An array of candidates makes municipal election competitive for voters this November
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For the first time in several election cycles, the battle for Peters council will feature competitive races between Democrats who are Republicans, Democrats who are really Democrats and Republicans who want to see conservative ideals upheld in municipal government.
Council President Robert Lewis decided this year to seek another term in office, while fellow Councilman Daniel McMenamin chose not to run for re-election so he could spend more time with his family and insurance business. Both men were at-large township representatives, not from a particular district.
As the primary election neared, no candidate stepped forward to replace Mr. McMenamin, 51, but two write-in nominees emerged, both of whom won spots on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Retired councilman Robert Atkison won a nomination from the Democratic and Republican parties, while local chemical engineer and volunteer firefighter Gary Stiegel Jr. secured the other Democratic nod. Mr. Lewis is the remaining Republican nominee.
Also being challenged is the only Democrat on the seven-member council, Patricia Moore, who was appointed in January to replace former councilman William Merrell.
Ms. Moore is facing a challenge in the Peters B-1 district from Mr. Merrell's wife, Monica, who is the GOP nominee. A two-year seat -- the remainder of Mr. Merrell's term -- is up for grabs, while the other available seats are full four-year terms.
The candidates are vying for a job that pays a modest $25 per meeting, a rate that hasn't changed in 30 years. At the beginning of this year, council voted in a raise to $50 per meeting, but it won't kick in until 2010, until all members have faced re-election.
A Democratic candidate who said he's probably more conservative than any member of council, Mr. Stiegel, 27, has questioned the conservative values of the Republican members of council, citing their attempt this summer to ban guns from most township properties, even for those with gun permits.
He has also pointed to their rocky relations with the fire department over candidate endorsements, questionable executive sessions during council meetings, and a new push to regulate home and lawn maintenance, a violation of property rights, in his view.
"It's everything Republicans aren't supposed to stand for," he said.
Mr. Stiegel and his wife Crystal are expecting their first child in April.
Mr. Atkison, 75, retired from the board in 2006, 16 years after taking office. He and his wife Ann raised four children, he had just had heart bypass surgery, and felt at the time he was ready to retire.
His biggest ambition was to eat cheeseburgers at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and to stay with the Peters Ambulance Service, where he has served as a board member for 25 years.
But now, Mr. Atkison, a retired mechanical engineer, said he's ready to re-enter politics and said the board needs a familiar face to steer it in the right direction.
"You need a person in there that understands the township, that understands the flavor of the township and knows what our goals are," he said.
Mr. Lewis, 62, and his fellow boardmates defended their short-lived gun ordinance this summer, saying it was prompted when a resident carried a concealed handgun into a heated zoning hearing board meeting. The person had a permit to carry the gun and did not brandish or threaten to use the weapon.
Still, the debate drew much attention from gun rights' activists and the National Rifle Association, which cited Second Amendment violations.
A resident for 30 years and public servant for most of them, Mr. Lewis began serving on the township's zoning hearing board in the 1980s, and was coaxed into running for council by retiring councilman Jim Perrotti, who told him the job was "simple, two meetings a month" Mr. Lewis recalls.
"He lied to me," said Mr. Lewis, a forensic engineering consultant. "In the first year, there were 47 meetings. It took a lot more time than I thought."
Mr. Lewis served two terms in the 1980s and chose not to run again so he could devote more time to his family, including wife Joann and their two children, now grown.
But, he didn't stay away for long. After 2000, he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of former councilman Peter Glasser, then won re-election.
Mr. Lewis said he is proud to be one of the local founders of the "rails to trails," program, involving the township's purchase of the Montour Railroad right-of-way, which was converted into the very popular Montour Trail, and for his work in developing the original master plan for Peterswood Park.
If re-elected, Mr. Lewis said he would like to explore a way to create an east/west corridor through the township, the equivalent of McMurray Road.
Ms. Moore, 55, had served on the township's Environmental Quality board since 1990, with the exception of one year, when she was appointed by the township to head a public awareness campaign for the purchase of wooded property around Peters Lake.
A lifelong resident, she has volunteered in Peters Township schools, served in the parent/teacher association, and with Washington County Steering Committee, as well as other township and county boards and committees. She and her husband Christopher have a grown son.
Ms. Moore said she wasn't surprised to be appointed to council, even though she is a Democrat, and said she doesn't think party affiliation automatically disqualifies her from the race.
While the voter registration edge goes to the Democrats countywide by a 2.2 to 1 margin, it's just the opposite in Peters, where there are 3 Republicans for every Democrat.
"I feel like I have a shot," Ms. Moore said. "I don't think it's a given that I will lose."
Ms. Moore said she's looking forward to focusing on environmental stewardship while she and others plot plans for 24 acres of open space that the township recently purchased adjacent Peterswood Park. She would also like to explore ways to provide more housing choices for the township's growing senior population.
Ms. Merrell, 54, is a professional business consultant who has an eye toward the future.
With the dip in the housing market throughout much of the country and residential growth of more than 20 percent a year in Peters, Ms. Merrell sees an eventual slow-down that will need to be addressed through sustainable commercial and industrial development.
In the long-term, Ms. Merrell said she believes commercial growth uses fewer public resources than residential development, with a higher revenue stream.
"You need to diversify," she said. "You can't put all of your eggs in one basket."
She supports new technology for the police and fire departments, and said traffic and infrastructure issues need to be resolved.
From the North Side in Pittsburgh, Ms. Merrell moved to Peters three years ago with her husband, who travels from Peters to the East Coast and Virginia regularly with his new job.
Ms. Merrell said she has no intention of giving up her council seat to her husband if elected, and said the two have different ideas. She said they plan to retire in Peters.
"I really do think Peters is a great community," she said.
First Published October 25, 2007 7:36 am