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Election night comments spark ire in Donora, Monessen

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 12:56 a.m.

The results are in, but ill feelings and accusations still abound between Donora Mayor John Lignelli and defeated write-in opponent John Lunt.

Likewise, in Monessen, a past mayor and the current mayor-elect are at odds.

Lignelli said early Wednesday he was angered by Lunt's post-election comments suggesting write-in voters were misled at the polls. In the early evening, Lignelli tempered his anger.

“We have agreed to ignore all of his comments from now on,” Lignelli said.

According to the unofficial vote totals tabulated by The Valley Independent at Donora's five precincts Tuesday, Lignelli won a sixth term as mayor, defeating Lunt, 520 to 453.

The Washington County Elections Bureau reported that Lignelli received 520 votes and that 479 write-in votes were cast, not specifying who received them.

Lunt said early Wednesday that there are still provisional and absentee ballots outstanding that could swing the vote total.

However, a spokesperson for the Washington County Elections Bureau said just 29 absentees are left to be tallied. She said provisional ballots are collected at the polls and counted by the canvas board, likely next week.

The canvas board certifies the election results, ultimately making them official.

Provisional ballots are only used if someone wishing to vote is on the county's voting list and pollworkers cannot verify the person is registered in that precinct to vote. The vote is only counted after it is determined the voter lives in that precinct and is eligible to cast a ballot.

Larry Mauro, judge of election for Donora 1, said there were no provisional ballots at that precinct.

Early Wednesday, Lunt claimed improprieties at the polls.

He initially claimed that 13 voters asking for help writing in his name had poll workers instead cast straight Democratic Party tickets for them. He later claimed that occurred 22 times at one poll, Donora 7, at St. John Episcopal Church.

Linda Walters, majority inspector of Donora 7, clarified the situation during Tuesday's voting.

Walters said one woman came in to vote, asking for help with casting her vote, replying, “I don't know what to do.”

The voter said she wanted to vote “Democrat” and do so in the easiest fashion, Walters said.

A poll worker reviewed the voting process for the woman, who cast a straight party ticket. The voter then asked how to cast a write-in vote, after having already submitted her ballot.

Walters said a few other voters asked up front how to write-in a candidate's name and were instructed how to do so.

Walters said she spoke with other poll workers and learned that one other voter cast a ballot – then asked for help in writing in a candidate's name. Those were the only such incidents, and in both cases, the error was made by the voter, Walters said.

“No one actually touched the machines,” said Walters, adding she and her peers, “we're not allowed to do that.”

Walters, a native Donora resident, said a large number of voters showed up at the poll whom she had never before seen there.

“There were a lot of people who never voted before,” Walters said. “If someone is going to take the time to solicit voters, don't let them come in blind. Teach them how to use the machines in advance.”

In the aftermath of the election, Lignelli questioned how much his opponent spent on the campaign. Lunt's campaign manager, Gary Hoover, confirmed Wednesday that Lunt offered to make a $1,000 donation to the borough's Halloween parade if he was permitted to ride a float containing campaign signs. When told the parade's rules are that all flats be free of political advertising for candidates in the general election that year, he angrily withdrew his offer.

“The one thing about Donora, you cannot buy the election, you have to earn it,” Lignelli said.

In Monessen

The Monessen race for mayor might be over, but bad blood still boils. Add state Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, to the equation.

Harhai said he was livid that, during a Tuesday night victory speech, Mayor-elect Lou Mavrakis accused him of helping Republican candidate Rob Zynosky.

“Why did they keep trying to drag me into this?” Harhai said. “I did not make any overtures and I did not campaign. I did not give any money to anybody. I did not give any advice to anybody.

“I didn't sit down and go to sessions or meetings, and Lou Mavrakis knows that. He kept asking me, ‘Are you staying out of this?' And I said, ‘Yes,' and I stayed true to my word.”

Mavrakis won by an unofficial count of 1,005 to 660, before telling supporters: “If you look at (Zynosky's votes), that's a reflection on Mary Jo and Team Monessen and Ted Harhai pulling out all the stops, and I have documented proof. ... Somebody's going to take (Harhai) to task, and he's going to learn that come May.”

In the Democratic primary, Mavrakis defeated Mayor Mary Jo Smith — who works in Harhai's Monessen office. City Administrator John Harhai is Ted Harhai's brother.

Ted Harhai, a former Monessen mayor, said those well-known connections are all the more reason for him to stay out of municipal races.

“The city issues, unless they become state issues, it doesn't make sense for me to get involved,” Harhai said. “I'm a state legislator. We're not permitted to campaign out of our offices, so everything I do is on the table. ... If he has documented proof, I'd like to see it.”

Mavrakis angrily claimed the election left the city's Democratic party divided, breaking a longtime tradition. Harhai claimed it was the other way around.

“The town has never been more divided politically because of Lou Mavrakis. He created that problem, because you can't tell him anything. You can't ask him anything,” Harhai said. “He never lets the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Harhai vowed that hard feelings involving the new administration would not deter him from bringing continually dwindling grant money into the city and region.

“I've always felt a sense of loyalty to Monessen, and I will continue to help,” he said. “No matter who's in charge, I will never do anything to hurt Monessen or its people.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com. Rick Bruni Jr. contributed to this story. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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