State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

In 'unprecedented' lt. gov. race, Stack reckons with a crowded field

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | May 11, 2018 7:55 PM
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The relationship between Governor Tom Wolf and Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack has never been a close one, and became especially strained after Wolf stripped Stack of his security detail and other staff following verbal abuse allegations. (Photo by AP)

 

(Harrisburg) -- Of all the crowded races in Tuesday's primary election, perhaps none is odder than the one for lieutenant governor.

Usually, a sitting LG is in a pretty safe spot once primaries roll around.

But no less than four Democratic challengers are giving incumbent Mike Stack a run for his money.

For Stack, a former Democratic Senator from Philadelphia, the trouble seemed to really start with a press conference.

In April of last year, Governor Tom Wolf responded to complaints from Stack's residence staff and police detail about the treatment they were getting from the lieutenant governor and his wife.

He ordered an investigation, and soon after, stripped Stack of the detail and cut down on other staff.

After calling reporters for a tense meeting in his office, Stack admitted to sometimes using harsh words "in anger or stress," but not much else.

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Stack held a press conference last year to address allegations that he and his wife had verbally abused their security detail and the staff at their state-provided residence. (Photo by Katie Meyer/WITF)

"Anybody who knows me, who has spent time with me for a long period of time knows that here and there, I'll have a Stack moment," he said.

Asked about the situation now, he's quick to brush it off--and to say he and Wolf have no problems.

"The relationship is fine, we are lock step in every issue," he said. "The other issue that you talked about is related to just a health issue in the family, and it was over a year ago. So we feel very positive about everything and we look forward to victory."

But Franklin and Marshall College political analyst Terry Madonna said the incident was significant--both in Stack's relationship with Wolf, and in his overall appeal to voters.

"Michael Stack and Governor Tom Wolf have literally no relationship, and the events that took place with the security and the staff was, perhaps, the icing on the cake," he said.

The Democrats lining up to replace Stack are banking on that.

They are former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor of Public Engagement Nina Ahmad, Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone, banker and insurance broker Ray Sosa, and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.

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The democratic candidates for lieutenant governor--minus Stack--met for a debate ahead of the primary. From left to right: Nina Ahmad, Kathi Cozzone, Ray Sosa, and John Fetterman. (Photo by Katie Meyer/WITF)

Ahmad has led the pack in spending. She launched a last-minute campaign after reconsidering a congressional run following the state Supreme Court redrawing district maps, and used the money she'd already raised to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the new bid.

Stack has spent half as much, and Fetterman only about a quarter of that. Cozzone came in a distant fourth, and Sosa's latest filings show a negative balance.

A molecular biologist by trade, Ahmad came to the U.S. from Bangladesh in her early twenties. Along with being an aide to Philly Mayor Jim Kenney, she's served as president of the city chapter of the National Organization for Women.

"It is time that women have a seat at the table," she said, noting, "we have no women in statewide executive office."

She's hammering Stack particularly hard for a vote he took as senator, in favor of a measure that put more stringent regulations on state abortion facilities.

"That's a very damaging bill," she said. "So right there, that's a huge difference. That is not something I would have supported."

Stack maintains he is a strong supporter of women's right to choose--and said extenuating circumstances led to that vote.

"This horrible doctor who's now in prison for the rest of his life was torturing, essentially, women," he explained--referring to infamous Philadelphia abortion practitioner Kermit Gosnell. "So, when the bill started off, the idea was preventing this kind of thing from ever happening again, and really protecting women."

Ahmad isn't the only candidate focusing on progressive issues.

Fetterman first garnered a strong following through an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign and as the unusually high-profile mayor of a struggling western PA steel town.

Though his funding lags Ahmad and Stack's, he has received a media boost in recent weeks thanks to one Senator Bernie Sanders, who has publicly endorsed him and campaigned on his behalf.

Fetterman has made reforming the finances of the lieutenant governor's office a key issue, as well as things like health care expansion and a minimum wage increase.  

He noted, as a liberal mayor in a more conservative area, he's used to compromise.

"I think I have the necessary hands-on skill as a mayor," he said. "I think I have the background in local government, and I think I have the education and the perspective and the ideological balance."

Cozzone, meanwhile, is touting her tenure in county government as a key qualification.

"I understand the complex relationship between the state and services that are provided at the local level, and through my work with our County Commissioners' Association I'm very familiar with the challenges facing all of Pennsylvania," she said.

And Sosa, who is from Montgomery County, said his work as a private sector representative on the state's Emergency Management Council is relevant experience, among other things.

"I have been appointed by three U.S. governors for positions of leadership that mirror what the lieutenant governor does, so I do have the state experience," he said.

The lieutenant governor typically has three main jobs--presiding over the Senate, chairing the state's board of pardons, and standing by in case something happens to the governor.

Pennsylvania's election process is somewhat unusual, because contenders run separately from gubernatorial candidates in primaries, and then winners link up for the general election.

Madonna noted, usually when a governor and lieutenant are both running for a second term, they'll present a united front. But that's not the case this year.

"Now we have something that's virtually without precedent," he said. "A multi-field democratic primary."

While Wolf has declined to endorse a lieutenant, some on the GOP side of the aisle haven't been reticent at all.

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Wagner has officially announced Bartos (left) as his running mate, even though the arrangement is technically not possible under Pennsylvania's election rules. (Photo by Katie Meyer/WITF)

Despite not technically being able to name a running mate, York County Senator Scott Wagner has insisted he is campaigning alongside Montgomery County real estate developer Jeff Bartos--giving Bartos a boost in recognition.

Other candidates in the GOP race are businesswoman and former borough councilwoman Kathy Coder, longtime activist Peg Luksik, and Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan.

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