No contest for Washington County judgeships, sheriff
Aug. 1 was a fairly typical summer day, with a high of 80 degrees and a low of a comfortable 63. First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas was finishing up his work at the courthouse in advance of the Washington County Bench-Bar Conference at The Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
But the day was worth noting in one sense other than the fine weather, at least for one incumbent officeholder and two judicial hopefuls.
The Washington County elections office closed Aug. 1 without a third-party or independent candidate filing for either judge or sheriff. It would take an unprecedented write-in avalanche or another unimaginable set of circumstances to change the outcome of the Tuesday’s contest for those offices.
Lucas, 45, and District Judge Valarie Costanzo, 43, each sewed up the Republican and Democratic nominations for judge in May from a field of eight candidates for two vacancies on the Washington County bench because of the retirements last year of Janet Moschetta Bell and Paul Pozonsky.
Pozonsky is facing a host of criminal charges filed in connection with alleged wrongdoing while in office.
It is, however, an election year, and the campaign continues, even for those who are unopposed.
“I’ve been going to events, just not with same frequency I think we all did in the primary election cycle,” said Lucas in late October before running in the Canon-McMillan Scholarship Foundation’s “Jack-o-Lantern Jog.”
The hilly terrain of North Strabane Township likely had more ups and downs than the fall campaign, which is a victory lap for the two judicial candidates.
Costanzo wrote in response to an inquiry, “Obviously, I’m very thankful to have secured the nomination of both parties. I greatly appreciate the support I received from both Democrats and Republicans throughout Washington County.
“When I announced my candidacy in January, I said that there was no place for partisan politics in judicial races and that I would be reaching out to both sides of the aisle. From the primary election results, it appears that the voters of Washington County agreed with that sentiment. I’m very proud of the positive campaign we ran and I look forward to serving on Washington County’s bench along with Mike Lucas and the other fine judges.”
Costanzo, an former assistant district attorney who has been a magisterial district judge for the past 14 years in Cecil, Mt. Pleasant and Robinson townships and McDonald Borough. The sole woman in the judicial primary, she had 20.9 percent of the Republican vote while Lucas was a close second with 20.2 percent. On the Democrat ballot, Lucas finished with 25.9 percent while Costanzo had 25.7.
Judges are elected to 10-year terms with their salaries, paid by state taxpayers, currently pegged at $173,271.
In the most recent round of campaign finance forms filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State, Lucas’ committee ended the Oct. 21 reporting period with a cash balance of $454. His fundraising ceased, and he spent $2,781 over the summer and fall on advertising and sponsoring a roast, two picnics and a tee at a golf tournament. He placed his campaign signs in storage at a cost of $174 in July.
Costanzo’s committee, meanwhile, had an ending balance of $1,769. She raised just more than $1,100, contributed to several organizations and events totaling $1,275 and repaid a $10,000 loan to Eileen Costanzo. She reported an outstanding debt of $20,000 in the self-financing of her judicial campaign.
Lucas said he’s enjoyed traveling to parts of the county and meeting people he’s never met before this fall and summer. “It’s nice to go to these things, not because you have to campaign, but just because you want to go,” he said.
The two judicial hopefuls are not the only unopposed candidates running countywide.
Sheriff Samuel Romano, 48, of Canton Township, underwent wrist surgery this week.
“I wouldn’t want to shake anybody’s hand right now,” Romano said Wednesday when he was back on the job.
Not that he has to.
Romano had a long night May 17, 2005, in a three-way race for the Democratic nomination for sheriff, but he hasn’t experienced a suspenseful election night since.
Running unopposed has become the norm for Romano since he defeated Republican Ralph McCullough in November 2005. He has had no opponent in either the primary or general election contests of 2009 or 2013.
He attributed his lack of opposition to “hard work, getting up and coming to work every day.” Like other Washington County row offices, the sheriff’s salary is $73,544.
Three of Washington County’s magisterial district judges are running unopposed for six-year terms that pay $83,639. Incumbents appearing on the ballot are Larry W. Hopkins, whose district includes Allenport, Charleroi, Dunlevy, Elco, Fallowfield, North Charleroi, Roscoe, Speers, Stockdale and Twilight; David W. Mark, Canton, Canonsburg, Chartiers and Houston; and Joshua P. Kanalis, California, Centerville, Coal Center, East Bethlehem, Long Branch and West Brownsville.