By Alex Roarty
PoliticsPA Staff Writer
The state Democratic Party’s Executive Committee on Monday selected Mark Critz to be the party’s nominee in the race to replace John Murtha, choosing the congressman’s district director over former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer.
Cambria County Controller Ed Cernic Jr. and former Naval officer Ryan Bucchianeri were also seeking the nomination.
Critz will now be placed on the May 18 special election ballot to determine who will serve out the remainder of the late congressman’s term in office. He will face Republican Tim Burns or Bill Russell, depending on whom Republican conferees select during their meeting Thursday.
The former district director won a straw poll vote Saturday taken by 100 Democratic delegates from across the 12th Congressional District. Although the vote gave his campaign a boost, the 50-member Executive Committee, comprising voters statewide, was not obligated to follow the recommendation.
Hafer supporters continued campaigning throughout the day Monday on behalf of the two-time former statewide officeholder, raising concerns about Critz’s background and calling Hafer the party’s best candidate against Republicans. She has indicated she plans to run in the party’s primary, also set for May 18, even if she doesn’t receive the party’s special election nomination.
Bucchianeri said Monday he has already filed enough petitions to be placed on the primary ballot.
Although the executive committee has 50 members, voting stops after a candidate reaches a simple majority of support, 26 votes, so a final tally of the total might not necessarily include all members.
But two Democratic sources tell PoliticsPA that in the final tally, Critz received 30 votes, Hafer 18, and Bucchianeri 1.
In a statement released minutes after his nomination was made official, Critz said he would make economic development his No. 1 priority in Congress.
“In Congress I’ll continue the fight to bring jobs and economic development to Western Pennsylvania because nothing is more important right now,” he said.“I’m honored to have the State Committee’s endorsement. Today, I pledge to all Western Pennsylvanians that I’ll work tirelessly to earn their support so that we can come together and get to work bringing jobs to our communities and getting our economy back on track.”
A spokesman for Critz’s campaign said the candidate would have no further comment Monday on the vote.
State Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney said the party should unite behind Critz.
“While we look forward to a spirited and exciting race, Democrats across the 12th District should know that Mark Critz will be a phenomenal candidate for this important campaign,” the chairman said in a statement. “Now is the time for Democrats across the district to stand behind Mark in the same committed way that he has stood with them over the years. I congratulate him on this accomplishment and look forward to working with him to ensure a Democratic victory.”
National leaders for the Democratic Party also lauded the choice of Critz.
“For years Mark Critz has worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional district to help bring jobs and economic development to Western Pennsylvania,” said DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen. “His pledge to continue that work in Congress and his commitment to honoring our servicemen, women, and their families is unparalleled.
“Between his record as a public servant and his deep roots in the community there is no doubt that Mark is exactly the kind of leader the 12th district needs in Congress right now,” he continued. “Just like he has done over the course of his career, Mark will serve Western Pennsylvanians well in Washington and we are proud to support his candidacy.”
The May 18 special election could hold special significance for Democrats nationwide because it will likely be seen as another barometer for the party’s chances in November. After the party lost Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in January, the loss of another seat once held by a legendary Democrat could panic Democrats nationwide.
Hafer’s campaign did not return calls or e-mails for comment as 10 p.m. Monday night.