CAMPAIGN 2013: Local races are the draw in Pennsylvania election
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania voters will collectively decide only one race in Tuesday’s election, but an abundance of local contests may spur voter interest in scattered parts of the state.
The single statewide race for an open seat on the state Superior Court pits Republican Vic Stabile, a Harrisburg lawyer, against Democrat Jack McVay Jr., an Allegheny County judge.
Philadelphia voters will decide whether to re-elect the city’s district attorney and controller, while mayoral contests will be settled in communities including Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Scranton, Lancaster, York and State College. Hundreds of other municipal offices, school board seats and local judgeships also are up for grabs.
Terry Madonna, a professor and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, predicts 20 to 25 percent of the state’s 8.2 million voters will show up at the polls. He blamed the expected low turnout on a dearth of interesting races and lopsided Democratic control of the state’s larger cities.
“It doesn’t just take a contest. It takes issues that drive voters” out to the polls, he said.
For the third consecutive Pennsylvania election, local officials can ask voters to show photo identification Tuesday but cannot require an ID in order to cast a ballot.
The politically contentious law, approved by the Republican majority in the Legislature on a straight party-line vote in 2012, would require voters to show an acceptable photo ID before they may vote, but the courts have blocked its enforcement. A constitutional challenge that was the focus of a 12-day trial this year is pending in state Commonwealth Court.
In the race for a 10-year term on the Superior Court, Stabile has outpaced McVay in campaign fundraising by a nearly 2-1 margin.
Campaign finance reports on file this past week showed Stabile had raised nearly $292,000 this year, in contrast with nearly $151,000 for McVay, whose total included $52,000 of his own money. Unlike Stabile, McVay had an opponent in the May primary.
Stabile is the managing partner of the Harrisburg office of the Dilworth Paxson law firm and a former longtime Cumberland County GOP chairman. McVay has handled family court cases in his six years as a judge and previously worked as a local government lawyer.
The salary for a Superior Court judge is $188,337 this year.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams faces a challenge in his bid for a second term by Republican Daniel Alvarez, a former assistant district attorney. City Controller Alan Butkovitz, seeking a third term, is opposed by Republican Terry Tracy, a retail business manager.
In Pittsburgh, veteran City Councilman Bill Peduto, who won a three-way Democratic primary, was heavily favored to be elected as the successor to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, a Democrat who didn’t seek another term. Peduto’s Republican foe, Josh Wander, sold his home in September and moved to Israel. He’s maintaining the city residency needed to run for mayor by renting another home.
In Harrisburg, where Mayor Linda Thompson was trounced in a four-way Democratic primary, local bookstore owner and Democratic nominee Eric Papenfuse is competing with City Controller Dan Miller to replace her as the leader of Pennsylvania’s financially troubled capital.
Miller, a Democrat who also lost in the primary, won the Republican nomination as a write-in candidate.
Thompson, who will step down in January, is the first African-American and first woman to serve as Harrisburg mayor.
In Scranton, where Mayor Chris Doherty decided not to seek a fourth term, Democrat Bill Courtright, the city tax collector, and Republican Jim Mulligan, an attorney, are vying for the job.
Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray faces a re-election challenge from the ex-mayor he ousted eight years ago. Gray, a Democrat seeking a third term, is opposed by Republican Charlie Smithgall, whose own bid for a third term ended in a loss to Gray in 2005.
The state’s voters also may cast yes-or-no votes on whether four state appellate judges should be retained for another decade. They are state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille and Justice Max Baer and Superior Court judges Susan Gantman and Jack Panella.