Attorney Steve Yakopec Jr. squeaked by in the 11th hour — literally — of election night Tuesday to win a Democratic nomination for one of two city council seats up for grabs in November.
Yakopec edged out incumbent Democrat Christopher Koziarski by just five votes, but only after absentee ballots were counted just before midnight, according to unofficial results.
The council race among three Democratic candidates, two of them incumbents, was tight, with victories determined by single-digit margins.
Yakopec, 61, was down 636 to 630 votes to Koziarski, 50, shortly before 11:30 p.m. Yakopec was the former longtime city solicitor whose contract was not renewed by council earlier this year. Koziarski is owner of Kozi Media Design audio-visual architect firm.
But after absentee ballots were counted, the scales changed: Yakopec took the lead with 27 absentee votes to Koziarski’s 16, giving the nomination to Yakopec with 657 total votes — just five more than Koziarski’s final tally of 652, according to Beth Lechman, director of the Westmoreland County Elections Bureau.
“With a win by five votes, that is why I tell everyone that every vote counts, especially in a close election like this,” said Lechman.
The final official certification of votes will be June 10, she said.
Koziarski does not plan to ask for a recount.
“I’m settled with the results,” he said. “I don’t want to put the city residents through more hell.”
For Chris Fabry, the top Democratic vote-getter, his win was “bittersweet” as he campaigned with Mayor Richard Callender, who lost his bid for another mayoral nomination, and Koziarski, whom he just calls “K.”
As fellow councilmen who worked together, Fabry added, “I hold K in the highest regard. All the stuff that he did with the parks and students will carry on long after he’s gone.”
Fabry received 34% of the vote, capturing just two percentage points more than Yakopec, garnering 684 votes.
“I hope those coming into office put in as much energy as I have or more, because I think that is what the people of Lower Burrell deserve,” Koziarski said.
Yakopec said he watched his number of votes change throughout the night. He congratulated Andrejcik, but said, “I could see that he clearly won but I said, for myself, well, I don’t know; it was too close to call. It was so close, very close. I was lucky enough to come up a winner.”
David Regoli, a former Lower Burrell councilman and Westmoreland County judge, said the council race was close because voters had a difficult choice.
“You had three really good choices for council, and that’s why it was so close and, at the end of the day, someone had to lose,” said Regoli.
The three Democrats will face Rosina Albanese, the unopposed Republican candidate for council on the November ballot.
The mayor’s race for the Democratic nod was not as close as the council race but nor was it a “mandate” type of victory.
In preliminary results, first-time political candidate John Andrejcik clinched a victory over incumbent Callender. Andrejcik captured 55% of the vote to Callender’s 45%.
Said Regoli: “The thing was, you had a popular community person, Andrejcik, running for mayor, and a well respected and popular attorney, Yakopec, running for council.”
He said Callender did important work in the community but “didn’t toot his horn as much as he should have.” And there were some reports Regoli said he saw on his social media feeds of alleged personality conflicts with some city employees, who mobilized against the Callender team.
Plus, Regoli added, Andrejcik’s ties to sports, especially wrestling, likely brought out a lot of support.
Tuesday night, Andrejcik told a reporter that “it wasn’t an easy campaign” but that “it feels good right now.”
Callender didn’t return calls for comment.