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No sure thing in Apollo's council race

| Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 1:41 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Apollo Council President David Heffernan Sr. during a council meeting on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.
Photo courtesy of Cindee Virostek
2013 Apollo Council candidate Cindee Virostek.
Photo courtesy of Mark Greenawalt
2013 Apollo Council candidate Mark Greenawalt.
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Swank
2013 Apollo Council candidate Cheryl Swank.

The Apollo Council race has more seats than it does candidates, yet Tuesday's election carries no guarantees for the five people on the ballot.

Up for re-election to fill four seats that result in four-year terms are lone Republican and council President David Heffernan and Democrats Dennis Gabrielli, Mark Greenawalt and Vice President Cindee Virostek.

The incumbent will be challenged on Tuesday by Democrat Cheryl Swank, who is making her first run for elected office.

Heffernan, Gabrielli and Virostek are running for two open seats that carry two-year terms.

The three incumbents said they entered both races to increase their chances of remaining on council. If they won both terms, they would have to relinquish one of them.

Greenawalt didn't receive enough votes in May's primary to appear on the two-year ballot.

Swank said she is seeking only the four-year term because “fixing Apollo is going to be at least a four-year job.”

Swank's top priority as a councilwoman would be to help raise Apollo's low property values — a problem she attributes to the borough's anemic code enforcement.

She said the borough's zoning ordinance allows landlords to exploit blighted properties that should be condemned.

“Right now, Apollo's a magnet for ‘slumlords' who know they can come in and rent unattractive properties for dirt cheap with no consequences,” she said. “If we want to make Apollo attractive again and raise property values, we need to draft a stricter ordinance and enforce it properly.”

Almost 40 percent of Apollo residents rent their homes, according to the 2010 census. Some of them, Swank said, exacerbate the problem by not caring for the properties like a homeowner would.

She believes in securing state grants to condemn and demolish blighted structures that wouldn't comply with the revised zoning ordinance.

The open land could then be sold to adjacent property owners to create more green space and boost property values, she said.

Swank's other priorities for the borough include drawing ancillary businesses to the Roaring Run Trail and conducting further contamination tests on the riverfront land parcels along the Kiski River.

Occupied for decades by a nuclear fuels processing plant, the land has been cleared for conditional development by federal and state environmental agencies.

Swank believes that if the site passed further testing, it would be more attractive for prospective developers.

But Heffernan said the borough can ill afford the time or money for further testing.

“It's passed every test that's been done on it,” he said.

“That's the lifeblood of this town. Why would we want to spend more money to sit on it?”

The 12-year councilman said that, if re-elected, he'd consider hiring a marketing firm to attract a “big-box” retailer like Wal-Mart or Home Depot to the property.

That would bring jobs and a greater tax base to the borough that, along with keeping the real estate tax low, is the platform Heffernan is running on this year.

Virostek served on council from 1989 to 2001 and was reappointed in September 2012.

The longtime Apollo resident's main focus is street and road repair.

She plans on using her connections in the Alle Kiski Strong Chamber of Commerce to secure state grants to repave Apollo streets that are eyesores and pose potential safety hazards.

To move the borough forward, Virostek wants to put an end to the infighting on council and negativity from some residents.

“We're all adults,” she said. “If I'm re-elected, I'm going to make a point of establishing a positive and productive culture on council.”

Greenawalt was appointed to the council in September 2012.

Greenawalt said his primary aim on council would be to attract more businesses to the borough. It's a process that he said begins with the riverfront land, then Apollo Plaza after Sprankle's Neighborhood Market closed there last month.

The Democrat said he's seen a marked decline in pedestrian traffic through the plaza since the grocery store closed.

“We need to clean up the town to get another grocery store in there,” he said. “It would get people back in the plaza and help out the surrounding businesses.

“There are a lot of older residents here, and it would be nice for them to not have to go across the river for their groceries.”

Repeated attempts to reach Gabrielli during several days were unsuccessful.

Darhl Goldinger is the only councilman whose seat is not up for re-election this year. Council members Pat Zelonka and Amy Poydence are not seeking re-election.

It's possible that Tuesday's election will fill only four of the six openings on council.

It will appoint however many applicants as needed to fill the openings in February, according to Heffernan.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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