Westmoreland GOP commissioner candidates accuse county Democrats of hijacking conservative message
Republican candidates for Westmoreland County commissioner Tuesday accused a wing of the local Democratic Party of stealing the GOP’s message and pandering to conservative voters.
Candidates Doug Chew, John Ventre and Heather Cordial issued a joint statement critical to a movement pushed by incumbent Democratic Commissioner Gina Cerilli and a slate of candidates she is backing for county row officers this year. Those Democrats said they support issues such as pro-life and pro-gun positions typically associated with Republicans.
More than 1,000 people attended a rally last weekend in Jeannette to kick off campaigns for candidates Cerilli said identify as “moderate Democrats.”
“There is only one party that will fight for the Second Amendment, for the unborn, and for the taxpayers, and that’s the Republican Party,” said Doug Chew, a GOP commissioners candidate from Hempfield. He continued, “The Democratic Party’s agenda is about open borders, sanctuary cities, political correctness and post-term abortion. Voters in Westmoreland County shouldn’t be fooled by this media stunt.”
Republicans, for the first time in decades, have taken the registered-voter edge in Westmoreland County. The party is seeking to reclaim a majority on the board of commissioners this year. The GOP briefly held a board majority in 2011 after more than six decades in the minority, before Democrats took back control in 2015.
Cerilli and incumbent Ted Kopas are seeking re-election this year to retain control for the Democrats. They are not running a coordinated campaign, and Kopas is not part of the Cerilli’s “moderate” Democrat movement.
Commissioner Charles Anderson, the Republican incumbent, is retiring. So far, five GOP candidates have announced bids for seats on the three-member board. The top three voter-getters in the November general election from a field of two Democrats and two Republicans will win seats on the board.
Candidates have until March 12 to formally submit nominating documents with the county’s elections bureau for the May primary.
“We’re trying to be clear to voters in the county so they realize who the truly conservative candidates are,” Chew said.
He said he contacted all declared Republican candidates for county commissioner to issue a statement in response to the new movement within the local Democratic Party. Two candidates, Ventre, a retired business executive from New Stanton, and Cordial, a senior citizens program director from Hempfield, issued the statement with Chew.
Ventre, when contacted Tuesday, said that while he agreed to issue the statement, he disputed the quotes in the release attributed to him by Chew.
Ventre provided another statement in which he criticized Cerilli’s voting record: “We pledge a fiscal conservative approach to governing, with all agreements following the standard bid process. We will sell assets and downsize the commissioner’s discretionary spending to avoid a tax increase in 2020.”
Kerry Jobe, chairman of Westmoreland County’s Republican Committee, said he doesn’t view the Cerilli group’s efforts as stealing the GOP’s message.
“Our message is pretty well defined,” Jobe said. “I don’t think their effort will move the needle enough.”
County Republicans are holding their own campaign events this week. The party’s local committee in Lower Burrell sponsored an event Tuesday to meet the candidates. Groups from Penn Township, North Huntingdon and the Rostraver area plan to host a joint event Wednesday night at Stratigos Banquet Centre in North Huntingdon. Jobe said nearly all of the GOP’s declared candidates for county offices are expected to attend and speak at the fundraiser, which costs $35 per person to attend.
Cerilli on Tuesday said her political views have not changed. She denied any effort to adopt the GOP’s message.
“This is who I am, and these are the traditional values most Democrats have in Westmoreland County,” Cerilli said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .