Incumbent Dermody faces 2nd challenge from Vaerewyck
The two candidates seeking election to the state's 33rd House District would use different methods to stimulate the local economy.
Incumbent Democrat Frank Dermody of Oakmont is vying for a 12th term in office in Tuesday's general election. Republican Gerry Vaerewyck of West Deer is trying for the second time to unseat him.
Although Vaerewyck, 50, lost by about 8 percentage points two years ago, he was elected to a West Deer supervisor's post in November 2011. He believes he has gained more name recognition and supporters for this attempt.
Dermody, 61, has become the Democratic leader in the state House since the 2010 election, which provided his greatest margin of victory against a Republican since he ran unopposed in 2004.
“I have a track record of accomplishment,” said Dermody, a former assistant district attorney for Allegheny County.
He points to his influence in projects benefiting the Alle-Kiski Valley, including the $1.2 billion expansion of ATI-Allegheny Ludlum's steel mill in Harrison, the proposed New Kensington-to-Pittsburgh commuter rail, the housing redevelopment of the former Edgewater Steel brownfield site in Oakmont and the forthcoming replacement of the Hulton Bridge between Harmar and Oakmont.
But Vaerewyck, owner of the New Kensington manufacturing company Vere Inc., is unimpressed with Dermody's record when it comes to helping small businesses.
“Start-up companies, as soon as they get a few employees and look like they're going somewhere, they go somewhere else,” he said. “We just can't get them to stay here.
“I think our representatives don't have a clue about how to address that.”
Vaerewyck said he would streamline state regulations to make compliance more efficient and business-friendly.
“Pennsylvania has a lot, and I mean a whole lot, of little laws and fees and forms you have to fill out and permits on everything,” Vaerewyck said.
He noted he must submit the same information to four different state agencies every year for a commercial vehicle that his business operates. And it took more than a year for state approval when his company helped Lower Burrell replace a park bridge that had washed away.
“It's those sorts of things that drive businesses out,” Vaerewyck said. “A lot of our representatives haven't been in the position to deal with that.”
Dermody said his legislative priorities if re-elected would be improving state funding for public schools and transportation — which he says will ultimately benefit businesses.
“If we're concerned about jobs and economic development, we need to have an educated work force,” Dermody said.
He is critical of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's education cuts in the last two state budgets, which Dermody says have resulted in “higher property taxes, higher activity fees and our children being cheated in the classroom.”
Not only that, but he estimated 17,000 teachers and other school staffers have been laid off as a result of the cuts, contributing to the state's unemployment rate.
Dermody said Pennsylvania typically has less unemployed people than the national average and pointed to out-of-work teachers as one of the reasons for the state's elevated rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 7.5 percent of Pennsylvanians were unemployed in September, which was on par with the national unemployment rate.
Dermody said he and the Democratic Caucus will continue to fight for restored education funding as well as boosting funds for transportation infrastructure like roads, bridges and public transit.
“This (governor's) administration has ignored transportation,” Dermody said. “It's a jobs issue and a public safety issue.”
Dermody said he also would continue to work with local municipal leaders to address economic and other issues in their towns.
“I'm proud of my track record and my vision,” Dermody said. “It's not just what you've done in the past, but your vision for the future.”
Vaerewyck's vision includes a smaller state Legislature, which he says would help improve Pennsylvania's finances. He noted the estimated $300 million annual cost of paying legislators, their staffs and associated expenses would be better spent on transportation deficits.
“They call themselves a full-time Legislature, but this last year they were in session about 80 days,” Vaerewyck said. “I don't think anyone intended for the Legislature to be a career. No pensions; make it part time.”
Vaerewyck thinks the 33rd District needs change.
“(Dermody) has been in office 22 years and the big question to ask is, ‘What has happened in the Valley in the last 22 years?' We have fewer jobs, fewer companies, more kids are leaving,” Vaerewyck said. “He says, ‘We're on the verge of economic revival and give me two more years to do it.'
“I say, ‘The buck stops here.'”
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.