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Centrists flirt with Democrats, and the party rebuffs them

Salena Zito on

PITTSBURGH -- There is a battle going on here within the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, a formidable force of centrist, conservative and liberal Democrats whose backgrounds range from union halls in the city to the businessmen and women who have spread out into the leafy suburbs that hug the city limits.

A key figure in the battle is committeewoman Heather Kass, who is running for the state House. Several years ago, Kass's posted on social media criticism of Obamacare and the distribution of free narcan for addicts -- and insinuated support for President Donald Trump.

Fortunately for Kass, she received 49 votes from the committee to secure its endorsement. Her opponent, liberal activist Jess Benham, received just 19.

That's when things got interesting. Darrin Kelly, an influential local labor leader, issued a statement blasting Kass's previous statements. The party hierarchy followed that up by saying her social media history was disqualifying.

The fight soon unraveled in many different directions and tested a party that has comfortably come together and built a force that helped keep a Democrat as the chief executive officer for five consecutive terms and keep a majority of the county council seats.

Now accusations of disloyalty and closet Trumpism are being tossed around by the liberal wing of the party. The factions that once worked together well enough to enjoy a healthy coalition are splintering.

 

Party Chairwoman Eileen Kelly held a press conference defending the endorsement process and encouraging forgiveness of Kass's past social media posts. But in response, local elected Democrats including two of the county's congressmen, Rep. Mike Doyle and Rep. Conor Lamb, demanded her resignation.

Two things are worth watching: The chairwoman is probably going nowhere, and the April 28 Democratic primaries in Pennsylvania are going to be a spectacle. This county isn't the only one in the commonwealth with fractures within the party. Roughly 250 miles due east along the Lincoln Highway, Lancaster County is experiencing some serious turmoil within its party ranks.

Unlike Allegheny, Lancaster is considered a red county. Yet despite giving Trump a majority of its votes in 2016, Democrats (under then-Chairwoman JoAnn Hertz) fought and flipped traditionally Republican-held suburbs in the 2017 and 2019 local elections.

As thanks, Hertz was given the choice of either facing public criticisms from within the party ranks or resigning.

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Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

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