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Dirty trick alleged in New Kensington-Arnold School Board race

| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 2:16 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
New Kensington-Arnold School board candidates Tonya Pryor-Norman, left, and Laura Varner-Norman greet voters in the final hour before the polls closed at Greenwald Elementary School in New Kensington on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
New Kensington-Arnold School board candidate Pat Petit, right, greets voters from left, Ray, Jonathan, and Janice Hunchar of New Kensington before the polls closed at Pershing Heights in the Mt. Vernon section of New Kensington on Tuesday. Petit won re-election.

One New Kensington-Arnold School Board candidate weathered a last-minute bout of negative — and likely illegal — campaign mailings.

And one did not.

In Region III, challenger Tonya Pryor-Norman came in third behind her sister-in-law, Laura Varner-Norman, and incumbent Pat Petit for two available seats on the board, according to unofficial election results.

In Region II, incumbent Liney Glenn held off a challenge by Richard Boucher.

All of the candidates live in New Kensington.

Pryor-Norman and Glenn said they were the targets of 11th-hour campaign mailers by unknown political foes. Not listing who paid for the fliers is an apparent violation of state elections law.

“Yes, I definitely do,” Pryor-Norman said when asked if she felt the fliers impacted the race. “I think the negativity about me was wrong. It wasn't fair. If that's the way people get elected, it's a shame.”

Pryor-Norman received 389 votes compared to 599 for Varner-Norman and 569 for Petit.

All three are registered as Democrats, but Petit appeared on the ballot as a Republican because he won only that party's nomination in the primary election. Pryor-Norman was listed as a Democrat only and Varner-Norman received nods from both parties.

Petit, 49, a supervisor for the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, speculated his appearance on the ballot as a Republican likely cost him votes since some residents in the liberal-leaning city would have voted for a straight Democratic ticket.

“I can honestly say that I'm the only person in the City of New Kensington that's ever won as an Independent, a Democrat and a Republican,” said Petit, who has been on the board since 2007 and also served a term as the city's mayor.

Petit denied involvement in the weekend mailings. He said his win was a result of his campaigning on the issues.

“We took the high road, and we stayed on the high road,” Petit said. “I kept with the issues.”

For Petit, the overriding issue will continue to be managing the district's finances: “There's not too many people who know the finances better than I do after chairing the finance committee for the last four years.”

Varner-Norman, 44, a media sales consultant, said her win is bittersweet since she won't be serving on the board with her sister-in-law.

“I'm excited about getting elected and getting to effect some change,” she said. “But Tonya would have been a great addition and an asset.”

Varner-Norman said she'll take some time to get acclimated, but expects to quickly begin reviewing the budget and preparing for negotiations with the district's teachers union, whose contract expires next summer.

“I hope everybody can work together in a positive direction,” she said.

Pryor-Norman, 42, a personal aide for people with mental disabilities, is involved in several district athletic organizations and has regularly attended school board meetings.

“I'm not going to go anywhere,” she said. “I hope they do what they said they would do: put education and the kids first and do what they are elected to do.”

Region II

Glenn, 62, a retired teacher, said she was taken aback by the negativity involved in the race: “There's been so much ugliness. I'm still in shock.”

She defeated Boucher by a smaller margin than in the Region III race, winning with 360 votes compared to Boucher's 284, according to unofficial results.

“I'm still going to keep trying to do what I think is best for the kids in the district,” she said.

Glenn said priorities will be balancing the budget, improving student test scores and preparing for the upcoming requirements of state Act 82, which deals in part with teacher evaluations.

“Hopefully, there will be enough change (on the board) that we can impact the education,” she said.

Boucher, 48, an Allegheny County public works employee, said he thought he did pretty well considering he appeared on the ballot as a Republican. Both he and Glenn are Democrats, but Boucher only won the Republican nod in the primary.

“As a Republican, I made a real good impression,” he said. “I worked very hard at it. I'll probably try running again when it comes up again.

“I wish Dr. Liney Glenn the best,” he added. “I think she'll do very well.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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