The off year election 2009 is now in the books but not before making history on a few political fronts. We spent this election night at the studios of WYLN TV 35 in Hazleton reporting and commenting on the results. (More on that in future editions). Here’s a recap:
THEN THERE WERE 3
17 candidates ran for two open seats on the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. Wilkes Barre Magistrate William Amesbury emerged victorious winning the nomination of both the Democratic and Republican party. Amesbury is no stranger to the concept of cross filing having won his last Magisterial race that way but more importantly launching his career as a District Justice by winning a GOP nomination against then incumbent and Ridge appointee Kathy O’Donnell. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Amesbury appears to be headed for a seat on the Common Pleas bench. Finishing second on the Democratic side was Tina Polachek Gartley who ran a spirited campaign for the other nomination. On the Republican side, Attorney Richard Hughes won the GOP nomination with under 5,000 votes. Amesbury followed closely behind. All along during this race, it was believed a nomination on the GOP side could be had in the 5,000 vote range because of the sheer number of candidates. The nominations of Amesbury, Gartley and Hughes happened because each of the candidates had a unique voting characteristic that set them apart from the pack. Amesbury had literally no competition in the heavily Democratic 6th district as opposed to candidates Musto, Terrana, Bufalino and Sperraza who claimed the Pittston area as their home base. The 4 divided up 25% of the total vote cast while Amesbury held steady with about 13% on his own. Polachek Gartley ran a focused campaign that accentuated her gender as well as her experience but also her connection to the community. While her female opponents Rogers and Hanlon Maribto could lay claim to the same type of volunteerism, it was Polachek Gartley’s message that resonated more. Hughes worked both sides of the aisle hard but did not shy away from the GOP label citing his experience in all areas of the law. His fellow Republican Michael Pendolphi finished way down on the totem pole. It is apparent to me the county GOP did nothing to push their two candidates because if they did, Pendolphi would have finished higher. As it was Hughes barely eked out a win being trailed hotly by Daniel Zola, Joe Sklarosky and Polachek Gartley. On Friday I was wondering what if anything the county GOP was going to do organization wide to help Hughes. Terry Casey, GOP Chairman never returned the call. This set of circumstances for Hughes is a good news/bad news type of story. The good news is he won the GOP nod, the bad news is he’ll be facing a formidable opponent in both the Democratic organization and their newest star, Polachek Gartley.
The three candidates also had a message that voters seemed to like. Amesbury’s was, “What the other candidates tell you they’ll do, I’m doing right now as a Magistrate”. Polachek Gartley’s line was, “When I became a lawyer I made a decision not to make a fortune but to make a difference”. And Hughes’ line was simple, “People know my reputation”. These three tag lines seems to have set these three apart from the other candidates.
CAN’T BUY ME LOVE
If you look at the big spenders in the race, it appeared money couldn’t get them over the top. C.J. Bufalino: $182,622.87, Joe Musto: $193,037.88, Thomas A. O'Connor: $122,578.49, Gene Sperazza: $281,542.59 all spent considerably more than the three winners, Amesbury who spent $137, 350.00, Hughes with $100,587.00 and Polachek Gartley with $30,193.00. A few of the big money candidates hired ad agencies that primarily do not do political work. Gene Sperraza at his forum appearances and rallies told poignant stories of his upbringing which were real, tugged at the heart and gave you an insight into the man. None of it appeared in his ad campaign. While Musto and Bufalino’s ads were top notch touching on all the points you’d want, their candidacies were hampered by too many contenders dividing up one big voting block. Polachek Gartley’s advertising was targeted to the most visible outdoor advertising and very limited broadcast media advertising. Hughes started late on TV and that seemed to be a good strategy but one must wonder if he had started earlier whether he might have broken that 5,000 vote plateau. Amesbury’s ads never went off message, so much so that by the end of the campaign you could recite his commercials in your sleep. The wins of Amesbury, Polachek Gartley and Hughes prove that you needn’t break the bank to be successful in a crowded race.
NOT DONE YET
Even though three candidates won this primary, you can bet you might be seeing more of the lawyers who wound up on the short end this season. Sklarosky, Zola, Musto, Sperraza, O’Connor and Rogers with their vote totals can lay claim to the Governor’s office that perhaps they should be appointed when the seats of Hugh Mundy and Mark Ciavarella become open. While there might not be second acts in politics normally, in Pennsylvania they are commonplace so don’t be surprised if you see the same names re-appear in a few years. Or months.
The row offices in Luzerne County certainly yielded some big news. Carolee Medico Olinginski returned to the stage winning the GOP nomination for Prothonotary against Bear Creek Village Mayor Walter Mitchell. Medico Olinginski who served in the office before will face off against Nancy Bellas McGinley who beat off challenges from Al Akulonis and Gerald Mullery. The Controller’s race this fall will pit taxpayer advocate Walter Griffith from Wilkes Barre against Democrat Bob Morgan who ran unopposed. Griffith with no endorsement and lean campaign coffers fended off 4 challengers. The candidacy of Griffith might gain more steam mainly because many voters feel the Controller should be of another party in order to keep things more transparent.
The proposal for a Home Rule Study Commission passed 80% to 20%. Kingston Mayor Jim Haggerty was the top vote getter and Walter Griffith got a seat on the commission. More on that in future editions.
In Kingston, Mayor Haggerty was nominated once more but in Pittston City Joe Keating was defeated by newcomer Jason Klush. Many attribute Keating’s defeat to his state job provided by Senator Musto.
The turnout for this election wasn’t too bad. I was predicting about 30% while some of my fellow political observers were looking at less than that. Democratic total was 38%, GOP 37% and total turnout came in at 35% according to the Luzerne County website. Not great but better than I thought.
WILKES BARRE SCHOOL BOARD
Jim Height might have been gone but not forgotten. The guy got 600 votes Tuesday night but a new day seemed to have dawned. Long time candidate Christine Katsock nabbed two nominations along with Lynn Evans and Michael Corcoran. Former Wilkes Barre city councilman Phil Litinski will square off against GOP winner Harry Haas for the fourth spot in the fall.
One incumbent and three newcomers appear to have wrapped up nominations on both tickets in the race for Hazleton Area School Board. Incumbent Steve Hahn had a narrow lead over former Hazleton Area employee Rocco Formica for a fourth and final nomination. Former Hazleton Area special education teacher Robert Mehalick, Hazleton Area High School Principal Clarence John and incumbent Carmella Yenkevich appeared to have secured nominations on both the Democratic and Republican tickets. These election results mean that the bulk of the school board will be made up of former educators or administrators.
In the Mountain City, councilmen Jack Mundie and Tom Gabos will advance to November’s general election, as will newcomer Jean Zunski Mope. But incumbent Councilman Robert Nilles, who also ran on the Democratic ticket, didn’t have enough votes to advance to the general election. Unofficial Democrat tallies showed Mundie with 1,073 votes, Gabos with 917 and Mope with 789. Rounding out the ballot were Nilles with 702 votes and newcomer Ignacio Beato with 479. Voters chose up to three names from the ballot, which means that the trio of Republican candidates – Leonard Brenner, Karin Cabell and James Perry – will see their names on November’s general election ballot.
Hazleton results from combined reports of WYLN and Hazleton Standard Speaker.
THE ELECTRIC CITY
Fighting off charges that he was an elite and aloof leader with future political ambitions, Mayor Chris Doherty prevailed in the race for Scranton Mayor. Doherty becomes the first Democratic Mayor since the late Jim Hanlon to win a third nomination and most likely a third term. Doherty was opposed by former Council President Gary DeBilio. DeBilio was endorsed by the city Democrats. Doherty mounted a write in campaign on the GOP side against Bob Bolus but the results of that effort will come later in the week.
The mean girls will be gone. Judy Gatelli and Sherry Nealon Fanucci were defeated in their bid for re-election. Incumbent Janet Evans won the Democratic primary along with running mates Pat Rogan and Frank Joyce.
There will be a race come this fall for the one seat on the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas. Margaret Bisignani Moyle will square off against Frank Castellano after the duo won their respective nominations. Bisignani Moyle fended off Mid Valley District Justice John Pesota and Attorney James Tierney to win the Democratic nod. Castellano prevailed on the GOP side setting up the fall contest. This campaign was pretty tame except for the implosion of the Tierney candidacy shortly before Mother’s Day when the Scranton Times ran a story about an uninsured motorist claim favorable to Tierney. Tierney and his campaign made no comment on the story and many thought that was a big reason why the Democratic endorsed candidate, who was up 10 points before the story broke, lost ground.
More results, observations and behind the scene at WYLN TV 35.