Election 2013: Four Westmoreland County row officers retain seats

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All four incumbent Westmoreland County row officers won re-election on Tuesday.

They are District Attorney John Peck, Coroner Ken Bacha and Prothonotary Christina O'Brien -- all Democrats -- and Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline, a Republican.

The victory for three incumbent Democratic row officers was an about-face from two years ago.

In 2011, for the first time in more than 50 years, county voters chose two Republicans as the majority on the three-seat board of commissioners, despite a registration edge for Democrats in the county.

And Republican candidates that year won five row offices -- controller, sheriff, treasurer, register of wills and recorder of deeds. They upset four long-seated Democratic incumbents.

"I'm very grateful to the electorate," said Mr. Peck after his Tuesday victory. "People I talked to at the polls were very receptive to what we've been doing in the district attorney's office for the last 19 years."

"Ken [Bacha] and Christine [O'Brien] and I all had a similar message -- that we are committed to public service and we have a record of doing good work," he said.

Mr. Bacha said he, too, found voters in a different mood this year.

"From the start of our campaign this year," said Mr. Bacha, "we wanted voters to look at the candidates, not just the political party, and consider their qualifications, education and experience. We saw what happened two years ago, when the voters seemed to just considered the party.

"I said to people throughout the campaign, our office conducted 2,200 death investigations and not one death certificate mentioned the person's political party," he said.

Mr. Bacha said the mood of the electorate was not as angry this year as it was two years ago, although he said there is still an anti-government sentiment.

Mr. Peck said he didn't find any anger this year, and encountered residents who were engaged and wanted to be informed on the issues.

Mr. Peck, 66, of New Kensington easily won re-election to serve a sixth four-year term. He defeated Peter Borghetti, 54, of Murrysville, a patent attorney for a Pittsburgh law firm.

Mr. Peck, the county's chief law enforcement officer, defeated Mr. Borghetti, getting 59 percent of the votes cast.

In his campaign, Mr. Peck emphasized his extensive courtroom prosecution experience in fighting for victims of crime.

Mr. Bacha, 52, of Greensburg was challenged by Christopher O'Leath, 36, of New Kensington, who was a deputy coroner under Mr. Bacha for eight years before being fired in 2010.

Mr. Bacha won 60 percent of the votes cast.

The coroner's office investigates all suspicious deaths in the county, and Mr. Bacha succeeded his father, Leo Bacha, as the elected coroner.

Mrs. O'Brien, 46, of Mount Pleasant was elected to a second term as prothonotary; her office records all civil court papers. She defeated Mike Powers, 25, of Hempfield, a supervisor for United Parcel Service.

Mrs. O'Brien won with 52 percent of the vote to 48 percent for Mr. Powers.

Mr. Kline, 32, of Penn Township, the lone GOP incumbent candidate, defeated his opponent Dan Blissman to be elected to a second term. Mr. Blissman, 64, of Hempfield, a former teacher, is the current part-time jury commissioner.

Mr. Kline won by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent for his opponent.

The office keeps all records associated with criminal cases; Mr. Kline has begun several projects to collect more delinquent court fees from those found guilty.

Attorney Meagan Bilik DeFazio was elected to be a Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court judge, but that was no surprise. She won both the Republican and Democratic ballots in the primary.

Two statewide judges were on the ballot for retention. But with no high-profile state races, turnout was light in most parts of the state.

Voter turnout countywide was only about 25 percent of those registered. Approximately 238,000 residents are registered to vote and about 61,000 went to the polls Tuesday.

Westmoreland County Elections director James Montini had estimated a turnout of 20-25 percent, and the percentage of residents who voted was even lower -- because not all eligible residents register. In Pennsylvania, about 85 percent of those eligible to vote are registered.

Both Mr. Peck and Mr. Bacha said the turnout was not bad for an off-year election, though, and said it was about the same, or a little better, than in their previous campaigns.

n Unofficial Westmoreland County election results, EZ-4, 5.

Debra Duncan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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