Municipal Election Recap
On Tuesday, November 2, voters across the Keystone State headed to the ballot box for General Election Day in Pennsylvania to choose candidates for a variety of county and local offices, including school board directors, mayors, and judges. Voters statewide a picked a new justice for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, as well as judges for two other powerful appellate courts. There will also be two new legislators in the House of Representatives.
This year’s election is commonly referred to as an “off-election year” because there are no federal or state offices on the ballot. However, this year there were two special elections in the state House of Representatives that coincided with the general election. Historically, there is lighter voter turnout in off-election years.
Republicans may sweep all statewide judicial races pending one seat on the Commonwealth Court that is still too close to call. Meanwhile Democrats retained two State House seats in special elections. Three sitting state legislators will be moving on to local offices. State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny) won his bid to become Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor and State Representative Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne) won her race to become a judge in the Court of Common Pleas in Luzerne County. State Senator John Sabatina (D-Philadelphia) won a seat on the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia County. Rep. Toohil currently serves as Majority Chair of the House Government Oversight Committee and Sen. Sabatina serves as Democratic Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. The cities of Allentown and Harrisburg are also poised to have new mayors. Click here to see the Department of State’s unofficial results on the elections.
STATEWIDE JUDICIAL RACES
State Supreme Court (one open seat)
Republican Kevin Brobson beat Democrat Maria McLaughlin in a close contest for the open state Supreme Court seat. Brobson has been a Commonwealth Court judge since 2010. Previously, he worked for the Harrisburg law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. There he handled commercial and insurance litigation in both state and federal courts. McLaughlin is from Philadelphia and has been serving on Pennsylvania Superior Court since 2018. Before that, she served as a judge in Philadelphia’s family court and as an assistant district attorney. The seat is open due to the retirement of Republican Justice Thomas Saylor. The election does not change the balance of power on the 7-member court, where Democrats currently hold five of seven seats. But the new justice will have a hand in what cases the court accepts and will weigh in on significant matters in the coming months.
This highly-watched race underscores the importance of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which has been the final arbiter in recent years of key issues surrounding elections and redistricting. The court chooses which appeals it wants to hear – typically only a few hundred cases per year — often ones with significant statewide implications. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the Commonwealth.
State Superior Court (one open seat)
In the Superior Court race, Republican Megan Sullivan defeated Democrat Timika Lane. Sullivan has served as a deputy attorney general since 2017. Prior to joining the attorney general’s office, Sullivan worked as an attorney for Chester County, West Chester University, and two private firms. In her 20 years as an attorney, Sullivan has handled both criminal and civil matters. With the attorney general’s office, she investigates and prosecutes insurance fraud.
Lane has served on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas since 2014. Prior to her term, she served as chief counsel to state Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) and as the Democratic executive director of the Senate State Government Committee.
The Superior Court rules on criminal and civil appeals from the lower Courts of Common Pleas, and it does not have discretion in the cases it chooses — making it the busiest of the three appellate courts. Judges serve initial 10-year terms, then face a retention vote, which usually succeeds. There is one seat open on Superior Court because Republican Judge Susan Gantman is retiring.
Commonwealth Court (two open seats)
Republican Stacy Wallace won one of the two open spots on the bench and Republican incumbent Commonwealth Court Judge Drew Crompton was successful in his bid to retain his seat.
Crompton was appointed temporarily to the court by Governor Wolf in 2019 and had to run to secure a full term. Before being appointed, Crompton served as chief of staff and counsel to former state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson). He was also general counsel to the Senate Republican Caucus. Wallace currently practices at her own firm in Bradford and is the president of the McKean County Bar Association.
Democrats Lori Dumas and David Spurgeon were also on the ballot. Dumas has served as a Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas judge since 2002. Spurgeon has served as an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge since 2016.
Like the Superior Court, the Commonwealth Court is an intermediate appellate court, but it exclusively handles legal matters involving government entities. Judges serve initial 10-year terms, then face a retention vote, which usually succeeds.
Of the notable mayoral races, state Rep. Ed Gainey (D) will be Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor after defeating retired police Officer Tony Moreno. Gainey ousted incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto in the Democratic primary. Gainey has served as state representative for the 24th Pennsylvania House District since 2013 and has become a well-known ally on issues like criminal justice reform, marijuana policy, labor, and public transit. Gainey campaigned on a new vision for Pittsburgh that vision helped him oust two-term incumbent mayor Bill Peduto in the Democratic primary. It has been reported that he may choose Rep. jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) for a job in his administration.
Harrisburg is also getting a new mayor. Current City Council President Wanda Williams (D) easily defeated Republican Timothy Rowbottom and incumbent Mayor Eric Papenfuse. The Democratic primary for Harrisburg Mayor back in May was a close race, with Williams beating incumbent Papenfuse by 46 votes. After a concession by Papenfuse, he then decided to launch a write-in campaign. The heavily Democratic city has not elected a Republican as mayor since 1977. Williams was elected to City Council in 2005 and has been the president for the last 12 years.
In Allentown, former economic development leader Matt Tuerk (D) is claiming victory over Republican Tim Ramos to be the new mayor of Pennsylvania’s third most populous city. This was Ramos’ second run for mayor after losing in 2019 to then-interim Mayor Ray O’Connell. Tuerk won a four-way race for the nomination in May against candidates that included incumbent Mayor O’Connell. Tuerk stepped down last year as vice president at the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. to run for mayor and previously worked for the Allentown Economic Development Corp.
SPECIAL ELECTIONS (House of Representatives)
There were two special elections in the state House that coincided with the general election. Democrats were successful in retaining both seats in both districts (113 and 164).
House District 113 – Lackawanna County
Democrat Thom Welby declared victory in the race to fill the seat of his former boss. Welby served as Senator Marty Flynn’s chief of staff when Flynn served in the state House. Welby defeated Republican Dominick Manetti, a former Lackawanna County chief deputy sheriff, who currently is the chief of public safety for Wallenpaupack Lake Estates. The seat became vacant when Flynn, a Scranton Democrat, took the oath of office as a state senator. Flynn won a special election May 18 for the 22nd Senate District seat vacated by former Democratic state Sen. John Blake. Blake resigned to work for U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D). Welby will serve the remainder of Flynn’s vacant representative term that expires Nov. 30, 2022.
House District 164 – Delaware County
Upper Darby School Board Vice President Gina Curry (D) won the special election to fill the seat left vacant when former Democratic state Rep. Margo Davidson (D) resigned amid theft charges. Curry defeated Republican Brian Sharif Taylor, a 14-year Army veteran and Taylor Made Vets founder and operator. Curry has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminal justice with a concentration in sociology from Saint Joseph University. She is the owner and operator of the consulting firm, Coach Your Vision LLC, which provides training and coaching for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives with a focus on racial equity.
UPCOMING SPECIAL ELECTIONS
With the wins made in the 2021 elections, there will be a need to fill three, possibly four, seats in the General Assembly. Vacancies will be created with the departures of Rep. Ed Gainey, Rep. Tarah Toohill and Sen. John Sabatina as they take on their new roles. If Rep. Jake Wheatley joins the Gainey Administration, as expected, there will be one more vacancy to be filled.