All these Democratic committee posts will end soon, I promise | Slag Heap
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Saturday, June 12, 2010

All these Democratic committee posts will end soon, I promise

Posted By on Sat, Jun 12, 2010 at 3:01 PM

This post contains a quick (?) update on the statewide ambitions of Jim Burn, the Allegheny County Democratic commtitee chair who wants to head up the party's statewide apparatus. It also discusses some potential rules changes that may be coming down the pike in the years to come ... and offers yet another installment of the 19th ward saga. 

As such, if you skip reading the rest of this thing, I'll understand. 

Anyway. Alex Roarty of PoliticsPa noted yesterday that Burn's effort to be the next state chair may be stumbling. County executive Dan Onorato, the party's gubernatorial nominee, is not endorsing Burn -- or anyone else. Onorato says he respects "the process" of having committee folk make their own choice.

My guess -- and that of some other party insiders -- is that Onorato is worried Burn doesn't help further Onorato's statewide ambitions. In order to win, Onorato is gonna need as many votes as he can get out of the Philly area ... and a fellow Allegheny Countian may not be much help with that. 

I asked Burn about this theory. He notes that Bob Brady, who chairs the Democratic committee in Philadelphia, is an avowed supporter. That, he says, should allay concern about Burn's reach. As for Onorato, Burn says he respects Onorato's desire to "respect the process."

"It's important to see what the rank-and-file thinks," Burn says.

In any case, the state commitee is set to meet on June 19. In the meantime, Burn will be seeking another term as county chair tomorrow, at a meeting of the Allegheny County committee. Oh, and among the items on the agenda? A survey about whether committee members have the stomach for another battle over endorsements.

You may recall that county Dems have previously argued over whether party endorsements should be binding in primaries. If, for example, Luke Ravenstahl is the endorsed Democrat in a mayoral race, should a Democratic committee person be barred from putting up a Bill Peduto sign before the spring primary? 

The last time the committee examined the matter, committee members decided to table the whole issue. So Burn is circulating a survey to gauge the party members' interest in dealing with this again. The survey asks a handful of questions, reprinted here: 

1.) Do you support the Party's current process of endorsing candidates in the spring primary?

2.) Do you support "open primaries"? i.e., no Party endorsements of any candidates in the Spring primary?

3.) Do you support modifying or amending our current endorsement process?

4.) If you answer to Number 3 is "yes", do you: A.) Prefer that endorsements require a majority(vs. a plurality) in multi candidate fields? __________ B.) Prefer the 2/3 endorsement requirement as utilized by the Pa State Democratic Committee? __________ C.) Prefer removing the requirement that endorsements are binding on all Party members? __________

Such matters will be taken up by a new bylaws committee, whose members will be chosen by Burn (or whoever the next county chair turns out to be).

Another topic Burn expects to have come up: the curious, if common, practice of allowing people to serve as ward chairs and other officers even if they are not on the committee. This is a longstanding pratice among local Democratic committees, both inside and outside the city, but Burn says "I've been hearing a lot of complaints about it in the past six months."

To take one example that's been much on my mind, the city's 19th ward has a commitee chair (Pete Wagner) who wasn't actually elected as committeepeople last month. And that's not very unusual. You can find similar examples all around the county. The only qualifications to serve as a ward officer are that you be a registered Democrat, and that you live in the district. 

Still, it is sort of a strange practice. As one would-be reformer told me, "It's like, 'You won't join our club, but we'll make you the president.'"

Such sentiments may soon get a thorough airing. Burn pledges that when he convenes the bylaws committee. "I'm going to put people on it that don't agree on anything."

Sounds like fun, doesn't it? With my luck, I'll end up having to cover it. 

Speaking of utterly intractable disputes, and the 19th ward ...  for anyone still following along at home -- as I know a few folks in Beechview certainly are -- I asked Burn about the latest on the Kimberly Cagni residency question. As of Friday, Burn said Cagni had yet to respond to a residency challenge filed as part of a battle for control of the 19th ward -- a fact which surprised him. Cagni has about two weeks left to reply; if she doesn't, Burn says he will have to remove her from the committee. "I would have expected somebody to send me some documentation by now," he says.

When I asked what kind of documentation would be germane, he indicated that a "consistent voting record in the 19th ward" would be one "compelling argument" for retaining her. Such information is publically available, but Burn says that in the event of a challenge like this one, he only considers evidence brought before him. 

I, of course, am under no such restriction. And I can tell you that according to county election records, Cagni has indeed consistently been listing the 19th ward as her home for voting purposes.

Of course, it is possible to vote in one place even if, for most intents and purposes, you live in another. (Just ask Dok Harris.) But Burn says that establishing residency often involves weighing various factors, since a person can have various residencies while having only one "domicile." A steady voting record would be "a significant factor" in Cagni's favor, he says.  

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