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Leading Dem calls on DeWeese to resign post

By Brad Bumsted STATE CAPITOL REPORTER Thursday, August 21, 2008

HARRISBURG -- The first member of House Democratic leadership on Wednesday urged Majority Leader Bill DeWeese to resign the top post. Rep. Frank Dermody, an Oakmont Democrat and the fourth-ranking member of the House Democratic Caucus, told the Tribune-Review that DeWeese of Greene County should step down in the aftermath of a corruption investigation that has resulted in criminal charges against 12 people with ties to the caucus. "My feeling is, after all that's gone on, Bill has become a tremendous distraction. He said if he became a distraction he'd step down," Dermody said. DeWeese said through an aide that he was campaigning in East Bethlehem in Washington County yesterday. "I am focused on two objectives: the House fall agenda and my re-election campaign," he said. "I don't know the circumstances under which (Dermody) said this, and I won't allow his comments or anything else to distract me from these two important objectives." Dermody said DeWeese's continued presence as leader will distract House Democrats from tackling key issues when they return to session next month from a summer recess. "It's important to move forward with our Democratic agenda. To stall on these programs would be a terrible thing. Health care, energy, transportation ought to be what we're talking about," said Dermody, an 18-year veteran. DeWeese is not accused of wrongdoing in the grand jury investigation spearheaded by Attorney General Tom Corbett's office, but Dermody said there is an "appearance" problem because he presided over the caucus when the alleged crimes occurred. DeWeese's former chief of staff, Mike Manzo, is one of the defendants. Corbett's office has said the investigation continues into the activities of House and Senate Democrats and Republicans. Manzo and former Democratic Whip Mike Veon, D-Beaver Falls, who was second in command, are charged with theft, criminal conspiracy and conflicts of interest for allegedly directing a multimillion-dollar campaign effort at taxpayers' expense that included bonuses for staffers who worked for Democratic candidates. DeWeese's continued role as leader might be a "hindrance" to some House Democrats winning re-election in November, and could jeopardize the Democrats' one-seat majority in the House, Dermody said. Dermody became the 13th House Democrat to call on DeWeese to step down. But none has done so since the first week of August. Asked why he waited, Dermody said he wanted to give DeWeese "every opportunity to see what he'd do." Dermody is majority secretary and previously served as chairman of the Allegheny County delegation.