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In quest for ‘fresh faces,’ Allegheny and Westmoreland voters dump mayors

Tom Fontaine
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Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Donald Trump's campaign appearance in Monessen in June cast a shadow over this spring's mayoral race.
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Submitted
Monessen Mayor Matthew Shorraw
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Jim Ference | Trib Total Media
Democratic Monessen Mayor Lou Mavrakis lost his primary race for re-election after playing a role in bringing Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to the borough in June.
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Kevin Moran
Emily Marburger, 29, defeated the incument and a second challenger in Bellevue.
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Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Munhall Mayor Ray Bodnar lost the job he had held since 1987.

Voters in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties sent nearly half of the incumbent mayors in contested re-election races packing in Tuesday’s primary.

“Trumpanomics kind of dictate things now — everyone wants a change,” said Raymond G. Bodnar, who served as Munhall’s mayor since 1987 but lost by 13 percentage points to Councilman Rick Brennan in the borough of 11,000 people.

“It seems like (voters) were saying they wanted a change because I was there too long. A change to what is what I wonder,” Bodnar, 83, said.

Ten or 11 of the 23 incumbent mayors in contested primary races lost Tuesday. In addition to Munhall, incumbents lost in Bellevue, Dravosburg, Emsworth, Glassport, Liberty, Mt. Oliver and, perhaps, Tarentum in Allegheny County; and Jeannette, Monessen and Vandergrift in Westmoreland County.

All lost in Democratic primaries.

Tarentum Mayor Carl Magnetta said he lost the Democratic primary but believes he can get his name on the fall ballot when county elections officials certify the vote tally for the Republican primary.

“I won the Republican nomination, and I have gotten a lot of calls of support,” he said Saturday.

According to a complete but unofficial tally from county elections, Tarentum Council president Eric Carter received 145 votes in the Democratic primary to Magnetta’s 119.

On the Republican ballot, there were 61 write-in votes — and that’s where Magnetta might remain in the race in November.

“We have to wait for the official count from the county,” Carter said. “I will accept the GOP write-in votes that I got, and he will accept his and we will see,” he said. “I am 50 percent sure he won the Republican primary.”

Longtime Vandergrift Mayor Lou Purificato was defeated by Barbara Turiak in the Democratic primary by a margin of 232 to 161, according to an unofficial tally from Westmoreland County elections.

Purificato, 81, who has been mayor for 14 years, declined to comment. He has said he won’t run again.

Although veteran political analyst Larry Ceisler said that local races such as ones for mayor are “hyper-local and get to be very personal,” he said he has sensed a trend of voters looking for fresh faces in government — or to become those fresh faces.

“I think you have Democrats in particular looking at what happened with the presidential election, and they’re enraged. There’s a sense that the leadership of the Democratic Party wasn’t responsive to what happened or needs to be changed,” said Ceisler, a Washington County native who lives in Philadelphia.

In Bellevue, dissatisfaction with Trump’s election inspired Emily Marburger, 29, to seek public office for the first time. She defeated Pastor Tom Fodi, who previously ran for state House as a Republican, and incumbent Mayor Paul A. Cusick, who finished a distant third with 17 percent of the votes.

“I began looking more closely in my backyard and focusing on the things, or the lack of things, that had been happening. I put a closer eye on the apathy with local government. I wanted to bring a fresh outside perspective,” Marburger said.

In Monessen, Democratic voters picked Matt Shorraw, 26, over incumbent Mayor Lou Mavrakis, 79, who played a role in bringing Trump’s presidential campaign to the borough in June.

The visit drew international attention, but disdain from some locally. Hillary Clinton carried the city in November.

“A lot of citizens weren’t thrilled about it,” said Westmoreland County Democratic Committee chairwoman Lorraine Petrosky, whose committee took the rare step of endorsing Shorraw over Mavrakis. It normally doesn’t weigh in on contested races involving Democrats.

Shorraw, who did not return messages, collected 52.1 percent of the votes; Mavrakis picked up 47.6 percent, unofficial tallies show.

Mavrakis, a retired United Steelworkers union representative, makes no apologies for inviting Trump to town. Mavrakis said he did more than 60 interviews with media outlets around the world as a result of Trump’s visit, and he thinks the exposure helped spur a Virginia-based businessman to buy the community’s city building in hopes of redeveloping it.

“I’d do a deal with the devil if it meant that it would help the people I represent,” said Mavrakis, who said he also invited Barack Obama and Clinton.

Mavrakis said he wasn’t bothered by Tuesday’s loss.

“It’s the same story everywhere. People want change, no matter what, and they want it yesterday. Monessen didn’t get the way it is in the last four years while I was in office, but people expect a miracle,” Mavrakis said Wednesday. “It’s like the weight of the world is off my shoulders today. I feel good as hell.”

Petrosky, the Democratic committee chairwoman, said Trump’s win had a galvanizing effect on Democrats in Westmoreland. Trump won the county by about a 2-1 ratio.

“There are many things about Mr. Trump that I can point to that I don’t like, but he got people off their hands and starting to work. We see it in just about every community around here,” Petrosky said, noting that seven of the committee’s nine local groups now hold monthly meetings as opposed to none a few years ago. Democrats in the North Huntingdon area didn’t used to hold such meetings, but the local group now draws up to 60 people to each of its monthly meetings, she said.

It didn’t get Democrats or Republicans to turn out the polls in large numbers Tuesday, though. About 17 percent of Allegheny County’s 922,383 registered voters turned out, compared with about 19 percent of Westmoreland County’s 245,056, according to unofficial results. About 150,000 registered voters across Allegheny and Westmoreland counties could not vote in the primary because they aren’t Republicans or Democrats and Pennsylvania has a closed primary system.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847, [email protected] or via Twitter at @FontainePGH.

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