Four years ago, we made no endorsement in the contest between Republican Gene Vittone and Democrat Dave DiCarlo to become Washington County’s district attorney. Not because we believed neither candidate was worthy, but because we thought both candidates were of such a high caliber that voters could not make a bad decision either way.
Vittone ended up winning that election by just a couple hundred votes out of more than 40,000 cast. He has been the district attorney for four years now, has amassed a record, and once again faces a formidable Democratic opponent in Peter Marcoline, a Washington attorney who made a bid to become a judge on the county’s Court of Common Pleas two years ago.
As was the case in 2011, we believe both candidates are solid.
But this time, we feel we can make an endorsement. Vittone has proven himself to be a capable administrator of the district attorney’s office and an able leader of the county’s prosecutors. We believe voters should allow him another four years as district attorney.
Vittone has been district attorney at a moment when Washington County – and, indeed, the commonwealth and other parts of the United States – are in the grip of an epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse. The epidemic generates other forms of crime. It has certainly increased the workoad in Vittone’s office, and both he and Marcoline say the county should add to the stable of assistant district attorneys who are working in the office. Also, both candidates advocate punishing dealers while steering addicts toward intensive treatment and recovery programs. We also believe this is a prudent approach to a problem that nevertheless defies easy solutions.
The district attorney has been dogged in attempts to educate residents about the dangers of addiction, and his office has supplied the overdose-reversing drug naloxone to law-enforcement officials and first responders in the county, and trained them in its use. The effort has been funded by money forfeited by drug dealers and, according to Vittone, has so far saved 16 lives.
One aspect of Vittone’s tenure that has given us pause were a handful of case dismissals that happened in the county in 2014 because they were not brought to trial in a timely fashion. The defendants were awaiting trial on such serious charges as attempted murder and robbery. At the time, Vittone said a new case-management system was needed and the number of dismissals in Washington County was not out of line with what was happening in other counties in Pennsylvania. Marcoline has used the number of dismissals as a campaign issue, saying he would reduce their number. In a talk with our editorial board last week, Vittone said the dismissals were the result of a personnel issue, and, in fact, a couple of his personnel decisions are among the things that, in hindsight, he would do over. Should he receive another term, this is something we will be watching closely, in the hope that such dismissals do, in fact, decrease.
We also have been impressed by Vittone’s transparency during his four years as district attorney, the energy and enthusiasm he applies to the job and the depth of his knowledge. In a discussion about the county’s drug problems, he cited studies and books that were clearly “extracurricular.” Vittone is not simply a 9-to-5 district attorney.
We believe Gene Vittone deserves another opportunity to be the county’s top law enforcer. Following the single term of Steve Toprani, which was itself preceded by the controversial 20-year tenure of the late John Pettit, Vittone has brought continuity and stability to the district attorney’s office.
Voters in Washington County should give him another four years on the job.