HARRISBURG — Battles over Democratic nominations for an open seat on the statewide appellate bench and mayoralties in Pittsburgh and other cities will be settled in Pennsylvania’s primary election a month from now.
While leaders of both parties already are focusing on Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s expected 2014 re-election campaign and which Democrat would be the strongest challenger, voters across the state also will be choosing nominees for local judgeships, municipal offices and school boards.
Property taxes, road repairs, schools and other local concerns are likely to drive turnout more in some areas than others. Statewide, only about one in five registered voters is likely to go to the polls in the May 21 primary, said Terry Madonna, a professor and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. The Democratic nomination contest for an open Superior Court seat pits a former policeman against a former pharmacist.
Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr., 60, a retired Philadelphia police captain who put in more than 21 years on the force, will mark four years on the bench in July. He said he would take “a working class perspective” to the state’s main intermediate-level appeals court, which handles a wide range of criminal and civil cases.
Allegheny County Judge Jack McVay Jr., 56, a Pittsburgh resident who has been a licensed pharmacist since 1980, is serving his sixth year in the family-court division. He was previously was in private practice, specializing in cases involving children and families, and said he worked one day a week as a pharmacist during his first couple of years on the bench.
Both men received “recommended” ratings from the Pennsylvania Bar Association panel that evaluates judicial candidates. Whoever wins the primary will take on Republican Vic Stabile, a Harrisburg lawyer, in the general election for the Superior Court seat vacated last year by now-Senior Judge John Musmanno when he reached the maximum retirement age of 70.
The salary for a Superior Court judge is $188,337 this year.
Also in the November election, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille and Justice Max Baer and Superior Court judges Susan Gantman and Jack Panella are seeking additional 10-year terms in yes-or-no “retention” votes in which they have no opposition. Castille will turn 70 next year.
Top non-judicial races include a three-way battle for the Democratic nomination for Philadelphia city controller. Incumbent Alan Butkovitz is defending his eight-year record against attacks by tax system revamp advocate Brett Mandell and former city law department attorney Mark Zecca.
In Pittsburgh, a looming mayoral vacancy has spawned a four-man Democratic race that includes Jack Wagner, the former state auditor general and former state senator, city Councilman William Peduto, and state Rep. Jake Wheatley. Incumbent mayor Luke Ravenstahl, a Democrat, announced in February that he would seek a second full term as mayor, but changed his mind 10 days later. In Harrisburg and York, where voters in both cities elected women as their first African-American mayors in 2009, the incumbents face competition for the Democratic nominations. Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson is being challenged in the primary by three opponents, including city Controller Dan Miller and bookstore owner Eric Papenfuse.
York Mayor Kim Bracey faces opposition from City Council President Carol Hill-Evans and businessman Joe Beltrante.
Most of the races on the May 21 ballot are open only to registered Democrats and Republicans, but special elections to fill vacancies in two districts in the state House of Representatives are open to all voters in those districts.
The vacancies were created last fall by the election of former Rep. Matt Smith of Allegheny County to the state Senate and the election of former Rep. Eugene DePasquale of York County as state auditor general. Both men are Democrats.