the party of an intention to seek the endorsement.
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