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Incumbents stage election battles in 2 North Huntingdon wards

Joe Napsha
| Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, 11:42 p.m.
Brian Blasko, candidate for North Huntingdon commissioner
Brian Blasko, candidate for North Huntingdon commissioner
Richard Gray is a candidate for North Huntingdon Twp. commissioner on Nov. 7, 2017.
Richard Gray is a candidate for North Huntingdon Twp. commissioner on Nov. 7, 2017.
Frances Bevan is a candidate for North Huntingdon Twp. commissioner on Nov. 7, 2017.
Frances Bevan is a candidate for North Huntingdon Twp. commissioner on Nov. 7, 2017.
Michael Faccenda Jr. is a candidate for North Huntingdon Twp. commissioner on Nov. 7, 2017.
Michael Faccenda Jr. is a candidate for North Huntingdon Twp. commissioner on Nov. 7, 2017.

The commissioner races in two North Huntingdon wards feature a rematch of a close 2015 election in the Sixth Ward and a race in the Fourth Ward where the incumbent has mounted a write-in campaign against a Republican who had been a Democrat and won on both ballots in the May primary.

Commissioners serving the first-class township are paid an annual salary of $4,375. Second Ward incumbent Zachary Haigis, a Republican, is unopposed.

In the Fourth Ward, Commissioner Richard Gray, a Republican, is running a write-in campaign in a bid for a fifth term against Brian Blasko, a Republican who beat Gray by 13 votes for the nomination and won the Democratic nomination with 50 write-in votes. Blasko will benefit in the Nov. 7 general election by having his votes on both tickets counted to his total.

Gray is part of a three-member minority faction on the seven-member board of commissioners that often votes 4-3 on controversial issues, like the firing of former police chief Andrew Lisiecki in September 2016. Lisiecki has since sued the township in U.S. District Court.

Gray pointed to his experience on the board of commissioners as a reason for voters to elect him to a fifth term. It is important to have someone with experience at this “critical junction,” when the township has a new manager and will soon hire a police chief.

One of the biggest challenges of the job is keeping elected officials out of day-to-day township operations and allowing the hired professionals to do their jobs, Gray said.

While Gray faces an uphill battle to win as a write-in candidate, he said the electronic voting machines make it easier for voters to write in a candidate's name.

Blasko said he wants to bring new ideas to township government.

“I want to really create community partnerships with the schools and business community and others,” he said.

He said the township's programs for seniors and children “have miles and miles to go” to be improved.

Blasko credited his victory in the primary to hard work and campaigning door-to-door.

Republicans hold a slight voter registration edge over the Democrats among the Fourth Ward's 3,240 voters in four precincts, 1,481 to 1,467, according to the Westmoreland County Election Bureau.

The contest in the Sixth Ward features a rerun of the 2015 election, when Democrat Michael Faccenda Jr. edged out Republican incumbent Fran Bevan by only 14 votes.

Bevan, a former Norwin School Board member, was appointed a commissioner in October 2014 to fill part of the unexpired term of Thomas Krause. She lost to Faccenda in November 2015, and Faccenda is serving the remaining two years of Krause's term. The winner on Nov. 7 will serve a full four-year term.Faccenda said he wants to continue his efforts to initiate a partnership between the township and local businesses to enhance new recreational opportunities that will benefit all citizens — without raising taxes.

Faccenda said he believes that teamwork, accountability and responsibility among the township departments is the biggest challenge for municipal government.

“We need to support and implement new technology initiatives to improve processes, communication and in the end save North Huntingdon Township money,” he said.

Bevan said she is running because of a “toxic environment” in township government, where the former police chief was fired, in part on a vote by her opponent.

“The present commissioners ... fired a chief of police without cause. This was irresponsible on their part. Now there is an expensive lawsuit pending,” Bevan said.

Former manager John Shepherd, who left in May to take a similar job in New Jersey, “resigned due to the harassing micromanagement of some of the commissioners,” Bevan said.

She said one challenge the commissioners face is stormwater management and improving recreational facilities.

“We do a very good job maintaining. The challenge comes with ways to improve these facilities,” Bevan said.

Democrats hold a slight edge in voter registration in the ward's four precincts, 1,312 to 1,306. The ward has 2,943 registered voters.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com

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