Westmoreland County's 58th District pits hometown rivals

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Longtime state Rep. R. Ted Harhai will square off against a political upstart in one of the few Democratic contests in Westmoreland County this spring.

Harhai of Monessen, a 17-year House veteran, faces John Scott Nestor, 25, a Monessen councilman, in the May 20 primary for the district covering parts of the Mon Valley and eastern Westmoreland County.

The winner likely will face Tom Logan, a Hempfield supervisor, who is unopposed for the Republican nomination.

“I believe I bring in a new face, a new voice for the constituents of the 58th District,” said Nestor, who took office as councilman in January. “I grew up poor. I know I'm working for the people.”

Nestor describes himself as “a Democrat with libertarian ideas.”

He said he supports eliminating income and property taxes and moving to a flat sales tax with no exclusions or deductions. And he'd like to cut the size of government by consolidating the Fish and Boat Commission with the Game Commission.

He said he favors putting more money into home-based nursing care and toward helping local governments remove dilapidated buildings.

“I understand the state is stuck for money, too, (but) it's hard to thrive when buildings can't even be demolished because local governments don't have the funding,” he said.

Nestor said he's funding his modest campaign himself, using about $3,000 to print campaign signs and door hangers. He said he didn't file a campaign finance report with the state because he didn't spend money in the first reporting period, or the first quarter of the year.

“My competitor, he's spent a lot more than that and continues to rake in more money and contributions, which is fine. But if you look at the contributions ... most are all from private business interests,” Nestor said.

Harhai raised $7,047 in the first quarter and carried over $67,701 from last year. After spending more than $11,000, he had $63,431 in cash on hand as of March 31, according to campaign filings.

“They're trying to make me spend money,” Harhai said.

He claims Nestor was put up to run against him by Monessen Mayor Lou Mavrakis, who holds a vendetta of unknown origin against Harhai.

“He just doesn't do anything for the people of Monessen anymore,” said Mavrakis, who defeated former Mayor Mary Jo White, a staffer to Harhai, last year and then removed his brother, John Harhai, as city administrator.

“If Ted Harhai could not help his legislative assistant and his brother with the (problems facing Monessen), then it's time to change,” Mavrakis said.

Harhai said he's putting up campaign signs, talking to voters and attending as many constituent events as he can.

“(People) want to see you, know who you are,” Harhai said. “They just want to know that you're reasonable and want to help them.”

Harhai said the biggest issues confronting the district are restoring funding to education and bringing more jobs to the region.

Gov. Tom Corbett's funding cuts to schools pushed more of the responsibility for financing education onto school districts, Harhai said. “I don't think that's fair,” he said. “It's been a big burden.”

Legislative Democrats have long taken issue with Corbett's cuts to K-12 funding and flat-funding of higher education. Corbett contends the bulk of cuts resulted from disappearing federal stimulus money.

Harhai said he'd like the state to use more incentives to get companies — especially from the manufacturing and coal sectors — to locate in the region and bring good-paying jobs.

“Coal is in 30 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. ... I think along with other renewable energies like gas and oil, they can work in tandem,” Harhai said.

The 58th District includes the cities of Monessen and Jeannette; Rostraver, Sewickley and South Huntingdon townships and parts of Hempfield and East Huntingdon townships; and Adamsburg, Arona, Madison, Mt. Pleasant, North Belle Vernon, Penn, Smithton, Sutersville and West Newton.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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