Westmoreland Democrats drop David Colecchia after incident at Hempfield Area High School
The Westmoreland County Democratic Party is distancing itself from a candidate for the Hempfield Board of Supervisors after he allegedly yelled at an opponent's daughter when speaking to her high school class.
Republican candidate Rob Ritson said Democratic candidate David Colecchia was the first of the three candidates to address Hempfield Area High School's Project 18, a class on civics and local politics, Thursday morning.
Ritson said that after a substitute teacher noted that Ritson's daughter, a senior, was in the class, she asked an “innocuous” question and Colecchia began pointing at her and raising his voice while condemning her father's character.
“He took two steps, pointed to her and started going off: Your father this, and your father that,” Ritson said. “It was an intimidating move, it was a bullying move, and people were stunned by it.”
In a statement Friday afternoon, Colecchia “vehemently denied” the allegation that he made Ritson's daughter cry or acted inappropriately.
“At no time did I sense acrimony nor did I observe anyone in the room in tears. I did ask Candidate Ritson's daughter to ask her father about a potential conflict of interest with his candidacy,” Colecchia said in the statement, which claimed Ritson would have a conflict if he were a supervisor while still working as state Sen. Kim Ward's chief of staff. “It was apparent to me that many of the participants understood the passion I have for the Hempfield community and my goals for Hempfield.”
Ritson said Colecchia was attacking his character in front of his daughter, not commenting on his platform. He said there was no conflict between his work for Ward, whose district includes Hempfield, and what he wants to do as a township supervisor.
His daughter was upset and called him to pick her up before lunch, he said. Ritson condemned Colecchia for singling her out but didn't fault the substitute teacher.
“My running for office was a choice I made; my kids were bystanders to that,” Ritson said.
The Westmoreland County Democratic Committee wrote a long post on Facebook saying the party was disassociating itself from Colecchia, noting that it had never officially endorsed his candidacy and would return a sponsorship check he'd sent for an upcoming dinner.
“We are asking our committee people in Hempfield Township if they are asked by his campaign to promote his candidacy in any way to refuse to do so,” the post said, in part. “As of today, our committee is publicly and completely disassociating ourselves from anything having to do with his campaign for Hempfield Supervisor. We feel strongly that today's outrageous behavior crosses a line that cannot be repaired with a simple apology.”
Colecchia's statement called the committee's response “disappointing.”
“In my view, a better response to the Hempfield community by this organization would be to start a dialogue on the issues and gather ideas to resolve them,” he wrote.
Hempfield Area Superintendent Tammy Wolicki said the district learned of the incident after school hours Thursday and was still in the process of investigating it.
Colecchia is the only Democrat running for the board of supervisors. He faces Ritson and incumbent George Reese for two seats on the board.
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6660, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @msantoni.