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Connellsville council hopeful alleges 'political tricks' in failed nominating petition

| Friday, March 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Connellsville man cannot run for City Council because his nominating petition has too few valid signatures, according to a judge's order.

Fayette County Judge Nancy Vernon issued an order on Thursday that removes Tim Bechtold's name from the May 21 primary ballot.

Bechtold's nominating petition fell 10 short of the 100 required when Vernon struck 34 of 42 signatures.

“Out of 100 signatures required, to come up 10 short, I just think it's a shame that a small political faction was able to keep the people from being able to decide who they want in office,” Bechtold said. “It's political tricks like this that keep good people from running for office.”

The signatures were challenged by city Treasurer Judy Keller because some of the signers were not registered to vote or lived outside Connellsville, among other reasons.

Bechtold was seeking the Democratic nomination for council.

Another man seeking the Democratic nomination for council, Tom Karpiak, survived a challenge to his petitions when the challenge was withdrawn.

Greg Lincoln, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor, had challenged Karpiak's nominating petitions because Karpiak's statement of financial interests was incomplete.

Lincoln said he withdrew his challenge because Karpiak amended the statements to add the missing information.

“Since then, we felt it would be a waste of the court's time to challenge it,” Lincoln said.

Karpiak said he is pleased the challenge was withdrawn.

“It was frivolous, and it never should have went this far,” Karpiak said. “The nice thing is, the people of Connellsville get to decide this, not some special-interest group.”

Withdrawal of the petition means Karpiak's name will appear on the ballot.

A challenge that Keller made to the nominating petitions of a third man, Joshua A. DeWitt, is pending a judge's decision. DeWitt is seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor.

Larry Blosser, elections bureau director for Fayette County, testified during hearings on Monday and Thursday that most of the challenged signatures on Bechtold's and DeWitt's petitions are invalid.

Some of the signers do not live in Connellsville. Others are not registered to vote, are Republicans or have no party affiliation. Several listed names or addresses that differ from those on their voter registrations, Blosser testified.

Several of the individuals whose names were challenged on DeWitt's petitions testified during a hearing on Thursday that they moved or got married since they registered. They said they failed to update their information with the election bureau.

Fayette County Senior Judge Gerald R. Solomon did not immediately rule on DeWitt's petitions, indicating he will do so after taking them under review.

Keller said she filed the challenges because some of the people who signed the petitions were not eligible to do so.

“I just would like to make sure the signatures they secured are valid,” Keller said after DeWitt's hearing. “I have nothing personal against these people. It's just that the law is clear.”

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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