Westmoreland commissioner candidate pushes hard-right platform
Republican John Ventre, during an election forum Tuesday night in Greensburg, said “liberals who kill unborn babies” are not welcome in Westmoreland County.
Ventre was one of six Republicans and one Democrat running for Westmoreland County commissioner who participated Tuesday night in the forum at the Greensburg Garden & Civic Center. Five candidates seeking two vacancies on the county’s Court of Common Pleas also participated in the event sponsored by the 1776 Freedom’s Calling political action committee.
While the other commissioner candidates spoke about luring business and promoting tourism in an effort to attract new residents and to retain the county’s younger population, Ventre, a retired UPS executive, received applause as he touted his opposition to abortion.
He spoke of luring disgruntled New York and New Jersey residents to Westmoreland County, but only those who supported conservative ideals such as opposition to abortion rights. He also said he wants to punish drug dealers.
“We should put a bounty on the heads of heroin dealers,” Ventre said.
Republicans Sean Kertes, Patricia Fritz, Paul Kosko, Ron Gazze and Doug Chew, along with Democratic incumbent Ted Kopas, attended Tuesday’s forum. Ventre was alone in discussing his views on abortion.
Republican Heather Cordial and Democratic incumbent Gina Cerilli did not participate.
Proposals to retain the county’s declining population ranged from promoting training for blue-collar jobs to enhancing tourism options.
“Blue collar jobs are in demand here and we need to start training our workforce and it starts in the high schools,” said Sean Kertes, chief of staff to retiring Commissioner Charles Anderson.
Dentist Ron Gazze said he supports the burgeoning hemp industry, and Chew touted tourism efforts. Fritz said a focus on technology upgrades will attract new residents.
Candidates also discussed their vision for the future of Westmoreland County’s economic position where spending has outpaced revenues for decades leaving an estimated $7.5 million surplus heading into next year.
Kopas defended his record to oppose what he called costly privatization of the county’s human resources department and the hiring of an outside insurance company to oversee workers’ compensation benefits. He also cited efforts to reduce blight and return properties to the tax rolls.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done,” Kopas said. “I’m proud of my record.”
Republicans called for re-evaluations of all county contracts while also looking at ways to increase revenue.
“Cutting jobs is not something I think we can do,” said Paul Kosko, a computer resource manager for the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.
Fritz, a former chief deputy sheriff, said she wants better control of county spending and wants to offer better care for those in need.
Kertes called for the sale of some county assets such as a freight railroad and small airport in Rostraver as a means to bring in new revenue and help finance programs to retain population.
Kosko said he wants to leverage federal infrastructure money to build light rail or other transportation options to link Westmoreland County to Pittsburgh and other locations. Gazze proposed creating international trade zones to bring new business and industry into the county.
Chew, a biochemist, said he opposes tax hikes.
“I can see where I would support some kind of referendum about future tax increases,” Chew said.
Ventre said he supported Kopas’ efforts to trim the budget and add revenue into the county coffers.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .