Judge races top ballot in off-year election for Pennsylvania
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania voters will reshape the state’s appeals courts this week, consider a change to the state constitution and decide races for mayor, district attorney and other local contests.
It’s considered an off-year election for the state’s 8.4 million voters, including 4 million Democrats and 3.2 million Republicans, so turnout is likely to be low.
The biggest statewide race is for the state Supreme Court, where an appointed justice, Republican Sallie Mundy, wants to keep her seat for a full 10-year term. Her opponent is Allegheny County Judge Dwayne Woodruff, a former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive star who currently handles family court matters.
Two years ago, Democrats swept three open seats on the high court, so the Mundy-Woodruff race will determine if the partisan breakdown will remain 5-2 or move to 6-1. That could prove critical in the coming years, as the court is likely to name the fifth and deciding member of the group that will redraw legislative district lines following the 2020 census.
Mundy and Woodruff were studiously collegial during a recent debate in Harrisburg, although they took different positions on the existing policy that allows judges to accept gifts. Woodruff wants a blanket ban on gifts, while Mundy supports limiting them, but would let judges continue to accept free travel and costs to attend bar association conferences.
More recently, Woodruff has objected strenuously to a Republican Party mailer that asks people to “vote for judges who share our values and stand for our flag.” Woodruff’s son is a Marine Corps officer.
The statewide ballot Tuesday also includes retention votes for two justices, up-or-down votes on whether Republican Chief Justice Tom Saylor and Democratic Justice Debra Todd should get new 10-year terms. Judges and justices nearly always are retained in Pennsylvania.
There are also contested races for four open seats on the state’s Superior Court, an intermediate appeals court that handles criminal, civil and family court appeals from counties. One Superior Court judge also has a retention election. On Commonwealth Court, voters will elect two new judges.
The state bar association has posted questionnaires and ratings for all of the statewide judicial candidates.
The constitutional amendment involves property taxes, but a “yes” vote will not by itself change anything about Pennsylvania’s tax structure. The referendum, if passed, would allow the General Assembly to vote to let counties, municipalities and school districts exclude up to the full value of residents’ homes that they own from taxation.
It leaves unsaid how governments might make up the lost revenue, which generates a massive share of the funding that pays for public schools across the state.
The biggest city in the state that will elect a mayor this week is Pittsburgh, although the incumbent Democrat, Bill Peduto, faces no opposition.
In Allentown, Pennsylvania’s third-largest city, the Democratic incumbent is seeking a fourth term despite facing federal corruption charges that could land him in prison. Ed Pawlowski has denied accusations that he accepted more than $150,000 in campaign contributions in exchange for city contracts. He faces Republican real estate developer Nat Hyman in what is expected to be a tight race.
In York, Democratic Mayor Kim Bracey has a challenge in her quest for a third term from Democrat Michael Helfrich, the city council chairman who won a spot on the fall ballot as a primary write-in on the Republican side. State College’s mayoral race also has the incumbent Democrat being challenged by a Democrat who won the Republican nomination as a write-in.
Five candidates, including three independents, are vying to be Lancaster’s mayor, as three-term Democratic incumbent Rick Gray opted not to run again.
There are also contested mayoral races in Erie, Scranton and many other smaller cities, as well as district attorneys, school board members, county judges, district judges, borough council members, township commissioners and supervisors and some county row offices.