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Sean Ramaley's path to becoming the youngest member of the state Senate once seemed like it had already been paved. Bright and well-spoken, the lawyer and two-term state representative from Beaver County (PA) won the Democratic nomination to run for the 47th Senate district after securing key endorsements from party officials and labor unions.

But the 33-year-old Ramaley's political career sustained a potentially fatal blow last week when he became ensnared with former Rep. Michael R. Veon and 10 current and former House Democratic aides in the state's biggest political corruption scandal in years.

The state Attorney General's Office accused the 12 of using taxpayer dollars to fuel political activities and underwrite personal perks; Ramaley allegedly used a taxpayer-funded job and resources to aid his 2004 House campaign.

Stunned party officials now must sort out whether Ramaley should remain in the Senate race with six theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest charges hanging over his head.

Reached by telephone Wednesday, Ramaley would not discuss his candidacy. His attorney, he said, covered it when he spoke to reporters on the day of his arraignment in Harrisburg.

Ramaley's attorney, Philip Ignelzi, told reporters last Friday that the charges are unlikely to be resolved before Nov. 4 general election, and that voters should give Ramaley the presumption of innocence until then.

Pressed Wednesday on whether he will stay in the race, Ramaley said, "You have a good day," and hung up.

Ramaley has a baby boy and a wife in public service as an assistant district attorney in neighboring Allegheny County. If he does not win, he will be out of the Legislature completely, having given up his House seat to run for Senate.

From early on, Ramaley built his resume to succeed in politics. He won Allegheny College's Ethical Leader of the Year award in 1997, earned a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh and worked on campaigns in western Pennsylvania. He took jobs as an aide in the Ohio Legislature and a lawyer in the U.S. Department of Labor.

Until now, he had enjoyed an unblemished reputation among fellow Democrats.

Allegheny County's Democratic party chairman, Jim Burn said Ramaley is an appealing candidate because he is young, energetic and a good listener.

"Sean's always worked hard for his district, to go after the issues and to try and deliver good government and good results," he said.

But in the grand jury reports, one-time aides to Veon recounted how he hired Ramaley into a part-time job in his Beaver County legislative office during Ramaley's first House campaign. That, plus a taxpayer-paid campaign manager from Veon's staff, allegedly enabled Ramaley to use the office's taxpayer-paid resources and work full-time on his campaign.

Ignelzi said Ramaley is innocent, and that he did the job he was hired to do, although Ignelzi would not say what he did.

Earlier this week, Ramaley indicated in a brief conversation that he still wants to run, said Joe Spanik, the Beaver County commissioner who dropped out of the 47th district race after losing key labor and party endorsements to Ramaley.

Privately, numerous party officials are likely to voice an opinion on Ramaley's candidacy, since the heavily Democratic district covers big portions of Beaver and Lawrence counties, and a township in Allegheny County

Democratic party officials, at least publicly, are choosing their words carefully.

Montgomery County Sen. Connie Williams, who chairs the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, would not say whether Ramaley should stay in the race.

"We will be having some serious conversations pretty soon," said Williams, who noted that Ramaley has a lot "on his plate."

Even though there may be pressure on him to step aside, Burn said the decision ultimately is up to Ramaley.

If he continues, he can expect his Republican opponent, farmer Elder A. Vogel Jr., to wage a campaign based around character and integrity.

Voters, Vogel said, are tired of hearing about corruption—another Beaver County legislator, Frank LaGrotta, pleaded guilty in February in a separate corruption case.

"People are sick and tired of it," Vogel said. "They want change, someone who's honest and will do a good job and not steal their money."


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