Joe Pittman

Joe Pittman

FORD CITY — Republican committee members from Indiana, Armstrong and parts of Butler and Westmoreland counties chose retired Sen. Don White’s former chief of staff, Joe Pittman, as the party’s nominee for a special election to fill White’s 41st District seat on May 21.

“One of the greatest honors of my life has been working for former state Senator Don White, and I hope to fill the big shoes he has left behind,” Pittman said Thursday night.

The party’s endorsement could barely be stronger.

At their conference at Lenape Heights Golf Resort, 77 of the 79 delegates threw their support to the longtime alternate face of the 41st District. Two delegates were absent.

“Only one candidate got a nomination,” said delegate Gilbert Woodley, the chairman of the Indiana County Republican Committee. He said the contingent included 25 conferees from Indiana County, 23 from Armstrong, 18 from Butler and 13 from Westmoreland. “No one else had a conferee to nominate them. (State Rep.) Jeff Pyle from Armstrong nominated Joe ... so instead of taking an individual vote, they did an all-room vote and it was unanimous.”

Pittman further laid out the planks for his platform in a comparatively short election campaign. The primary is 61 days from now.

“My major priority will be helping to ensure the responsible growth and production of our state’s God-given natural gas and coal resources,” Pittman said. “Additionally, I will focus on improving workforce development efforts to ensure our children have skills necessary to meet the demands of the new energy and manufacturing economy and gain family sustaining employment.”

He also said he is committed to providing rural communities with reliable access to broadband and natural gas service and rehabilitating the region’s existing infrastructure.

Two others had expressed interest in the GOP nomination for White’s seat: longtime Upper Burrell Township Supervisor and New Kensington funeral director Ross G. Walker III and George Karpacs, of Graceton, Center Township. Karpacs could not be reached for comment.

“I put my name in,” Walker said. “After I met Mr. Pittman and saw his education and experience, I decided to withdraw my name.”

Walker has operated his funeral home for 41 years and served on Upper Burrell’s board for 23 years, 22 of them as board chairman. He said he and Pittman have the same views on many issues.

“I like Mr. Pittman,” Walker said. “I like his agreeable nature, and his knowledge of the Senate and politics. I wrote the letter (Wednesday) withdrawing my candidacy.”

Pittman, a Hillsdale native now living in Indiana, likely will face Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Susan Boser, who was chosen by Democratic delegates Sunday in West Kittanning. Democratic officials in Indiana County said that vote has to be approved this weekend by their state party committee in Hershey.

No such formalities remain for Pittman’s nomination, Woodley said.

“It will go straight to the Department of State,” he said. “They had the documents there for him to sign and it’s a done deal. He’s on the ballot.”

“I am prepared,” Pittman said in a phone interview after the vote. “I’ve been meeting voters in all sorts of formats. I’m here to serve.”

Pittman worked with White since the veteran senator took office in 2001. Before that the Purchase Line High School and Penn State graduate worked for 18 months with state Senate President Pro Tem Robert Jubelirer, R-Altoona.

Pittman’s wife, the former Gina DiMaio, was raised in Rural Valley, Armstrong County. They have four children: Joe Jr., Sam, and twin girls Rosie and Frannie.

The Pittmans are members of the St. Thomas More University Parish in Indiana, and Joe Pittman is a life member of the National Rifle Association, and a member of the Indiana County Republican Committee, Ford City Sportsmen’s Association, William Penn Association #88, and the Indiana-Franklin Lodge, #313.

He also is on the board of the Purchase Line Red Dragon Foundation, whose mission is to provide scholarships to Purchase Line graduates, and recently chaired the 2018 United Way of Indiana County campaign that raised more than $726,000.

“Joe’s been involved 18-plus years, he’s been active in all the committees, and he’s been involved in the senator’s campaigns since he was 23 years old. Showing what he has accomplished in Harrisburg and working alongside Don — he’s basically been doing the job,” Woodley said. “We felt he is the strongest candidate to win in May. He can have the smoothest transition and keep the office moving forward.

“He’s going to have the full backing of the committee. He’s our candidate … his campaign committee will take care of their strategy to move forward, and we’re going to make sure it’s a victory.”

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the Indiana Area and Homer-Center school boards and White Township, Center Township, Homer City and Burrell Township, and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.