Democrat Tay Waltenbaugh announces state Senate run in Jeannette
On a sunny June afternoon, a group of about 60 people gathered in the 300 block of Sixth Street in Jeannette amid two dozen tidy, new two-story homes that occupy a street once dominated by crumbling row houses.
They came to celebrate the resurrection of a neighborhood of homeowners.
They came to toast Tay Waltenbaugh, the retired nonprofit CEO who spearheaded the project, as he announced his bid for public office.
After weeks of testing the waters, Waltenbaugh, 64, a Hempfield Democrat, Wednesday announced he will seek election next year to the 39th District State Senate seat Hempfield Republican Kim Ward has held since 2008.
Ward said she’s not ready to step aside. So, Waltenbaugh will face both a three-term incumbent with a strong record and a Republican Party that boasts a 3,000-voter registration edge in the district that takes in most of central Westmoreland County.
Supporters at Wednesday’s campaign kickoff said Waltenbaugh’s work as director of Westmoreland Community Action for the last 29 years drew them to the event.
Laura Smith, a longtime Jeannette resident who served with Waltenbaugh on the community’s Neighborhood Partnership Program, said she just wanted to thank him for believing in the struggling city that now boasts a neighborhood of new homes, an amphitheater and a reclaimed brownfield ready for development.
“I think this brought the community together and improved the perception of Jeannette,” she said, gesturing down the street.
Greensburg Salem High School Principal David Zilli said he met Waltenbaugh when the two played ball together. He said the district looked to Westmoreland Community Action again and again when students at his school faced daunting challenges, such as a parent’s job loss or the loss of a home.
“He and the agency have been very supportive of me and the students at my school,” Zilli said. “He’s helped people find homes, transportation and jobs. He’s stepped in and filled the gaps for people who fell through the cracks.”
Ken Gottschalk of Ligonier Township, who introduced Waltenbaugh, said his roots with Waltenbaugh go back even further. He said Waltenbaugh, who was then CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Westmoreland County, filled a looming gap in his life 35 years ago when he volunteered to be his Big Brother.
Gottschalk, now 46 and a sixth-grade teacher in the Hempfield Area School District, teared up briefly when he recounted how his mentor took him under his wing, took him camping and taught him how to approach life.
Waltenbaugh said he wants to continue the kind of work he started at Westmoreland Community Action in the Legislature.
“I am beginning a new chapter in my career today, and I’ll be counting on your support and the support of many others to help strengthen the social fabric that binds together the communities of Westmoreland County,” Waltenbaugh said.
He listed priorities, including affordable housing, job training, education, access to credit for local businesses and increasing opportunities for retirees, displaced workers and those just entering the workforce.
“Harrisburg must do a better job planting and nourishing the seeds that build strong communities,” he said.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .