Just hours before their deadline, Democrats from Allegheny and Beaver counties Thursday found a candidate to compete for the state Senate seat vacated by convicted felon Jane Orie.
Party officials tapped health care consultant Sharon Brown of McCandless, a state committeewoman and unsuccessful challenger last cycle to state Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, to vie for the open 40th District seat in an Aug. 7 special election. In advance of a scheduled committee vote Thursday night, Democratic candidates were supposed to forward letters of intent by 5 p.m. Tuesday but when none did the party scrambled to pin one down Thursday afternoon.
With Orie focusing on her defense the past two years, "It's been difficult to be a Democrat in the district and to not have any constituent action happen on our part," Ms. Brown said. That drove her to run for the seat, once 2010 Orie challenger Dan DeMarco decided late Tuesday he would not run.
"I've been aggravated by the lack of response I felt should have been given to the community," she said.
Orie resigned from her Senate seat May 25 in advance of her sentencing on public corruption charges, triggering the election to fill the 21/2 years left in her term. With no time for primaries, party officials choose the candidates in special elections. Republicans are set to choose theirs June 16.
Former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart of Bradford Woods is the biggest name in the still-shifting GOP slate, which also is said to include: Allison Park attorney Chris Abernethy; Doug Austin of Austin cleaning products in Mars; Allegheny County Councilman Matt Drozd; North Hills school director Jeff Meyer; Butler County committee vice chair Robin Redding; and Allegheny County GOP treasurer Karen Shaheen.
Democrats long thought Mr. DeMarco, a Ross commissioner, would be their candidate as he was in 2010 when the corruption charges were first leveled against Orie. The party rushed into a write-in effort to get him on that ballot that year and confusion again surrounded his decision this week not to seek the office.
In a statement, Mr. DeMarco said he was "incredibly touched by the outpouring of support that I received as I considered a run in the upcoming special election" but thought he could better serve the North Hills as a commissioner and vice chairman of Congress of Neighboring Communities, a suburban intergovernmental cooperation entity.
Democrats initially could not field a primary candidate in the 37th District race this spring to replace retiring Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon, but staged another write-in effort for Greg Parks of Pleasant Hills. He will face D. Raja, R-Mt. Lebanon, in November.
The 40th District seat may be shifted to the Poconos in new maps of Pennsylvania legislative districts that are tentatively set to be released this afternoon. If that happens, Allegheny County may have only one Republican state senator (should Mr. Raja hold onto the 37th District seat), despite having the most Republican voters of any county statewide.
Ms. Brown, 59, is a former nursing administrator at the Community College of Allegheny County and she holds a Ph.D. in public health and epidemiology from the University of California, Irvine. She was crushed by Mr. Turzai in 2010 by 55 percentage points in her first run for public office.
"She's going to elevate the level of discourse in this race," said Aren Platt, Senate Democratic Campaign Committee executive director. "She has the full support of the Senate Democrats."