Harris Wofford, ex-JFK aide, named to Heinz's Senate seat in Pennsylvania

May 09, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Harris L. Wofford, 65, a Kennedy administration veteran and former college president, was appointed by Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey yesterday to temporarily fill the Senate seat of the late Pennsylvania Republican John Heinz.

The selection, announced at a Harrisburg news conference, gives the Democrats a 57-43 Senate majority, their largest advantage since1980.

But analysts in both parties said that Mr. Wofford, who is untested as a campaigner, could find it extremely tough to hold the seat, particularly if Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh succumbs to pressure from national and state Republican leaders and becomes the GOP candidate in the Nov. 5 special election to fill the final two years of the Heinz term.

"It makes our job a ton easier now," said Ron Kaufman, the White House political director. He said the selection of Mr. Wofford "makes nosense politically. He's out of the political loop. He's not well-known. He's from the east," the Philadelphia area, historically a handicap in Pennsylvania politics.

Mr. Thornburgh, a former two-term Pennsylvania governor widely thought to have presidential ambitions, appears reluctant to give up his Justice Department post. This week, state GOP officials ++ postponed the process for choosing a nominee by one month to give him more time to decide.

The selection of Mr. Wofford, a liberal Democrat and personal friend of the governor's, came only after a prolonged and politically embarrassing search by Mr. Casey to find a replacement for Mr. Heinz, who was killed in an April 4 plane crash near Philadelphia.

After several elected Democratic officials turned him down, the governor flew to Michigan last week to offer the seat to Chrysler Chairman Lee A. Iacocca, a Pennsylvania native. Mr. Iacocca also refused.

As recently as Monday of this week, William J. Green, a formercongressman from Philadelphia who is now a Washington lobbyist, was the leading candidate for the job.

Mr. Wofford was suggested initially as a caretaker senator, someone who would hold the job for six months while a more electable Democrat sought the seat in the special election.

But Governor Casey said yesterday that he wanted his friend to be the nominee, and the Democratic state committee is expected to comply when it meets June 1.

A former special assistant for civil rights to President John F. Kennedy, Mr. Wofford served as associate director of the Peace Corps. He was head of the College at Old Westbury in the State University of New York, served as president of Bryn Mawr College from 1970 to 1978 and has been secretary of labor and industry in Mr. Casey's Cabinet since 1987.

Though he was state Democratic Party chairman in 1986, he has never held elective office. He and Mr. Casey have known each other since the 1950s, when they practiced law together in Washington.

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