Feuds fire up Monroeville race

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Political players in Monroeville are watching the town's mayoral race, wondering whether a Republican newcomer can unseat the Democratic incumbent and quash quarrels among council members whose disagreements drove the agenda the past two years.

Some Democrats say they support the GOP candidate, John Ritter, instead of Mayor Greg Erosenko in the Nov. 5 election.

“My goal is to bring civility to the council meetings so that council can roll up their sleeves and do the good work we need them to do,” said Ritter, 59, who works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

Screaming matches among council members and residents more than once interrupted business at council meetings this year. The mayor in this home rule community of 28,000 has veto power and casts tie-breaking votes.

“We're going to try to clean up our reputation and the budget,” said Erosenko, 60, mayor since 2008. “I can't even say which one is No. 1 and which is No. 2.”

Changes on council might end some of the animosity. Barring winning write-in campaigns, voters decided three of four open seats in the May primary. As a result, a 4-3 voting dynamic that gave rise to a management shakeup in the municipality this year almost certainly will change.

“People who are good friends, now are just at odds with each other,” said former Mayor James Lomeo. “Time is the only thing that gets rid of that — and good leadership.”

Council newcomers Linda Gaydos, Paul Caliari Jr. and Tom Wilson are running unopposed. Caliari and Ron Harvey defeated incumbents Diane Allison and Louis Drumheller, respectively, in the primary.

Harvey, a Democrat and Monroeville fire chief, is running against Republican Daniel Alexander for the Ward 3 seat.

At stake is the decision-making power to drive government for a town located at the crossroads of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, U.S. Route 22 and state Route 48.

Monroeville provides services comparable to those found in larger communities — taxes support a library, senior center and 911 center. Municipal spending surpassed revenue most years during the past decade, so the incoming leaders will inherit the challenge of continuing services.

Personnel shakeups resulted in two municipal managers leaving; one demoted police chief who later was fired; and a longtime administrative assistant ascending to the manager's spot. An officer promoted to police chief, Steve Pascarella, went on medical leave this month.

Among those backing Erosenko are Dr. Kotayya Kondaveeti and Pittsburgh attorney Bob Wratcher, who is solicitor for the Monroeville Zoning Hearing Board. Each donated $1,000 to his campaign in the spring.

Wratcher said he is a friend of Erosenko and some of the mayor's supporters. Drumheller calls them a “good ol' boys network.”

Drumheller and three other council members supported Manager Lynette McKinney's decision to demote former police chief Doug Cole, whom Erosenko backed, to sergeant in February. McKinney later fired Cole.

“I don't like the people that are running things now and I think they're engaging in bad government by the moves they've made,” Wratcher said.

Councilman Jim Johns said he can't wait for a new council majority.

On his to-do list is a move to replace McKinney, whose contract council approved 4-3 in March.

“I strongly believe that, for a while, we're going to have a 7-0 council, which is a little different,” Johns said.

Alexander, running against Harvey, said it's time for real change on council.

“It's the same players, over and over and over again,” he said. “We're still going to have the same politics as usual.”

Harvey, once appointed an interim council member, said that if elected he would propose reversing recent personnel moves.

“I am against the firing of Doug Cole,” Harvey said.

Gaydos regularly attends council meetings to speak up as a citizen.

“People have asked me, ‘Are you crazy?' ” Gaydos said. “Someone has to be crazy enough to want to do this. Let's be real: I'm looking forward to the challenges.”

Kyle Lawson is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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