Campaign 2012/North: Race against 22-year incumbent an uphill battle, challenger says

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In the race for the 33rd Legislative District seat, one might wonder whether to call it a contest. Republican challenger Gerry Vaerewyck is among the first to conceded that. The 50-year-old West Deer supervisor tried to best longtime state Rep. Frank Dermody two years ago and was spurned by the voters.

He's back for another bite at the apple and, while he acknowledges it may be a "losing cause," Mr. Vaerewyck said he's determined to "keep after it" until he's successful.

Meantime, Mr. Dermody, 61, of Oakmont, is campaigning on his 22-year record in office and his key position as House Democratic leader. He was previously an assistant public defender, an assistant district attorney and a district judge.

The 33rd District consists of the townships of East Deer, Fawn, Frazer, Harmar, Harrison, Indiana, Springdale and West Deer and the boroughs of Brackenridge, Cheswick, Oakmont, part of Plum, Springdale and Tarentum.

Mr. Vaerewyck calls this a "time of crisis" that requires a change of leadership in Harrisburg. He pledges to do his part to trim costs by not taking a state pension, a car or a cell phone.

"We've got to do something," he said. An engineer with bachelor's and master's degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, he and his wife, Mary, own the New Kensington firm of Vere Inc., which manufactures electro-optic equipment that's used with lasers. He said he's tired of seeing start-up businesses spawned by the local college community flee Pennsylvania because of its onerous business climate.

"When I came out of CMU, lots of us started businesses but as soon as they had a couple of employees, they moved elsewhere. We need to create a favorable business climate," he said, noting that state business taxes and regulations need to be relaxed.

Mr. Vaerewyck contends that it's unreasonable to think that entrenched politicians will bring about the kinds of changes needed at the state Capitol. "The same people get the same results. We really need change," he said.

Uncontested in the spring primary, he acknowledged that the fall contest is an uphill battle. "But that's OK. I've done volunteer work my whole life and I'm used to working with uphill battles with the homeless and alcoholics. The only way to succeed is to keep after it."

Mr. Dermody sees things differently. He believes that much has been accomplished during his tenure -- including improvements to Route 28 and construction of a $1.2 billion Allegheny Ludlum plant in Brackenridge -- but he sees the Republican stronghold in Harrisburg as the biggest blockade to key issues facing his constituents: the adequate funding of public education, transportation infrastructure and job development.

"One-party rule is not good. We're seeing that. This administration has mounted an attack on public education and that's not good for anybody," he said.

He sees the Allegheny Valley on the brink of "opening up" to economic development and jobs and is asking voters to send him to another two-year term so he can continue to work on the kinds of improvements that will spur jobs. A top priority, he said, is a commuter train between Arnold, New Kensington and Pittsburgh.

The legislator believes state revenue can be boosted by higher taxes on Marcellus Shale extraction and on gasoline.

"When it comes to transportation, we've got to bite the bullet, use the [governor's] transportation commission's own plan to increase fees and lift the cap on wholesale gas prices," Mr. Dermody said.

He said his opponent would be "another vote for a failed agenda" and he asked his constituents to give him two more years.

"If [the Democrats] can take back the House, maybe we can stop worrying about voter ID and other things that take our eyes off the ball," Mr. Dermody said.

About the candidates:

33rd House District

Gerry Vaerewyck, Republican

Age: 50

Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees, Carnegie Mellon University

Occupation: Owner/engineer at Vere Inc.

Family: Wife, Mary; sons, Robert, Joseph and Richard

Statement: "Our district has been ignored by the state for decades. A state rep's job is to make sure it isn't ignored and I intend to do that."

Frank Dermody, Democrat

Age: 61

Education: Bachelor's degree in history, Columbia University; Juris Doctor degree, Indiana University School of Law

Occupation: State representative since 1990

Family: Wife, Debra; children, Frank and Cara

Statement: "I am leading the fight in the state House against cuts in school funding. I favor making smart public and private investments that result in job growth. I am continuing to work for safer Marcellus drilling, for fairer property assessments, for fixing roads and bridges and adequately funding public transit."

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Karen Kane: or 724-772-9180.


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