Former congressman now vying to be lieutenant governor

April 21, 2014
Rep. Mark Critz

After losing the congressional seat that he held for just a little over two years to Keith Rothfus in 2012, Mark Critz was being urged by many supporters to jump into the fray again this year for a rematch.

Critz declined, citing not so much a lack of desire but the hard, cold realities of politics.

“I just didn’t see it,” Critz said. In a talk with the editorial board of the Observer-Reporter Monday morning, the 52-year-old Johnstown Democrat explained that a fresh challenge to the Republican Rothfus would involve the same dynamics as two years ago and, more than likely, the same outcome.

“I don’t want to run for something for the sake of running. I want to see a path to victory.”

Instead of going after his old congressional seat, Critz set his sights in a different direction – and some would say he set his sights lower – by instead joining the field of candidates vying to be Pennsylvania’s next lieutenant governor.

Though the lieutenant governor’s office has few constitutional duties beyond serving as president of the state Senate and heading the board of pardons, Critz said that, given the breadth of his political experience, he can help carry the water if a Democrat ends up becoming governor next January.

In order to become the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, Critz will have to break out of a field of five candidates that includes Brandon Neuman, the state representative from North Strabane Township, along with state Sen. Michael J. Stack III of Philadelphia; Mark Smith, a Bradford County commissioner; and Brad Koplinski, a city councilman in Harrisburg.

Critz sees Stack as his main competition, thanks to the large vote totals he will rack up around Philadelphia. He also worries that Neuman, the other candidate from the western part of the state, could cut into his final tally. Nonetheless, he believes that, thanks to name recognition and his name appearing second on the May primary ballot, he could well garner enough votes from this side of the state to put him first across the finish line.

Moreover, Critz says he will provide regional balance to a ticket that will be headed by someone from eastern Pennsylvania, whether that’s front-runner Tom Wolf, a York businessman and former state revenue secretary, or state Treasurer Rob McCord, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz or Katie McGinty, the former secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Critz was the district director for U.S. Rep. John Murtha and became the congressman for the 12th congressional district in a special election shortly after Murtha’s death in 2010. He won the seat again in his own right that November.

Critz was the congressman for parts of Washington and Greene counties only briefly – after 2010, the 12th district was redrawn so it stretched from Johnstown to the northern part of Allegheny County and into Beaver County, leaving almost all of Washington and Greene Counties to U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy. Critz managed to defeat fellow congressman Jason Altmire in the 2012 primary contest, but got 48 percent of the vote to Rothfus’ 52 percent in the fall general election.

Since leaving Washington, D.C., Critz worked as a political consultant before devoting his energies to the lieutenant governor’s race.

“It seems a very natural fit,” Critz said. “I don’t need accolades. I don’t need pats on my back … I see my role as being like Joe Biden’s role, and being an asset to the governor.”

Brad Hundt came to the Observer-Reporter in 1998 after stints at newspapers in Georgia and Michigan. Brad holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from George State University in Atlanta, Ga., and a master’s in popular culture studies from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. He has covered the arts and entertainment for the O-R, and also worked as a municipal beat reporter. He now serves as editorial page editor.

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