Primary 2013/South: Two Dems take top spots on both ballots in Washington

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If Valarie Costanzo is anything, it's modest.

The longtime district judge from Cecil, a registered Democrat, easily secured her party's nomination during Tuesday's primary for one of two empty seats on the Washington County Common Pleas Court.

But of the Republican nod, she said, "I'm overwhelmed by the support I received." Judge Costanzo celebrated her nomination from both parties with about 100 supporters at the clubhouse at Meadowbrook in North Strabane. "I want to thank the Democrats and Republicans for believing in me," she said Tuesday night.

Along with Judge Costanzo, assistant district attorney Michael Lucas, also a Democrat, secured the nomination of both parties, virtually assuring that the pair will earn spots on the bench during the Nov. 5 general election.

"I'm so elated, it's overwhelming," Mr. Lucas said at the Washington Elks Club, where dozens of supporters gathered Tuesday night. "I am grateful to the campaign workers."

Considered front-runners early on, the two bested six other candidates in a crowded race made necessary with the unexpected retirements last year of Judges Janet Bell and Paul Pozonsky. Their departures have left the remaining four judges with a backlog of cases.

All of the candidates in the race cross-filed between the parties, bringing with them a wide range of experience and backgrounds.

Mr. Lucas, 45, of Carroll, said he began hearing the buzz recently that he might win on both ballots, but he still thought it would be a long shot.

"I knew that we would compete for it," he said of the Republican nomination. "I had a lot of support from Republicans. I think being a prosecutor helped."

Mr. Lucas had the highest public profile, as the chief prosecutor for three district attorneys from both parties, including current officeholder Republican Eugene Vittone.

Mr. Lucas said he felt the positive nature of the campaign among all of the candidates, along with personally meeting voters, helped his case.

"Ultimately, it comes down to getting out there and meeting people," he said. "It's a tremendous feeling to know where we are at this point."

Judge Costanzo, 43, was the only candidate who had worked in the judiciary as an elected official. She has served as a district judge for 14 years and touted her experience with all types of criminal and civil cases, from homicides to landlord and tenant disputes.

She said Tuesday night that she didn't expect to receive nominations from both parties.

"I'm amazed and relieved," Judge Costanzo said. "I'm still digesting all of this.''

Former Washington City Solicitor Lane Turturice, 40, of South Strabane was tapped two years ago by the GOP for an empty seat on the bench, but he fell short of the nomination this time, coming in a distant third behind Mr. Lucas, who had 3,207 votes to Mr. Turturice's 2,623 votes, according to unofficial results from the county election office.

Judge Costanzo garnered 7,788 Democratic votes and 3,331 Republican votes. Mr. Lucas was the leader among Democrats, far outpacing challengers with 7,839 votes.

Rounding out the Democratic race in third place was former Army Major Alan Benyak of Carroll with 3,953 votes, followed by county Bar Association president Blane A. Black with 3,408 votes; Charles Kurowski with 2,777 votes; Mr. Turturice with 2,056 votes; Peter Marcoline III with 1,570 votes; and Thomas Fallert with 895 votes.

Among Republicans, fourth place was held by Mr. Benyak with 2,054 votes, followed by Mr. Black with 1,650 votes; Mr. Fallert with 1,069 votes; Mr. Kurowski with 1,003 votes; and Mr. Marcoline with 938 votes.

The results likely will change slightly as absentee and provisional ballots are counted, though they aren't expected to affect the outcome of the race.

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Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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