Political landscape shifting in Plum

| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Four years ago, Republicans in Plum swept into office claiming super majorities on both borough council and school board.

Republicans in last Tuesday's general election maintained control of both panels but by a slimmer margin.

The 7-2 Republican super majority on the Plum School Board is set to decrease to 5-4 next month with the defeat of board President Andrew Drake and newcomer Jim Rogers, both Republicans.

Democrat challengers Michele Gallagher and Michelle Stepnick were successful in their bids for election. Former school district public-relations director Dawn Check, also a Democrat, who ran on a ticket with Gallagher and Stepnick, was defeated.

Also, the 5-2 super majority on borough council in January is poised to dwindle to 4-3 with the defeat of Dave Seitz who took the place of incumbent Keith Nowalk on the ballot. Nowalk did not seek re-election.

Former Councilman Dave Vento, a Democrat, was elected, along with the three incumbents — Michael Dell, Mike Doyle and Leonard Szarmach.

The results are unofficial, pending certification by the Allegheny County Division of Elections.

“I am happy we maintained majorities on both school board and council,” said Dave Majernik, former Plum Borough Republican Committee chairman. “But I'm sorry we lost some ground.”

Majernik said Gallagher's and Stepnick's campaign approach worked.

“Basically, they ran an emotional campaign with the mother perspective,” Majernik said.

Gallagher has three sons in the district. Stepnick's son is a toddler.

Gallagher said she isn't worried about the fact that the Democrats remain in the minority on the board. Gallagher predicts board members will work together, regardless of party.

“I'm not afraid of the 5-4 (ratio of Republicans to Democrats),” Gallagher said. “I will try to be respectful to everyone,” Gallagher said. “I think there are some strong individuals (on the board) who think independently.”

Gallagher said the board has much to do, including contract negotiations and overseeing the construction of the new Holiday Park Elementary School.

“I am here to offer fresh, open eyes and be objective to everything,” Gallagher said. “I find compromise and balance beneficial to all involved — the students, taxpayers and employees.”

Vento, who will join fellow Democrats Don Knopfel and Steve “Skip” Taylor on borough council, also doesn't plan to let the minority status stand in the way of what he thinks is best for Plum.

“If it is not right for Plum Borough, I will be the most vocal on Plum Council,” Vento said. “I will do what is best for the community. That is my mandate.”

Majernik sees some lessons learned from the fall campaign, and he intends to change some strategies in the future in an attempt to maintain the Republican majorities.

“We need to get some women candidates who are qualified,” Majernik said. “We have not found anyone stepping forward.”

Majernik said the GOP in Plum also must develop different campaign strategies.

“We need new ways to campaign and present our ideas,” Majernik said. “Republicans are more interested in issues. Democrats are more interested in promotion. We have to hone our promotional skills better.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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