Meadville Tribune

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November 8, 2011

Judge races draw sparse turnout statewide

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania voters turned out in sparse numbers Tuesday to settle contests for a pair of openings on the state appellate courts and fill thousands of local offices and judgeships. In Allegheny County, where a competitive race for county executive stirred voters’ interest, election manager Mark Wolosik was predicting a turnout of at least 30 percent. “It’s a beautiful day here,” he said. “I don’t think that people can use the weather as an excuse” for not voting. Timothy Benyo, chief clerk for the Board of Elections in Lehigh County, credited the balmy weather for keeping turnout there above 20 percent of registered voters. In the statewide races, Democrat David Wecht, an Allegheny County judge, is competing against Republican Vic Stabile, a Harrisburg lawyer, for a seat on Superior Court. Two lawyers from Bucks County, Democrat Kathryn Boockvar and Republican Anne Covey, are vying for a seat on the Commonwealth Court. Wecht raised at least $522,000 through Friday, with $300,000 of that coming from a trial lawyers’ group. Stabile raised at least $210,000 and the state Republican Party augmented that with more than $180,000 worth of services, mostly TV and radio ads, according to campaign finance reports and GOP officials. Boockvar reported total contributions of more than $390,000, while Covey raised more than $378,000. Both candidates tapped their personal resources during the last two weeks of the campaign — Boockvar for $25,000 and Covey for $15,000, according to their reports. Six incumbent appellate judges also are listed on the ballot — without opponents — for up-or-down votes on whether they should serve additional 10-year terms: Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, Superior Court judges John T. Bender and Mary Jane Bowes and Commonwealth Court judges Renee Cohn Jubelirer, Mary Hannah Leavitt and Robert E. Simpson Jr. Eakin was one of the year’s top campaign fundraisers. His committee collected more than $526,000, mostly from fellow GOP office-holders but also law firms, unions and business groups. His supporters described the money as protection against a potential 11th-hour challenge by an unknown political enemy. Eakin aired TV spots in some of the state’s media markets. Voters also will fill thousands of local positions including district judgeships, county and municipal offices and school board seats. The positions include 48 open county judgeships in 24 counties, according to state elections officials. In Philadelphia, Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter is expected to cruise to re-election over little-known Republican Karen Brown, whose low-budget campaign has not been able to get much traction. A third candidate, political activist Wali “Diop” Rahman, is listed on the ballot as an independent. Nutter “doesn’t seem to be facing much difficulty at all,” said Michael Hagen, a political science professor at Temple University. “The Republicans haven’t been able to mount much of a challenge.” Voters in Allegheny County will choose between Democrat Rich Fitzgerald, a former county councilman, and Republican D. Raja, a software entrepreneur, to fill the open county executive’s seat. In a closely watched race in the Philadelphia suburbs, Democratic state Rep. Josh Shapiro and running mate Leslie Richards hoped to end decades of Republican control of the Montgomery County commissioners in a tight race against GOP incumbent Bruce Castor and running mate Jenny Brown. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county, long a GOP bastion, 46 percent to 39 percent. ——— Associated Press writer Patrick Walters in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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