Campaign 2006/South: Pay-raise supporters fall
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Voters in the South Hills made a partial sweep of their representatives in the state House in Tuesday's primary election. Longtime lawmakers Tom Stevenson, R-Mt. Lebanon, and Ken Ruffing, D-West Mifflin, lost to political newcomers who ran campaigns based largely on the incumbents' initial vote for the pay raise last year.
Two other incumbents who did not vote for the pay raise handily won. State Rep. David Levdansky, D-Forward, and state Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak, said their victories were testament to their work record.
Here's what the winners and losers had to say:
At the Holiday Inn Select in Bethel Park, headquarters for incumbent Mr. Stevenson, the mood was tense early on, with campaign workers shaking their heads and pacing.
By midnight, the numbers didn't look good and some of Mr. Stevenson's staffers and family members were shedding tears and lamenting the loss of his seat to newcomer Mark Harris, 21, who is set to graduate this weekend from George Washington University.
Mr. Stevenson, who has served five terms, said in a phone interview yesterday that he blamed his loss on "an anti-incumbency feeling."
"It went across both parties and it was tough to overcome. It was also media-driven."
He said he had done what he set out to do when he first sought for the position: Write a lot of legislation that has become law.
Now, he said, he looks forward to spending more time with his family.
Mr. Stevenson does not blame the negative tone of his campaign for his loss. "He went negative first," he said of Mr. Harris.
Mr. Harris, who garnered 2,776 votes to Mr. Stevenson's 2,225, said his victory was due to the hard work of his campaign staff .
Mr. Harris believes the fact that Mr. Stevenson, 53, voted for and initially accepted the legislative pay raise figured into his victory, as did the fact that his opponent chose a negative campaign style.
Mr. Stevenson's fliers and television commercials painted Mr. Harris as inexperienced and show pictures of a tree house, saying that's the only property Mr. Harris has ever owned.
Mr. Harris lives in Mt. Lebanon and is a self-employed Web site designer.
There were three people on the ballot for the GOP nod, Daniel A. Hackett, of Mt. Lebanon, came in third with 1,174.
The district includes Mt. Lebanon, Green Tree, Rosslyn Farms, Thornburg and portions of Scott and Bethel Park.
Mr. Harris will face Democratic challenger Matthew Smith, 33, a lawyer, in the Nov. 7 general election.
Political neophyte William C. Kortz II said he wore out a lot of shoe leather, pounding the pavement for months, attending municipal meetings and chicken dinners and knocking on voters' doors in the 38th district.
He was successful.
Mr. Kortz carried the message of PACleanSweep, the nonpartisan group that was formed to oust General Assembly incumbents who accepted a midnight pay raise in July.
"When you are the underdog, you have to work harder," said Mr. Kortz, 51, of Dravosburg, who found that voters were "mad about what was going on."
"I am overwhelmed with the show of support I received," Mr. Kortz said Tuesday night, when he won almost 47 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.
He was in a three-way race with incumbent Mr. Ruffing and longtime West Mifflin political figure, C.L. "Jay" Jabbour. The unofficial results for the Democratic primary showed Mr. Kortz with 4,232 votes, Mr. Jabbour with 2,424 and Mr. Ruffing with 2,351.
At the Prince Humbert Club in Duquesne, Mr. Jabbour, 73, of West Mifflin, said the results showed that the voters wanted to see a new, untested person in Harrisburg.
"The people have spoken," said Mr. Jabbour, who resigned his seat on Allegheny County Council to run for the House.
Mr. Ruffing, 39, who was seeking his fifth term, was less gracious in defeat.
"Stay away from me. Shut up," he said when contacted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at 11 p.m. He hung up the phone.
Mr. Ruffing had been targeted for defeat after he voted in favor of the pay raise and took it, then later voted to repealed it. He said he donated the money to an autism organization, but refused to identify it.
In the November election, Mr. Kortz, an operations manager at the U.S. Steel Irvin Works plant, will face Republican Daniel J. Davis, of West Mifflin, a senior environmental project manager who also is making his first bid for the House.
The district includes Dravosburg, Glassport, Liberty Pleasant Hills, Port Vue and parts of West Mifflin, Baldwin Borough and McKeesport.
These incumbents win
Incumbent Mr. Levdansky knew early on election night that he had won his seat for a 12th term as campaign volunteers brought good news from the polls.
Mr. Levdansky, 51, who did not vote for the pay raise, did not take it and voted for its repeal, said his competency in office was the reason he trounced challenger Robert E. Rhoderick Jr., 35, a chiropractor from Elizabeth Township.
Unofficial vote tallies have Mr. Levdansky winning double the votes of his opponent. The win is likely to carry through the Nov. 7 election as there is no Republican challenger.
"I guess that's a good, healthy victory," Mr. Levdansky said by phone from his campaign headquarters at the Elizabeth Volunteer Fire Company in Elizabeth Borough. "It was a referendum on the performance of the incumbent."
Unofficial totals have Mr. Levdansky garnering 4,439 votes to Mr. Rhoderick's 2,284.
"I think we got the message out there that my experience, my seniority in Harrisburg, has benefitted my district. ... I think my opponent was of the feeling that people would say, 'Throw all the bums out,' " he said.
Mr. Levdansky said his goals were to "finish the business in Harrisburg of delivering property tax reform." He wants to finalize a lobbyist disclosure law and push for campaign finance reform.
The district includes Clairton, Forward, South Park, Elizabeth Borough, Jefferson Hills, West Elizabeth and part of Elizabeth Township in Allegheny County, plus Nottingham, Union, Finleyville, New Eagle and part of Carroll in Washington County.
It was a hard-fought battle, full of attacks and innuendo, but incumbent Mr. Gergely won the Democratic primary in the 35th District, guaranteeing himself a third term in the House.
Unofficial results show that Mr. Gergely, 36, of White Oak, won 4,474 votes, about 54 percent of the vote. His challenger, Allegheny County Clerk of Courts George F. Matta II, took 3,826 votes, about 46 percent of the total.
Mr. Gergely, who voted against the legislative pay raise, accepted it but returned the money a month later, said Mr. Matta distorted the pay-raise issue and it backfired.
The Gergely campaign then turned its guns on Mr. Matta, creating a Web site called "Stop Matta," (www.stopmatta.com) which attacked Mr. Matta on everything from his own pay raise as clerk of courts to actions he took against employees in his office.
Mr. Matta, 49, of White Oak, conceded the race at 9:40 p.m. Tuesday at what was supposed to be a victory party at the Duquesne VFW. He blamed the Web site and negative campaigning.
The 35th District includes Duquesne, East Pittsburgh, Homestead, Lincoln, Munhall, South Versailles, Versailles, Whitaker and White Oak, and parts of Elizabeth Township, McKeesport, North Versailles and West Mifflin.
First Published May 18, 2006 12:00 am