Wolf backs McGinty as Pa. Democratic Committee chairman

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On the Friday after Tom Wolf’s thumping victory in the May 20 primary for governor, he joined his fellow candidates and other members of the Democratic hierarchy in a “unity breakfast’’ hosted by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the Philadelphia Democratic Party chairman.

Among the party honchos chowing down at a South Philadelphia diner were Katie McGinty, one of Mr. Wolf’s vanquished primary rivals, and James Burn, the chairman of the state Democratic Committee. Their unity didn't last long.

On Wednesday, Mr. Wolf announced his support for his former rival, Ms. McGinty as the next state party chair. In an email to the committee members, he also anointed state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, as his choice for vice chair of the party organization. But Mr. Burn isn't ready to go quietly.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, after the committee members received Mr. Wolf’s email and a separate campaign announcement from Ms. McGinty, Mr. Burn said he remained a candidate for re-election and planned to fight for another four-year term. While stressing that he admired the nominee and would work hard for his election against Gov. Tom Corbett, Mr. Burn said he believed he owed it to the committee’s grass roots to offer a choice rather than bow to the “top-down leadership.”

“I’m prepared to go to the floor,” he said of his determination to pursue his candidacy at a state committee meeting next week outside Harrisburg. The committee members are elected from state Senate districts across the commonwealth with the number of seats in each district determined by its Democratic registration.

In his message to the party officials, Mr. Wolf praised Ms. McGinty as “an energetic and compassionate voice who will fight for middle class families. He called Mr. Wheatley, an African-American who endorsed him early, “a strong voice for inclusion in the Democratic Party.”

“I deeply appreciate the great work Jim Burn has done building the party and electing Democrats,” Mr. Wolf said in his message. “I look forward to involving him in our efforts going forward and making sure that everyone who has been a leader in the party has a voice in our work to give Pennsylvania a fresh start.”

Mr. Wolf’s campaign declined to comment on Mr. Burn’s decision to stay in the race other than to reaffirm Mr. Wolf’s support for Ms. McGinty and Mr. Wheatley.

Ms. McGinty, a former environmental aide in the Clinton White House and a secretary of environmental protection in the Rendell administration, finished fourth in the primary that Mr. Wolf dominated. In contrast to the York businessman’s other rivals, state Treasurer Rob McCord, and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Montgomery, Ms. McGinty largely refrained from attacking the front-runner in the closing weeks of the campaign. Mr. Wheatley, who finished third in the Democratic primary for mayor of Pittsburgh last year, was a regular surrogate for Mr. Wolf at campaign events in the Pittsburgh region.

The confrontation over the party chairman’s spot is a more public replay of similar dispute four years ago. After former Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato won the 2010 Democratic nomination for governor, he had decided to install Kim Bracey, the mayor of York, as the head of the party. But Mr. Burn, a fellow alumnus of Pittsburgh’s North Catholic High School and a onetime Onorato ally on the Allegheny County Council, defied the nominee’s preference and insisted that he had the votes and was ready to fight it out in a vote of the committee.

According to a senior official of the 2010 campaign, Mr. Onorato was irritated by Mr. Burn’s insistence, but he and his aides decided that the issue wasn't important enough to warrant a public fight in an already challenging election year for Democrats.

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