2019 Municipal Election Seeking Council
Examining the other races on this year's ballot
In this issue, you'll find a closer look into the Judge of Erie County Court of Common Pleas and a case for why municipal elections matter, despite the fact that they traditionally draw a significantly lower voter turnout when compared to races with national and state-level marquee candidates.
But that's not the only race on the 2019 General Election ballot that's worth looking into in Erie.
Erie City Council
For Erie City Council, five candidates are vying for three available seats. Democratic incumbent Melvin Witherspoon is seeking his third four-year term.
The two vacancies on council resulted because Bob Merski successfully won his bid for the District 2 seat of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and Sonya Arrington, first elected to council in 2015, decided not to run for re-election amidst federal prosecutors' charges in 2018 that she used funds from Mothers Against Teen Violence, a nonprofit she founded, to gamble at Presque Isle Downs & Casino. She has pleaded not guilty and her case is pending.
History and numbers favor the other two Democrats Ed Brzezinski and Michael Keys, who, along with Witherspoon emerged from a crowded pack of 11 who ran in May's primary.
Lone Republican Shawn Lyons and lone Independent Lewis Prest — along with the actively campaigning write-in candidate, Fat Lenny's owner Scottie Freeman — look to do what hasn't been done in quite some time, in large part thanks to the city's near 3-to-1 Democratic voter registration edge: Win a seat on council representing a party other than the Democrats.
Regardless of whether the Republican or Independents can push through, the composition of the seven-person at-large council will shift significantly. Assuming Witherspoon (who recorded the highest number of votes in May's primary) retains his seat, two council members will be new to the job. Councilwomen Liz Allen and Kathy Schaaf are still serving their first terms. What's more: City Councilman Casmir Kwitowski is running unopposed for City Treasurer. Assuming he gets it, that would create another vacancy in January 2020.
Erie County Council
For Erie County Council, it's an odd year — meaning that odd-numbered districts are up for election. And as is the case with Erie City Council, Erie County Council will inevitably feature new faces with two incumbents deciding to not seek reelection and one ousted in May's primary.
In District 1, Democrat Kathy Fatica, who was serving out her late husband Phil Fatica's term, is not seeking reelection, leaving the seat to a newcomer. Kim Clear bested Democratic challengers Veronica Rexford and Terry Scutella in May's primary to face off against Republican Robert Yates, who defeated Charles Foht.
Mary Rennie defeated District 3 Democratic incumbent Fiore Leone, as well as Democratic challenger Freda Tepfer. No Republicans sought the seat in May's primary.
Democratic incumbent Kyle Foust is seeking reelection for his District 5 seat against Republican Brian Shank, who defeated Joseph Cancilla in the primary. What makes this of particular interest is that Foust is running concurrent campaigns for his County Council seat and for County Controller against Republican incumbent Mary Schaaf. He's eligible to win both and then decide which seat he prefers to hold, leaving one post unpopulated and to be decided after the 2019 election.
After more than two decades of service, Republican County Councilwoman Carol Loll decided not to launch a reelection bid, opening the gates for the contest between newcomers Rita Bishop and Ellen Schauerman, Democrat and Republican, respectively.
Assuming Rennie is a lock and noting that the races for Districts 1 and 7 don't feature incumbents, at least three seats will change. Then, if Foust either wins his bid for Controller or loses both his Controller race and his District 5 contest, it could shift to four new folks in this cycle alone.
Of note, both Carl Anderson (District 4) and Scott R. Rastetter (District 6) are both in their first terms on Council, meaning at least five — if not six — elected officials on Erie County Council will be serving in their first term come January 2020.
The only County Council member not to have been mentioned yet here would be Democrat Andre Horton, who has represented District 2 since 2013, and on Oct. 18 announced that he plans to run for Pennsylvania Senate District 49, currently held by Republican Dan Laughlin.
For local politics, the compositions will be changing no matter what. But will more than 20 percent of those eligible to decide who governs turn up at the polls?
It's hard to think of a more convincing reason — having such a say in such unavoidable and potential change — to drive voters to the polls. If they don't, then four-fifths of voters may just want to remain as quiet as they did on Tuesday, Nov. 5 for the lifespan of these seats up for grabs.