Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jeanne Clark

No other candidate in this year's local races has a deeper history with the club than Jeanne Clark. While the club archives are organized chronologically, with a file folder for each year, Clark's 1988 run for state senate warranted two files labeled with her name and packed with campaign literature and paraphernalia.

Clark ran that year against the three-term incumbent, James Romanelli, and State Representative Mike Dawida. According to the article below, Clark handily won the club's endorsement, getting 33 of 50 votes cast. (The club's membership has fluctuated over time. The number of potential club voting members this year hovers around 400.)

Club President Celeste Behrend headed Clark's campaign committee--which probably explains the Clark-centric archive folders--but she told the Post-Gazette that she didn't try to sway other club members because that would have been "taking unfair advantage of my position as president."

(In a January 1988 letter, printed on official state senate stationery, Romanelli asked Behrend both for her support and to speak to her "personally about my candidacy for a Board position with the Club." Apparently, Romanelli figured if board membership was good enough for State Representative Ivan Itkin, it would work for him too.)

Despite the club supporting Clark and the party backing Romanelli, Dawida won the race.

Similar to the Itkin/Coyne struggle chronicled in the previous post, Clark's experience 25 years ago may illustrate that in larger contests like state and county races, the club's endorsement can have a limited impact, likely due to the 14th Ward's smaller percentage of overall votes. However, in more localized races--city council, district justice and, perhaps, county council and citywide elections--the club's endorsement can tip the balance. In fact, about five year's ago a scientific experiment measuring the endorsement's impact found that it gave a candidate a six percent boost in votes received in the 14th Ward. (A CMU decision sciences professor, who was on the board at the time, conducted the test.)

In stark contrast to the club's interest surrounding Clark's statewide run, the 1989 archive file covering her 8th District city council bid contains only a few items, including a blank club endorsement ballot listing five candidates--Clark, Dan Cohen, Carol DePasquale-Hertz, Leon W. Howard, and Jonathan Robison. Cohen got the club's endorsement and won the primary, with Robison finishing a distant second and Clark third.

This coming Sunday, the club will meet to endorse candidates for Pittsburgh mayor and for mayoral hopeful Bill Peduto's 8th District council seat. Three candidates are vying to replace him: Dan Gilman, Peduto's chief of staff; 14th Ward party chair and club board member Sam Hens-Greco; and 7th Ward party chair ... Jeanne Clark.

Along with the interest generated by three such prominent and qualified candidates, the 8th District race adds another chapter to the club's history of contentious endorsements. In a letter circulated to club members this week, the board reported that one candidate appears to have taken "extraordinary means" to win the club's endorsement. (To ensure neutrality until the end of the endorsement meeting, the board has remained circumspect in identifying the candidate.) According to the letter:

"On February 20 the Club received a check from a city council candidate’s campaign account, most of which was directed to be used as dues payments for 30 memberships. Completed membership applications for each new member accompanied the check....

Concerns about the club’s endorsement have surfaced in previous elections, perhaps most notably in a 1999 county council race between two board members in which one candidate was believed to have “packed” the Club with supporters days before the endorsement."

Click on the image below for the full text of the letter.

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