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County Democrats forgo endorsements

Rich Cholodofsky
| Saturday, April 28, 2012, 6:56 a.m.

Westmoreland County Democrats voted Saturday not to endorse candidates for the May 19 primary.

Less than a third of the more than 600-member county committee attended yesterday's Democratic convention in Greensburg Salem High School, where it was decided that the party would hold an open primary.

The move bucks recent tradition in which Democrats have endorsed candidates in countywide races.

Committee members voted 110 to 77 to hold an open primary.

The decision means that neither incumbent District Attorney John Peck nor his challenger, Greensburg attorney Jim Antoniono, will have the endorsement of the party, something both candidates had sought.

But both claimed yesterday the open primary would benefit their campaigns.

"I think this is a victory. A 14-year incumbent doesn't get the endorsement, it's a real victory," Antoniono said.

Peck, who is facing his first primary challenge after three terms in office, countered that Antoniono had actively sought the endorsement for weeks and the committee's decision would not impact the incumbent's campaign.

"I felt that had there been an endorsement I would have won it. This won't hurt my campaign," Peck said.

Democratic Committee Chairman Dante Bertani called for the party to endorse candidates at the start of yesterday's convention and said he was surprised by the vote to hold an open primary.

The move means the party will not take a stand in the highly contested judicial race this spring in which there are six Democrats as part of an eight-person slate seeking two seats on the county's Court of Common Pleas.

Judicial candidates yesterday, including Sheriff Chris Scherer, said they supported the move to an open primary.

"It's a good thing," Scherer said. "I didn't push for the endorsement. I feel more confident than ever about the success of my campaign."

Another candidate, Mike Pacek, an assistant District Attorney, said he favored the open primary.

"I think it's the most fair and the party isn't divided and fractured," Pacek said.

Last spring, Democrats held a divisive convention when committee members by a slight margin endorsed assistant Public Defender Chris Huffman in his primary bid for state senate.

Huffman is a candidate this year for judge and said he also supported the open primary.

"I think a judicial election should be open. It's about qualifications and we should put aside politics," Huffman said. "It's not about who you know."

Meagan Bilik DeFazio said she was not surprised by the committee's decision to forgo endorsements, although believed she was in position to secure support from the party.

"I'm not opposed to an open primary," Bilik DeFazio said.

Two other Democrats are on the ballot for judge, J. Eric Barchiesi and J. Russell McGregor.

All judicial candidates have cross-filed, meaning they are also seeking the Republican Party nomination. Republican candidates Michele Bononi and Harry Smail Jr. will appear on both party ballots as well.

The Republicans have already said they will not endorse candidates.

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