HARRISBURG – In Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary, most of the action will be in Democrat-controlled cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton and Harrisburg.
In Philadelphia, City Controller Alan Butkovitz faces two Democratic opponents in his bid for a third term.
Pittsburgh’s ballot features a four-way Democratic contest for the nomination to succeed departing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty’s decision to step down after three terms spawned a four-way Democratic race and a two-way fight for the GOP nod.
In the debt-laden state capital, Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson is hoping to overcome three primary challengers so she can seek a second term in November. York Mayor Kim Bracey also faces a Democrat foe.
The only statewide contest is between Allegheny County Judge Jack McVay Jr. and Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Joseph C. Waters Jr. for the Democratic nomination for an opening on the state Superior Court.
With most of the balloting limited to registered Democrats and Republicans, four out of five voters are expected to be doing something besides going to the polls Tuesday. Only in unique situations, such as the special elections being held in Allegheny and York counties to fill two vacancies in the state House of Representatives, may independent voters cast ballots.
“I hate to say that, but I think 20 (percent turnout) would be good,” said Christopher Borick, a pollster and political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
While the mayoral races and other local contests for municipal, judicial and school board posts have limited statewide interest, the outcomes can seriously affect residents of those communities, Borick said.
“These local (elected officials) really do make a difference in daily lives, your roads, your schools, your local development,” he said. “You keep hoping that voters see that.”
In the Superior Court race, both of the Democratic candidates and Vic Stabile, a Harrisburg lawyer who is unopposed for the Republican nomination, have received favorable recommendations from a state bar panel that reviews judicial candidates.
Waters, 60, is a retired Philadelphia police captain who put in more than 21 years on the force and will mark four years on the bench in July.
McVay, 56, a Pittsburgh resident and a licensed pharmacist, is serving his sixth year in Allegheny County’s family-court division.
The seat they are seeking was vacated last year by now-Senior Judge John Musmanno when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
The 15-judge Superior Court is the state’s main intermediate appeals court. It handles a wide range of criminal and civil cases. The annual salary for a Superior Court judge is currently $188,337.
Philadelphia Democrats will decide whether to nominate Butkovitz for another four-year term as city controller or replace him with tax reform advocate Brett Mandel or former city law department attorney Mark Zecca. The Philadelphia Inquirer has endorsed Mandel, citing his independence from the city’s Democratic establishment and his fresh ideas for the job.
The candidates in Pittsburgh’s Democratic mayoral primary are state Auditor General Jack Wagner, city Councilman William Peduto, state Rep. Jake Wheatley and community activist A.J. Richardson. Both of the city’s daily newspapers, the Post-Gazette and the Tribune-Review, have thrown their editorial support behind Wagner, who also ran for governor in 2010 and previously served in the state Senate.
In the Scranton mayoral contest, the Democratic field includes city tax collector Bill Courtright, former University of Scranton women’s center director Elizabeth Randol, former city community development director Joseph Cardamone and truck driver Lee Morgan. Financial consultant Garett Lewis and entrepreneur Marcel Lisi are competing for the GOP nomination.
In financially troubled Harrisburg, the only municipality under a state takeover, Thompson faces potentially strong challenges from bookstore owner Eric Papenfuse and city Controller Dan Miller. Former state employee Lewis Butts Jr. also is running.
The Harrisburg region’s newspaper endorsed Papenfuse in the days leading up to the primary. The Patriot-News cited Thompson’s accomplishments but called her “a polarizing figure prone to public missteps and a seemingly uncontrollable propensity to blame others for every problem or questionable decision.”
In York, Bracey is opposed by City Council President Carol Hill-Evans.
The two vacant House seats being filled in special elections Tuesday are the result of two Democratic representatives running simultaneously for re-election and for higher office in 2012. The winners will finish terms that run through November 2014.
Former Rep. Eugene DePasquale of York County was elected state auditor general and former Rep. Matt Smith of Allegheny County was elected to the state Senate.