Crowded GOP field looking to survive primary, reclaim majority on Westmoreland commissioner board
When Republicans in 2011 won the party’s first majority on Westmoreland County’s Board of Commissioners in more than 60 years, it appeared the GOP was finally ready to take over the political landscape at the top of county leadership.
But Democrats took back control of the board four years later. And now Republicans are again seeking to reclaim the majority — though apparently with little hope of coordinating a team effort.
“I am the only one who has experience and knowledge of county government,” said Sean Kertes, 32, of Greensburg. “All of the other candidates are talking about things on the state and national level, not on the county level.”
He serves as chief of staff for Commissioner Charles Anderson, the lone Republican on the board who will retire at the end of the year. Anderson, originally appointed to the board in 2008, was part of the GOP’s majority when he and Republican Tyler Courtney won seats on the three-member board in 2011.
Kertes is one of seven Republican candidates vying to replace him. The others are: microbiologist Doug Chew, insurance program director Heather Cordial, former Chief Deputy Sheriff Patricia Fritz, dentist Ron Gazze, computer information specialist Paul Kosko and retired business executive John Ventre.
All but Gazze are making their first runs for elected office.
The top two vote-getters in both political party primaries on May 21 will run in November’s general election for three seats on the board of commissioners. Democratic incumbents Gina Cerilli and Ted Kopas are unopposed in the primary.
Most of the Republican field has cast Kertes as an incumbent and, in doing so, challenged Anderson’s record as commissioner. Anderson has endorsed Kertes.
Kertes conceded it’s still very much up in the air the possibility of a coordinated Republican campaign to reclaim the party’s majority if he’s one of the GOP nominees this fall.
“(Other Republican candidates) are threatened by my knowledge and experience. I would like to have a Republican majority, but we have to be on the same page,” Kertes said.
So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Chew said he won’t team with Kertes. Ventre, Cordial and Kosko suggested that such a partnership would be difficult.
“The party is really separated in this race. A lot of people are not getting along right now,” Cordial said.
During the early stages of the campaign, Chew, Ventre and Cordial coordinated some attacks against Kertes and the Democratic incumbents but have not declared any formal team-ups. Neither Fritz nor Gazze, who twice before ran for commissioner as an independent and a Republican, have participated in any joint campaign messaging.
Each of the candidates said their messages can stand out in the large field.
Chew, 48, of Hempfield, a former faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh medical school, said he would work to hold the line on county property taxes and look for additional sources of revenue to ease deficit spending.
“My goal is to not increase taxes, but the current board put us in a position where we may not be able to avoid it,” Chew said.
Ventre, 61, of Hempfield called himself a “Trumplike” candidate who said he will look to sell off county assets as a means to balance budgets.
“My plan is to quickly get our assets appraised and see what we can sell,” Ventre said.
Kosko, 57, of Hempfield said he wants to leverage federal money to improve local infrastructure.
“I’m not the status quo guy,” Kosko said. “If you want the status quo guy, don’t vote for me.”
Cordial, 39, of Hempfield, who also serves as a master sergeant in the Air Force Reserves, said she will oppose any efforts to raise taxes.
“We are for the people but, at the end of the day, we are all human and I want a happy, safe community to live in,” Cordial said.
Gazze, 69, of Greensburg said he will focus on job creation.
“I think it’s an advantage that I ran before,” Gazze said. “My opponents may have more political support, but I have support from the public.”
Fritz, 65, of Mt. Pleasant did not return calls seeking comment.
A former PennDOT supervisor who worked in the sheriff’s office since 2014, Fritz was fired last year after being convicted of a summary harassment offense in connection with a physical confrontation with a union official and having been named in several discrimination lawsuits filed against the department.
She has denied any wrongdoing and is appealing her conviction.
Ventre also had to defend himself during the early stages of the campaign for racially insensitive comments posted on social media. Ventre previously said those comments were taken out of context and said he apologized for the posting.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .