No doubt readers of this space have been wondering for weeks now: "What happened to Tonya Payne and the effort to remove her from her post chairing the Democratic Party's city committee?"
Well, wonder no longer. Jim Burn, who chairs the county committee, has stripped Payne of the chair, and removed her from the state committee as well.
"Tonya is a friend," Burn told me, sadly. "I hate doing this no matter who is involved, but this stings even more."
Payne was accused of trying to engineer a write-in campaign after losing the Democratic primary to Daniel Lavelle. That would have meant that Payne, despite being a party officer, was trying to thwart the party's own nominee.
Burn notifed Payne of his decision in a Dec. 1 letter.
"As a Party we have an obligation to honor the choices made by the Democratic voters we represent," the letter read in part. "Once the voters ... decide in the primary who the Nominee is going to be, it is our responsibility to honor their choices even if we personally do not agree with them. If members of this Committee, especially its leaders, can not follow the most fundamental tenet of our charter, then they should not be in this organization."
Burn says that Payne denied having any direct role in the write-in campaign. But he says he was directed to a pro-Payne Facebook page (referenced in this blog post over at Progress Pittsburgh). That page, Burn wrote to Payne, "lists you as the Adminstrator/Creator of a page which advocates your write-in campaign and which also offers instructions on how to do a write-in campaign.
"What makes [this] situation worse in my opinion is that ... you denied any direct involvement when I asked you about this," Burn wrote.
Payne can appeal Burn's decision to the state committee's Executive Board. But for now, Burn says, she has been removed from the chair, and the state committee -- the two positions he appointed her to.
As for who takes the chair now, that turns out to be a bit of a murky question -- like almost everything else touching upon the local party apparatus. The city committee's vice-chair is Ed Gainey, and it's possible he will fill out the remainder of Payne's term until another round of party elections next year. That's how it would work if Burn were removed from his county position, anyway.
But rules at the city committee are a little looser, and Burn says he's "going to talk to the city committee officers. Do they want the vice-chair to finish out the term, or do they want to elect another chair -- or for me to appoint one -- on an interim basis? The city rules are diametrically opposed to those we have in the county, or in other municipalities."
But even in Pittsburgh, it seems, some rules still apply.