A-K Valley voters to get first taste of redrawn districts

Liz Hayes
| Sunday, May 18, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Most of the candidates running for the state Legislature in Tuesday's primary election are incumbents, but many Alle-Kiski Valley voters will see new names on the ballots.

The primary will be the first election to use the boundaries approved in 2013 for state Senate and House districts. The districts were redrawn using population figures from the 2010 census, but implementation was delayed by litigation.

About 70 percent of local communities are represented by at least one new district. Six communities — Allegheny, Buffalo, Gilpin, Parks and West Deer townships plus Apollo — have new House and Senate districts.

“There are some major changes,” said Jim Montini, director of Westmoreland County's elections bureau.

G. Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, said the redistricting was an effort to strengthen Republican areas by shifting large concentrations of Democrats to districts that are considered Democratic strongholds.

“This goes on all the time when you have shifts,” he said. “It's artful, but legal, gerrymandering.”

Several districts that represent Alle-Kiski Valley voters are significantly different:

House District 33

Represented by House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, it lost the Allegheny County communities of Fawn, part of Harrison, West Deer and the small part of Plum it had included.

The district now reaches into Westmoreland County, picking up the cities of Arnold and New Kensington.

Dermody does not have a primary opponent; he will face Republican newcomer Sean Watson of East Deer in November. Watson's Republican primary opponent, Gretchen Schmitt of New Kensington, withdrew and won't appear on the ballot.

House District 54

Represented by Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, it covered northwestern Westmoreland and southern Armstrong counties.

The district no longer includes Armstrong County, Arnold and New Kensington; it stretches into the Allegheny County communities of Fawn, West Deer and the northern portion of Harrison.

Evankovich has no primary challengers; he again will face Democrat Patrick Leyland of Allegheny Township in November.

House District 60

Represented by Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, it reaches into Butler County, picking up Buffalo and Winfield townships plus the former District 54 Armstrong County communities of Bethel, Cadogan and Gilpin. The district no longer includes Apollo, which was moved into District 55.

Pyle is the only person on the ballot.

Senate District 38

Served by Jim Ferlo, D-Pittsburgh, through the end of the year, it will no longer reach into Armstrong and Westmoreland counties and sheds more than a dozen Kiski Valley communities.

The new Allegheny County-only district will pick up Brackenridge, Cheswick, East Deer, Harmar, Springdale, Springdale Township, Tarentum and West Deer.

Ferlo is not seeking re-election. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, who represents the 40th Senate District, is the only candidate for the 38th.

Senate District 40

It covered Allegheny and Butler counties including Buffalo, Clinton and West Deer townships. It will no longer exist in Western Pennsylvania, as it was shifted to the eastern side of the state.

Local impact

“I think people will be surprised, because sometimes, they don't pay attention,” said Monica Bolcato, a judge of elections in New Kensington. “People won't know until they vote.”

The lack of contested races on Tuesday may delay some of those surprises until November's primary.

House District 32 is the only state legislative seat in the Alle-Kiski Valley that has a contested primary election race: Democratic incumbent Anthony DeLuca of Penn Hills faces Kristopher Wiegand, also of Penn Hills. Locally, the district includes Blawnox, Verona and parts of O'Hara and Plum.

Gerry Vaerewyck, a West Deer supervisor, said he's not concerned that both of the township's legislative districts have changed: “I don't think it's going to have a huge effect.”

Vulakovich likely will continue to be West Deer's state senator. Vaerewyck, a Republican who twice ran against Dermody in the 33rd House District, is looking forward to the possibility of having Evankovich as his representative.

Vaerewyck said he thinks the township will assimilate easily into the newly drawn 54th House District that lumps West Deer with more Allegheny Valley communities as opposed to the North Hills.

“If you look at West Deer in terms of demographics, we're really much closer in composition to Harrison and Frazer,” Vaerewyck said of fellow 54th communities. “When we're lumped in with Hampton, West Deer does not look anything like Hampton.”

Staff writer Rich Cholodofsky contributed. 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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