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Saturday, May 25th 2013

2:39 PM

Moving on to November ...

Another primary election night is in the books. Give me a couple of months and then I'll start preparing for the general election in November.

I've been doing this election coordinating thing for something like 15 years now. Maybe I'm getting burnt out, but Tuesday's municipal primary just did not excite me at all. I gather the voters weren't very excited either. Turnout, which is usually low in these "off" years, remained low (or lower than usual), even in Scranton where conventional wisdom led many people to believe that ballot questions and a contested mayor's race might generate some pop at the polls.

The mayor's race in Scranton was one of several races we focused on in Lackawanna County - four candidates on the Dem side, two on the GOP. Even though there were four Democrats on the ticket, it looked like a two-person race involving former councilman and current tax collector Bill Courtright and relative newcomer Liz Randol. Randol made some waves in 2011 when she came within a few hundred votes of knocking a sitting county commissioner off the ticket. This time, the margin was wider as Courtright won by nearly 1,000 votes. Randol hoped for a write-in victory on the GOP side, but it appears that Gary Lewis (who was on the ballot) is safe as the Republican nominee. Scranton is overwhelmingly Democratic, so Lewis will have an uphill battle against Courtright.

Most of the other action on Tuesday night was also in Lackawanna County. Voters said "yes" to a ballot question asking if they wanted a commission to study whether the county needs a new form of government. Chuck Volpe and his supporters from FixLackawanna.com  won a supermajority on the seven-member study commission. It remains to be seen what they'll recommend, but it's a pretty safe bet they'll want to do away with the three commissioner format (as Luzerne County did two years ago).

Four other ballot questions in Lackawanna County dealt with doing away with various row offices, including sheriff, as elected positions. Voters said "no" to all of those, so the offices and the people running for them are safe for now.

Things got a little interesting in Luzerne County where the Controller's race was concerned. Incumbent Republican Walter Griffith is running for a second term. He faced Karen Ceppa-Hirko in the primary. On the Democratic side, former county commissioner and current county council member Stephen A. Urban was opposed by Conyngham Township tax collector Michelle Bednar. Based on name recognition, I figured a Griffith vs. Urban contest in November. That thought didn't change a few days before the election when Griffith got charged with violating state wiretapping laws. Griffith still won his primary easily; his reputation as a "watchdog" trumped any concerns about his alleged illegal recording of phone conversations. On the Dem side, though, Bednar pulled off the victory. Urban seems to run for everything (his campaign signs just had his name on them - no office). Maybe voters are telling him it's time to stop. Urban still has two years left in his term on county council. We'll see what he does in 2015.

As for the Griffith-Bednar race in November, I think it's tough to call right now. Bednar is a fresh face in a county with a Democratic majority of voters. A lot, I think, will depend on how Griffith's case plays out. He's been pretty much MIA since his arraignment, but he sent out a statement after his win Tuesday night. It talked a lot about voters knowing he's watching out for them. The statement didn't mention the wiretapping thing at all.

The other interesting primary race happened in Wyoming County, where George Skumanick was trying to take a step toward getting back in the DA's office. Voters booted Skumanick in 2009 after he came down hard on some teenagers who got caught "sexting." Skumanick eked out a win in the primary that year, but lost in November to Democrat Jeff Mitchell. Four years later, Mitchell ran unopposed in the primary and voters have apparently still not forgiven Skumanick. He lost the GOP primary to attorney Steve Franko by a margin of almost 2-1 margin. My sources tell me that Franko and his family are well-known in Wyoming County, and that county trends Republican. Mitchell could be in for a fight in November.

At least I'll have that race a couple others to keep things interesting.
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