After the sudden ouster of PA Democratic Party chair Marcel Groen, officials are moving quickly to appoint new leadership to the state committee.
A letter circulated among state committee members shows Gov. Tom Wolf, who has broad influence over internal leadership decisions, throwing his support behind several party figures ahead of a state committee meeting this weekend.
Wolf supported current party treasurer Jack Hanna to serve out the remainder of Groen’s term, with Allegheny County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Nancy Patton Mills as vice chair, and Black Caucus Chairwoman Lisa Rhodes as treasurer. Rhodes is also the executive director of the Women’s Christian Alliance.
“Jack, Nancy, and Lisa all have great experience and their commitment to electing Democrats is just what the state party needs as we move ahead together to achieve the best possible outcome in November,” Wolf wrote.
The trio would serve until a June reorganization meeting. But sources said Hanna, an attorney and leader of the Southwest Caucus, already has plans to move out of state later this year. Wolf’s choice of Mills as vice chair was being viewed by insiders a confirmation that he intends to slot Mills as a permanent replacement for Groen.
Groen was forced out by Wolf after some Democrats expressed outrage of his handling of a sexual harassment scandal that engulfed state Sen. Daylin Leach’s congressional campaign and another flap over another party leader who made inflammatory comments about women online. Wolf’s interest in Mills stems in part from a broader interest in moving more women into party leadership.
Several other figures, including state Sen. Sharif Street and Jonathan Saidel, were rumored to be interested in vacated leadership positions. Some figures, who felt Wolf had been too heavy-handed with his handling of the state committee – he also forced out Groen’s predecessor, Jim Burn – had briefly tried to rally support for Armstrong County chair Chuck Pascall, to little avail. Insiders expected Hanna’s selection this weekend to be largely perfunctory.
But other letters from state committee members also indicated that the pivot to figures from Western PA – Hanna and Mills both hail from the area – was intended to signal the party’s interest in regaining territory ceded to Republicans around Pittsburgh in past years.
“Democrats will need to make up the ground we’ve lost over the years in order to send more Democrats to Washington and Harrisburg,” wrote Westmoreland County Democratic Committee Lorraine Petrosky. “We need leadership that understands that the road to victory leads through our region. That’s why we are supporting some of our own.”
Democratic party leaders play key roles in statewide fundraising efforts, most notably for figures like Gov. Wolf, who will face off against one of several deep-pocketed Republicans currently gunning for that party’s nomination.