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Normally 'sleepy' Pennsylvania lieutenant governor primary packed with personalities

| Sunday, May 13, 2018, 12:51 a.m.
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa.
Associated Press
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa.
TOP: Nina Ahmad, Kathi Cozzone, John Fetterman; MIDDLE: Ray Sosa, Mike Stack, Jeff Bartos; BOTTOM: Kathy Coder, Peg Luksik, Diana Irey Vaughan
TOP: Nina Ahmad, Kathi Cozzone, John Fetterman; MIDDLE: Ray Sosa, Mike Stack, Jeff Bartos; BOTTOM: Kathy Coder, Peg Luksik, Diana Irey Vaughan

Nine people — five Democrats and four Republicans — are pursuing the traditionally low-profile office of lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania this year.

Some of them are dumping money into their campaigns. Three of the Democrats are expected to spend a combined total of nearly $1 million on TV ads by Tuesday's election, while overall spending by Jeff Bartos, a Republican businessman, had surpassed $900,000 at the end of April.

Democrats started jumping into the race after a scandal that resulted in incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Stack publicly apologizing for verbally mistreating state workers. Gov. Tom Wolf ordered an Office of Inspector General investigation of his conduct but hasn't publicly released the report the office produced. Wolf hasn't endorsed a candidate in the race.

Two of the Republican candidates have said they are each campaigning with two of the candidates for governor, despite the fact that in Pennsylvania lieutenant governor nominees are elected separately in primaries from governor nominees. Whoever wins the primary in each party will appear on a single ticket with the nominees for governor in the fall.

The lieutenant governor is first in the line of succession when the governor no longer can serve. The position pays about $160,000 per year. The officeholder serves as president of the state Senate, where he or she can cast tie-breaking votes, and as chair of the Board of Pardons.

“I've never seen a race like this for lieutenant governor,” said Chris Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allen­town. “I end up talking about them every few years, and it's usually: Does anybody know they're happening at all? They're sleepy races for a sleepy position, but this year for the individuals involved, there are a lot of personalities and there's a lot of underlying stories that I think has made it more dramatic than you might normally see.”

Borick said people typically jump into the lieutenant governor's race as a stepping stone to higher office or as an end-of-career move to build status.

The candidates:

Democrats

• Former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Nina Ahmad: Ahmad, of Philadelphia, immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh when she was 21, after living through the nation's war for independence. She became a biochemist and entered politics during Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign.

• Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone: As a commissioner, Cozzone has made recommendations to improve voting technology and has “advocated for pipeline transparency” surrounding the Marcellus shale natural gas development, according to her campaign website.

• Braddock Mayor John Fetterman: Fetterman ran for U.S. Senate in 2016, finishing third in the Democratic primary for the seat while surprising many observers by collecting 20 percent of the vote.

• Montgomery County businessman Ray Sosa: Sosa said on his website that he served on emergency management and human rights advocacy committees for previous governors. He works as a banker and insurance agent.

• Lt. Gov. Mike Stack: Stack, of Philadelphia, has focused in campaign ads on his National Guard service and his “F” rating from the NRA. He has touted the “Pathways to Pardons” program as lieutenant governor.

Republicans

• Businessman Jeff Bartos: Bartos, a Montgomery County real estate developer, abandoned a U.S. Senate run to announce he would pursue election as an unofficial running mate of gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner.

• Businesswoman Kathy Coder: Coder, of Bellevue, has served on the Republican State Committee and Bellevue Borough Council and is a founding member of Allegheny County's “Congress of Neighboring Communities” program, which addresses common regional issues such as transportation.

• Activist Peg Luksik: Luksik, of Cambria County, has championed anti-abortion policies and served as an adviser to President Reagan's Commission on the Family.

• Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan: Vaughan, of Eighty Four, is the longest-tenured commissioner in Washington County history. She is running as an unofficial running mate of gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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