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Marolt tops Porterfield

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2003

Republican Terry Marolt capped his political comeback Tuesday by winning a seat on the Westmoreland County board of commissioners, blocking the return to public life of former state Sen. Eugene Porterfield.

Unofficial results show that Marolt regained the seat he held for more than 13 years and will join Democrats Tom Balya and Tom Ceraso for the next four years in running county government. Balya and Ceraso led the ticket, claiming the top two vote totals.

According to unofficial election results, Marolt received 32,593 votes while Porterfield garnered 29,233 votes in the race for the third board seat. Balya received 36,517 votes and Ceraso got 35,934 votes. Independent candidate Jim Gebicki finished fifth with 3,874 votes. The top three vote-getters won seats on the board.

"I think the message that really hit was the no-tax-increase pledge," Marolt said, referring to a key part of his platform in which he promised he would not support a property tax hike without approval from the public via a referendum.

Tuesday's vote will return Marolt to the office he held until the end of 1999. At that time Marolt did not run for a fourth full term and instead took a controversial job as head of a private, nonprofit subsidiary of the county housing authority, where he has worked for the last three years.

Marolt, 57, of Ligonier Township, celebrated last night's apparent victory at home.

"I'm very grateful to the voters. We put out more effort than we have in any of our three previous elections," Marolt said.

The race between Porterfield and Marolt caused a split within the Republican Party, with some high-ranking GOP committee members choosing to endorse only Marolt for election.

Porterfield tried to return to public office after an eight-year hiatus. He had served two terms as a state senator before losing a heated Democratic primary in 1996 to then-state Rep. Allen Kukovich, of Manor.

Porterfield, 56, of Hempfield, switched his registration to Republican in 2000 and again ran unsuccessfully against Kukovich.

Since his ouster from the Senate, Porterfield worked as a computer analyst and assessor for a Michigan company that handles property tax reassessment. He now owns his own computer consulting company.

By 11:30 p.m., Porterfield conceded defeat and blamed Marolt and the GOP leadership for failing to evenly support both Republican candidates.

"It's a shame. We could have had two Republicans in the courthouse," Porterfield said. "I feel I was let down by some people in the party. I'm sure some will be looking for changes in party leadership."

Meanwhile, the Democrats celebrated their continued majority at the courthouse. Balya and Ceraso held court last night at the Greensburg Moose before a large group of supporters.

Both said the vote totals reflect a public that is satisfied with their job performance.

"I think it's just an affirmation that voters think we are working hard to try to serve them well," Balya said.

Ceraso agreed: "In a general sense, the voters were happy with the job I did over the last four years. I will try to continue to do what I've always been doing there."

Balya, 46, of Greensburg, won his third term in office. He was first elected in 1995 and previously worked as an aide to former U.S. Congressman Ron Klink.

For the last four years, Balya has served as board chairman.

Ceraso, 41, of New Kensington, will begin his second term in January. Before he was first elected in 1999, Ceraso worked as a union official with the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.

Democrats also appeared to win all five row offices on yesterday's ballot. All the races were uncontested, so barring any unexpected write-in efforts, incumbent Sheriff Chris Scherer, Treasurer Kathalyn O'Brien, Recorder of Deeds Tom Murphy and Register of Wills Earl Keim retained their seats. Jeannette City Councilman Carmen Pedicone was likely to win the job of county controller, replacing incumbent Jeff Pavetti, who did not run for re-election.

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