Lori Rittle, a past president of the Indiana County Federation of Democratic Women, was honored Friday night as the group’s Woman of the Year.
At the federation’s annual spring banquet at Rustic Lodge, federation president Vera Bonnet introduced Rittle, who is also a state committeewoman, as a woman “at the very center of … the Democratic party” in Indiana County.
Rittle, whose community contributions include helping to establish the Alice Paul House, is the 17th recipient of the FDWIC Woman of the Year recognition.
The spring banquet is an opportunity to meet and hear from Democratic candidates in the primary election, and Judge Joe Waters, a candidate for judge on the Pennsylvania Superior Court, cut straight to the chase.
“Let’s talk about the 800-pound gorilla in the room: I am from Philadelphia,” said Waters, now a judge of the Philadelphia Municipal Court. His opponent for a Democratic nomination to a Superior Court seat is Allegheny County Judge Jack McVay.
Waters said some people have been trying to make the Superior Court race “an east-west thing.” But, he said, it needs to remain “a Democrat-Republican thing.” Of the Superior Court’s 15 judges, 11 are Republican and four are Democrats, and the Democratic party needs to retain the seat up for election, Waters said.
Sandy Kirkland, now in her 23rd year as Indiana County treasurer and a candidate for re-election, told the audience her office is audited three times a year, and during her tenure there has been no findings or discrepancies from audits.
Kirkland said she has declined offers from banks and financial institutions around the country to act as depositories for Indiana County’s revenue. She tells them she’s not interested in investing outside the county.
“I keep your tax dollars … here in county banks,” she said. “I like to look my bankers in the eye.”
Mary Jane Dellafiora, in her 24th year as an Indiana County jury commissioner and also a candidate for reelection, said a bill giving county commissioners the option of abolishing the jury commissioner office in their county will be signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett, but the state’s jury commissioners association will appeal it, she said.
“Our (county) commissioners have chosen not to move in that direction,” Dellafiora said. “I’m extremely proud of our commissioners for taking that stand.”
Jennifer Rega, seeking a third term as the magisterial district judge in Blairsville, said her office is non-partisan and non-political, so she has not been as visible, politically, as other candidates in the May 21 primary.
“I think I’ve made a difference in people’s lives by treating them as human beings” in her courtroom, she said, adding she is “tremendously proud to be a Democrat and part of this community.”
Erin McClelland, a health care specialist and regional activist from New Kensington, was the banquet’s keynote speaker. She said she has been a Democrat since 1984 when Walter Mondale defeated Ronald Reagan in the mock presidential election at her school when she was in fourth grade.
She has come to realize being a Democrat is largely about history.
When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “That was a great day to be a Democrat,” she said. And a year later when Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “That was a great day to be a Democrat,” as was the day when President Bill Clinton balanced the national budget and left his successor $6 trillion in surplus.
“What I love most about being a Democrat is … as long as I remained compassionate and informed, the party welcomed me,” she said.
She challenged the audience to think about “what kind of nation we do not want to be. … Our children will require more of us than just a balanced budget.”
She urged those at the banquet to support candidates and work to create more times that will later be regarded as great days to Democrats.
The Pennsylvania Federation of Democratic Woman was founded to promote the appointment and election of Democratic women to positions within all branches of government and to encourage the advancement of women in both the public and private sectors.