Patrick Reilly, a legislative staffer making his first run for public office, won a closely contested race for the Democratic endorsement for an open City Council seat in the South Hills yesterday as Democratic Party committee members voted on their choices in anticipation of the May primary.
Mr. Reilly, 27, a staff member for state Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Beechview, received 46 votes to edge Anthony Coghill's 40 in a District 4 race that was seen by many as a proxy war between state Sen. Wayne Fontana, who supported Mr. Coghill, a member of his staff, and Pete Wagner, the influential chairman of the 19th Ward, the largest in the district that covers parts of Brookline, Beechview, Bon Air and Mount Washington.
Mr. Wagner supported Mr. Reilly. Ms. Wagner, his daughter, is publicly neutral in the race. Mr. Reilly said he would take a leave from her staff beginning this week. Natalia Rudiak came in a distant third for the endorsement with five votes.
The elder Wagner and Mr. Fontana were allies when Mr. Fontana won his Senate seat, but their ties have frayed in recent year. Mr. Coghill, who owns a roofing business, narrowly lost the 2005 primary for this council seat in a challenge to its incumbent, Councilman Jim Motznik, who chose instead to run for district judge. He said he planned to remain in the council race despite his setback.
"I got 481/2 percent of the vote last time without the endorsement,'' he said.
In the only other contested City Council race, District 6 incumbent Tonya Payne easily defeated Robert Lavelle, 76 to 21.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was unopposed for the party's imprimatur as neither of his announced challengers, Councilman Patrick Dowd and Carmen Robinson, of the Hill District, sought the endorsement. The mayor received 519 votes from the 660 city committee members who cast votes in the daylong balloting at Heinz Field.
In the 15-member field for the party's choices for five open seats on Common Pleas Court, the winners were Arnie Klein, 1,097; Judge Joseph Williams, who was appointed to the court by Gov. Ed Rendell, 962; state Rep. Don Walko, 817; Susan Evashavik DiLucente, 791; and Michael Marmo, 633.
The endorsements are considered useful but not determinative in most of the local races. They carry particular influence, however, in the judicial contests, which attract little attention from the public. The party nominees will be chosen in the primary on May 19.
The Allegheny County Republican Party does not conduct a pre-primary endorsement process for local offices.
The official filing deadline for candidates in the May 19 primary is Tuesday. The fields for county and municipal races finally take shape after March 25, the last day for candidates to withdraw without a special court order.
Among the candidates who fell short in the crowded judicial race were Carolyn Saldari Bengel, with 624 votes, and Michele Zappala Peck, the sister of District Attorney Stephen Zappala, with 597. They were followed by Philip Ignelzi, 507; Hugh McGough, 464; Dan Butler, 464; Leah Williams-Duncan, 289; David Montgomery, 135; Alexander Bicket, 121; Jeffrey Eisenberg, 66; and Jenifer Salter, 51.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Mar. 10, 2009) The name of Robert Lavelle, a Democratic candidate for City Council in District 6, was misspelled in this story on the Democratic Party endorsement process as originally published Mar. 9, 2009.
Politics Editor James O'Toole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1562.