Leonard Bodack, candidate for the state House of Representatives in District 21, received a resounding show of support from the Allegheny County Democratic Committee Feb. 10. The former city-council member received more than twice as many votes as his nearest rival, and more votes than all five of his competitors combined.
"I've always respected the committee," Bodack said after hearing an unofficial tally in a Heinz Field hallway.
That loyalty may have helped him secure the endorsement. When asked at a Feb. 6 candidates' forum whether losing the endorsement would mean the end of their campaigns, Bodack was the only candidate willing to acquiesce. Bodack offered to sign a petition pledging to respect the endorsement of the committee, provided that the other candidates signed alongside him. His proposal was met with some applause, but as Bodack pointed out after winning the endorsement, "There were no takers."
District 21 includes eastern city neighborhoods like Bloomfield, Garfield, Friendship and Stanton Heights, as well as suburbs to the north, such as Sharpsburg, Etna, Millvale and portions of Ross, Reserve and Shaler townships. The seat became open in January, when the incumbent, Democrat Lisa Bennington, announced she would not seek reelection.
Finishing behind Bodack, who received 60 votes, was former state Rep. Frank Pistella (29 votes). Pistella held the District 21 seat for 28 years before Bennington defeated him in 2006.
Former Pittsburgh Police Chief Dominic Costa received 11 votes; none of the other candidates scratched double digits. Ross Township Commissioner Dan DeMarco pulled in 8, County Councilor Brenda Frazier got 3, and Paul McKrell, a former Pennsylvania executive director of the Young Democrats of America, 1.
Costa, DeMarco, Frazier and McKrell said at the forum that they would continue to run with or without the endorsement. Pistella, who volunteers with Neighborhood Legal Services Association, said that he would consult with NLSA before making a decision. NLSA provides legal assistance to poor people in the Pittsburgh area and Pistella fears that a perceived partisan connection could be used against it.
Committee chair Jim Burn says that Bodack is now a "marked man" by people who are critical of the endorsement process. He also says that for the process to work, committee members are obliged to "knock on doors" and explain to voters why they supported Bodack.
Burn moderated the Feb. 6 forum, which included questions on flood relief, table gaming and state-mandated exams for high school diplomas. He also asked the candidates if they felt the endorsement process was broken.
Most of their responses landed squarely in the middle of the road, with the strongest criticism coming from McKrell and Frazier.
"I see a lot of times where we endorse people who don't resonate with voters," said McKrell, who skipped the endorsement meeting altogether to go door-knocking.
Frazier called herself the "people's choice candidate," pointing out that she has won three county council races, never with the endorsement.
"But I keep trying," she added. "I keep going through the process."
None of the other candidates were in sight when Burn announced Bodack's endorsement, more than an hour after the polls closed at 3 p.m. After five hours of voting, an hour of waiting and some leaked results, most everyone else had cleared out, too.
Burn said that roughly 1,400 of the committee's approximately 2,700 members showed up to vote (though only committee members representing District 21 could participate in that choice). Burn credited the turnout, in part, to a Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama endorsement conducted simultaneously, in which Clinton defeated Obama 837 to 453.
Among other decisions, the committee also endorsed Steve O'Donnell to run against Republican Tim Murphy in the 18th Congressional District.
Bodack says he had a "pretty good feeling" about the race during the day and is optimistic about the road ahead, adding that rank-and-file Democrats respect the endorsement, "even if the candidates don't."