News

Close finish in race for Lebanon County commissioner

Written by John Latimer/Lebanon Daily News | May 20, 2015 3:58 AM
Jo_ellen_litz.jpg

Photo by Jeremy Long/Lebanon Daily News

Chris Tarsa and Jo Ellen Litz, winners of the Democratic nominations for Lebanon County commissioner, congratulate each other at the Days Inn Tuesday night. Republicans Bill Ames and Bob Phillips were unopposed in their primary.

(Lebanon) -- In one of the closest Primary Election races in recent memory, Lebanon County Democratic voters chose Jo Ellen Litz and Chris Tarsa as the party's nominees in the fall race for county commissioner.

With 1,752 votes, Tarsa, a former Lebanon County Democratic Committee chairman, topped all voters in a four candidate race with Litz, a four-term incumbent, coming in just behind with 1,726 votes. The pair edged Kathy Pflueger, one of the party's nominees in 2011, who had 1,677 votes. The difference between the three was a fraction more than a percentage point. Ralph Duquette, a Palmyra School Board director finished a distant fourth with 615 votes.

The race was as contentious as it was close, with the three challengers campaigning on a message of change and holding Litz accountable for her actions on the board, most notably the sale of Cedar Haven.

Although Litz voted to keep the nursing home in county hands, her Democratic opponents held her responsible for its escalating operating costs and the employee pension fund obligation that ballooned in the past decade, and which prompted fellow commissioners Bob Phillips and Bill Ames to vote for its $25.5 million sale last year.

With Ames and Phillips running unopposed in the primary, the victories of Tarsa and Litz create an interesting scenario heading into the General Election.

Tarsa said he has no plans of teaming up with Litz in the hopes of getting two Democrats on the three-member board next year.

"I think given that it's a Republican county, I'm looking at running my own campaign as a Democrat. And if I'm the one that makes it through the fall, I will work cooperatively and collaboratively with Commissioner Phillips and Commissioner Ames. That is just the reality of the minority party going against the majority party.

The president of a family-owned surgical blade company, Tarsa said he stands a good chance of winning one of the seats because he believes he will receive the votes that went to Pflueger and Duquette, as well as many independents who cannot vote in primary elections.

"With four Democrats running it was tough to figure out how it was going to shake out," he said. "I felt just given my experience in holding the position of county chair that if there was a Kathy supporter, I probably got their second vote. If you were a Ralph supporter, I was likely to get that second vote. And I have my own base of support as well. It was an interesting primary to say the least."

Litz said the county Democratic Committee can take the lead in organizing any campaign teamwork with Tarsa.

"I think that obviously each of us wants to win," she said. "But in this race I think anybody can win. And I know that with (county Chairman) Lois (Herr) in the party, she is quite the organizer. So, we will see what strategies come up. We haven't discussed that at all yet. So we have to wait to see how this is handled. We each have to do some things on our own. But hopefully the party can do some team things, too. So I think it can be a combination of both."

Litz said she hopes to earn the trust and votes of those who cast ballots for Pflueger and Duquette.

"I know that I've made mistakes. I have too many imperfections to be perfect and too many blessings to be ungrateful," she said. "So for those who'd like me to do better, I want to do that. I just need to know how I can incorporate what they are feeling and where I have not served them well enough that I can do better. I need that feedback."

Litz was obviously relieved to have been nominated. All four candidates spent a nervous and uncomfortable hour together at the Days Inn on Quentin Road with other members of the county Democratic Committee, knowing the race was close and waiting for the final four precincts to file returns.

The results, read by Herr, were met with silence and not cheers by the roughly 15 people who were still in the room when the race was called at 11 p.m.

Neither candidate read a victory speech, although Litz said she had one prepared. She admitted also having a "moving on" speech at the ready.

The two victors shook hands and briefly chatted quietly before parting.

A disappointed Pflueger, who worked hard to put the lessons she learned in her loss four years ago to good use, said "there is no more; this is it," as she left the hotel with her son. She did, however, vow to work hard for Tarsa's election.

Duquette said he also will work on behalf of Tarsa. He was left pondering why voters did not take to his message and was disappointed by the low Democratic turnout of 14 percent.

"I'm disappointed with the turnout. I'm disappointed that the message I had didn't get through," he said. "With Chris and Kathy, it did. Maybe I came off as too angry. But the fact is, I got into it because I was angry. ... The message that the three of us had, the non-Litz candidates had, was we needed change at the top rung."

In contrast, Republican row office candidates had an easy night. All were uncontested, and no Democrats were on the ballot.

Barbara Smith received 6,916 votes for prothonotary/clerk of courts; Robert M. Mettley got 6,935 votes for controller; Dr. Jeffrey Yocum received 7,409 for coroner; Donna J. Lutz got 7,043 for recorder of deeds, and Sallie A. Neuin received 7,083 for treasurer.

Smith ran for her first four-year term in office, while the others are incumbents.

Lutz faces a likely challenge in the fall from Democratic write-in candidate Michael Deitz, although final results will not be known until Friday's tabulation. Democrats cast 173 write-in votes for Recorder of Deeds Tuesday, and Deitz needs 100 of them to qualify as the party's nominee.

This article comes to us through a partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF.

Published in Lebanon, News

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