HARRISBURG -- State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, has a clear path to re-election Nov. 7 now that his only opponent, independent candidate Mark Rauterkus, has withdrawn from the 42nd District Senate race.
Just before challenges to his petition signatures were to begin in Commonwealth Court yesterday, Mr. Rauterkus told Judge Dan Pellegrini that he wanted to withdraw from the race.
The challenge to nearly 500 of the signatures was filed by Dan O'Shea, Mr. Fontana's campaign treasurer.
Mr. Fontana alleged that many petition signers didn't actually live in the 42nd District, a fatal flaw.
To remain on the ballot, Mr. Rauterkus, a South Side activist, needed 500 valid signatures of registered voters who lived in the district.
He blamed gerrymandering by the Legislature for many of his problems. He said Senate district lines were redrawn after the last census in a confusing fashion and some registered voters from the South Side and neighboring areas didn't realize they lived outside the 42nd District.
Judge Pellegrini, who was Pittsburgh city solicitor in the 1980s, said, "We're not here to talk about gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is above my pay grade."
Mr. Rauterkus said voters in the 42nd District "deserve a choice" in the election, which they won't have if there is only one candidate.
He asked the judge to give voters a choice, but Mr. Pellegrini said his only job was to go through the signatures "line by line if necessary" to see if each one was valid.
"I'm prepared to stay here until 11 p.m. to do that if necessary," the judge said, but it wasn't.
Reached in Pittsburgh after the hearing, Mr. Fontana said his opponent "obviously didn't want the judge to go through those signatures. He knew a lot of them were wrong, otherwise he would have gone through them."
Mr. Fontana also said it appeared that a lot of the signatures on the petitions had been signed by the same person.
Mr. Fontana, 56, a former real estate agent, took office in June 2005.
He has been filling out the term of former Sen. Jack Wagner of Beechview, who is now state auditor general.
If re-elected on Nov. 7, as now is virtually assured, Mr. Fontana will begin a full four-year term on Nov. 30.
Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at email@example.com or 1-717-787-4254.