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Westmoreland Democrats hope to begin rebound in primary | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

Westmoreland Democrats hope to begin rebound in primary

Melissa Daniels
| Monday, May 18, 2015 10:36 p.m
vndfitzlunch032515
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald speaks at the Alle Kiski Strong Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

The primary election Tuesday sets the stage for Westmoreland County Democrats to show whether they can reclaim control of the board of commissioners.

In 2011, Republicans won a majority on the board for the first time in 60 years and made a clean sweep of row offices.

Voters in Westmoreland and Fayette counties will head to the polls to nominate candidates for county commission, judge and row offices, as well as school boards, borough councils and township boards. Polls open at 7 a.m.

Election officials expect some hotly contested races to bring out more voters than last year’s primary, when the turnout in Westmoreland dropped to a record low. Only 16 percent of registered Democrats and 10 percent of Republicans voted in the statewide primary in which most races were uncontested.

Beth Lechman, voting systems coordinator for the Election Bureau, said turnout could reach 25 percent because there are more contested races.

“A lot of people feel the election is already decided in the primary. That is not the case,” Lechman said.

Larry Blosser, director of the Fayette County Election Bureau, predicted turnout of about 30 percent.

Blosser said the heaviest turnout will be in precincts with contested races for district judge. The two races encompass 21 of the county’s 81 precincts, or a quarter of the county, he said.

Pennsylvanians have other important decisions to make at the polls.

The statewide ballot has nomination contests for an unprecedented three seats on the state Supreme Court, with six Democratic and six Republican candidates. Democratic contests include one open seat each on the Superior and Commonwealth courts, and in heavily Democratic Philadelphia, the outcome of a six-way mayoral race will all but decide who leads Pennsylvania’s largest city for the next four years.

In Westmoreland County, about 525 candidates appear on ballots, highlighted by contested party races for judge and commissioner.

Nine lawyers are vying for three openings on the Court of Common Pleas for full, 10-year terms.

The Democrats are David Regoli, an incumbent who was appointed last year to fill a vacancy, Chris Huffman and Scott Mears. Republican candidates are incumbent Harry F. Smail Jr., who was appointed last year to fill a vacancy, along with Hope Aston, state Rep. Tim Krieger, Jim Silvis, Leslie Zellers and Tom Anderson.

All judicial candidates cross-filed and will appear on the Democratic and Republican ballots.

Republican commissioners Charles Anderson and Tyler Courtney face a challenge from Jason Atwood of Irwin and Greensburg dentist Ron Gazze.

On the Democratic side, Ted Kopas is on the ballot with Gina Cerilli, a recent law school graduate, and South Greensburg businessman woman Linda Iezzi.

The top two vote-getters in each party will run in the November general election for three seats on the board.

Republicans Anderson and Courtney have run a joint campaign.

The party hasn’t endorsed the incumbents.

“We’re letting folks go out and support the candidate of their choosing, said GOP Committee Chairman Michael Korns. “That’s how you get the best candidates. Then you have to respect the voters’ choices as you move into the fall.”

The three Democrats in the race have run independent primary campaigns, and none have pledged to join forces in the fall campaign.

“I’m sure we will all get together once we get through the primary,” said Democratic Committee Chairman Henry Boldyzar. “We’ve had talks with everybody, and everybody says they’ll work together in the fall.”

Westmoreland voters also will choose nominees for sheriff. First-term incumbent Jonathan Held is being challenged for the office by his former chief deputy, Paul McCommons and deputy Steve Felder in the GOP primary. Penn Township businessman Al Lonzo and deputy coroner Paul Cycak are running in the Democratic primary.

First-term incumbent Controller Jeffrey Balzer and businessman Clint Jones are competing for the GOP nomination.

In Fayette County, the top races include primary contests for district court judge in South Union, where three candidates — Michelle Kelley, Jennifer Jeffries and Earl Wright — are on the ballot.

The race for district court judge in Masontown has seven candidates: Joe Ryan, John A. Kopas III, Jeff Myers, Doug Sholtis, Charity Grimm Krupa, Brenda K. Shenal Cavalcante and Dan Shimshock.

At the county level, races of interest include the Republican nomination for commissioner and the Democratic nominations for district attorney, sheriff, register of wills, controller and coroner.

Blosser said at the county level, more Republicans might turn out because four candidates are vying for two nominations: Incumbent Angela Zimmerlink of Redstone and challengers Evelyn Hovanec of North Union, Patrick Lion of South Union and David Lohr of South Connellsville.

Only two Democratic candidates are seeking the party’s two nominations for commissioner: incumbent Al Ambrosini and former commissioner Vincent A. Vicites.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com. Liz Zemba contributed.

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