Buzz had his annual post Memorial Day computer geek retreat in upstate New York, so we've fallen a little behind, but let's take one final look at the May primary in Luzerne County.
For the first time in a long time, the Luzerne County GOP decided to endorse candidates in a primary election. We covered the GOP endorsement in a prior blog. They endorsed in two uncontested contests --- Register of Wills and Jury commissioner --- along with two judicial endorsements and an endorsement in both the Prothonotary and and Controller races. They went 2 and 2.
When Terry Casey became the head of the Luzerne County GOP last year, he promised a new revitalized GOP. Things looked promising at the beginning of this year with the opening of a county headquarters, the hiring of a full time executive director, and getting Karl Rove to speak to a large crowd at its annual dinner. The endorsement of primary candidates also seemed like a good start.
With the GOP hurting badly on a national level, the myriad of Democratic scandals in Luzerne County gives promise to the county GOP. Since the county is so predominately Democratic, even to the point that such former GOP strongholds like Kingston and Forty Fort have switched from red to blue in the registration department, it is no wonder that all of the tainted public officials so far are Democrats. What a time for a county GOP resurgence.
The county GOP endorsed the only 2 registered Republicans out of seventeen who sought the judge seats. Attorney Richard Hughes won the top spot, just barely, on the GOP side. Attorney Mike Pendolphi, the other GOPer finished a dismal 14 out of 17. On the Democratic side, Hughes finished 14 and Pendolphi finished dead last. It doesn't look the the county Democrats are willing to put their full faith and support behind a Republican. Hughes is going to have trouble this fall, but that's the subject of another posting in the future.
In the controller and prothonotary races, the county GOP endorsed Carolee Medico Olenginski for proth and Attorney Nanda Palissery for controller. Olenginski won, but Palissery finished fourth in a five person race.
OVC knows that both Walter Mitchell and Nanda Palissery were recruited by the county GOP leadership to run for the respective offices. This recruitment was accompanied with promises of endorsements, limiting opposition, organizational support, and mostly importantly, money. The leadership failed to secure the endorsement for Mitchell, and failed to provide financial or any other support for the endorsed candidates. In the proth's race it was mostly due to lackluster enthusiasm for the endorsed candidate, but in the controller's race it just seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm in general.
The Protyhonotary race was an uphill battle for Mitchell. Olenginski had a great edge in name recognition throughout the county, having been the elected prothonotary for four years from 1998 to 2002. She also was able to portray herself as a victim of the corrupt Democratic machine. Without financial or organizational backing, Mitchell's campaign was doomed from the start.
Olenginski faces political newcomer Nancy McGinley Bellas in the fall, and we believe this may be the race to watch. Eventhough Olenginski's tenure at the prothonotary's office was filled with what we may term "erratic" and "eccentric" behavior, her public image is that of someone who was victimized by the good ol' boy network. Olenginski has a good chance of become Luzerne County's last "elected" prothonotary. We say "elected," because home rule will almost certainly eliminate this as an elected position.
The controller's race is a different story. Bob Morgan faced no opposition in the primary and appears to be a strong candidate. Walter Griffith, on the other hand, is a poor candidate whose only appeal is his misleading pledge to be a "full time" controller, and the fact that he has read the county code from cover to cover. We hate to break this to him, but there's a big difference between reading and understanding. Where we have no doubt that Griffith read the code from cover to cover, his actions throughout the past few years have shown, also with no doubt that he does not comprehend or understand what he read.
Morgan will outspend Griifth by a considerable margin. He has the ability to raise a lot of money, whereas Griffith does not. Griffith is thought of as something of a parlor joke within the GOP money circle in Luzerne County, so don't expect the big checks to flow into the Griifth war chest.
Griffith won the primary on name recognition alone. His name has been on the ballot and in the news for the past few years. The name reconition factor is obvious by the fact that former Democratic county commissioner Edd Brominski finished a strong second on the GOP side. Voters knew the name.
Voters focused primarily and almost exclusively on the judicial races, and we'd be willing to wager the UNIVAC 3000 on the fact that most voters didn't even realize there was a race for controller or prothonotary on the ballot until the screen appeared on the ES&S iVotronic touch screen voting system. In these types of races, name recognition always triumphs.
Griffith will be outmatched by organization and money come November, and Bob Morgan will cruise to victory. The GOP missed an opportunity here to take over the controller seat, which in all likelihood will remain an elected position when the county final turns to home rule.