Neuman wins Republican nomination, locks up judicial seat

May 18, 2017
A count of absentee ballots Thursday in the Washington County elections office broadened state Rep. Brandon Neuman’s advantage over Phil Melograne in the race for the Republican nomination for a judicial seat. - Barbara Miller/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

State Rep. Brandon Neuman increased his margin of votes to 73 on the Republican ballot Thursday morning during a count of absentee ballots in the Washington County elections office, solidifying his lead over his nearest challenger, Phil Melograne, in the race for Washington County judge.

Neuman emerged Wednesday morning with a 44-vote lead, but the outcome was in suspense until 146 GOP absentee ballots were tabulated.

Neuman handily won the Democratic nomination on election night in a five-way race.

All candidates cross-filed.

In the elections office, the atmosphere was congenial as representatives of the two Democratic candidates observed the vote count of both Democratic and Republican absentee ballots.

Candidates have been known to monitor the absentee balloting-counting process in person, but neither of the top contenders made the trip to the elections office for the two-hour scanning process.

Neuman, reached between events at Central Assembly of God School in Chartiers Township and a United Way gathering at a Cecil Township banquet hall, said his campaign manager phoned him with the news.

“Called me ‘Judge,’ so, absolutely, that’s it,” said Neuman, who first ran in 2010 for state representative and entered the judicial race with a large measure of name recognition.

During last year’s contentious presidential election year, Neuman ran for his legislative seat unopposed.

“We talked to Republicans and Democrats at their doorsteps and on their porches,” Neuman said of the race for judge.

“We knew we had a good chance for both sides.”

Neuman will have to resign his legislative seat before taking the oath in January as a Washington County Common Pleas Court judge.

It’s up to the speaker of the House to call a special election for Neuman’s Canonsburg-Washington legislative seat, a timetable for that election being triggered from the date, as yet unknown, of Neuman’s resignation.

Melograne, appointed to the Washington County bench by Gov. Ed Rendell during the same year that Neuman made his first bid for the 48th District seat, issued a statement, saying, “While I am disappointed with the results, I am proud of the campaign we ran and grateful for those who volunteered their time, offered encouragement and cast their votes for me. I congratulate Brandon for his victory.”

The Peters Township resident was the only candidate in the Washington County judicial race who could claim previous experience as a judge.

All totals are unofficial until reviewed by a nine-member canvass board and certified by the Washington County Elections Board, but here are the numbers on the Democratic ballot: Neuman, 5,993; Kristin Clingerman, 3,761; Melograne, 2,751; Charles Kurowski, 2,162; and Joyce Hatfield-Wise, 770.

On the Republican ballot, the candidates stacked up this way: Neuman, 2,801; Melograne, 2,728; Clingerman, 2,010; Kurowski, 962; and Hatfield-Wise, 688.

The deadline for independent candidates to file for the Nov. 7 general election is Aug. 1.

Gov. Tom Wolf last year appointed local attorney Damon Faldowski to a vacancy on the six-member Washington County bench that occurred when then-President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca departed in 2015. Faldowski declined to run as an incumbent for a 10-year term.

Washington County Elections Director Larry Spahr noted voter turnout Tuesday was slightly more than 19 percent of 134,907 registered voters.

“This is what it comes down to,” he said while discussing a number of close local races in addition to the Republican judicial nomination. “People said, ‘What does it matter? My vote’s not going to count.’

“Well, it does.”

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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