Democratic surge leads to upsets

Among the Democrats who led their tickets in Tuesday’s general election are, pictured from leftafter a cold day at the polls, Anthony DiTullio, Bellevue Council, second ward; Emily Marburger, Bellevue mayor; Michael Rajakovic, Northgate School Board; and Val Pennington, Bellevue Council, first ward. The Democratic surge cost two Bellevue Council incumbents their seats. A similar scenario played out in Ben Avon, where the endorsed Democratic slate ousted the incumbent mayor and two members of council. Photo by Connie Rankin for The Citizen

Whether it was a Democratic surge prompted by national politics, bad weather and low voter turn-out, or just more of the anti-incumbent sentiment seen in the primaries, there were some major upsets and eye-opening victories in Tuesday's municipal and school board elections

In January, for the first time, three of the four river-bordered boroughs will swear in a woman as mayor. Although all three boroughs - Bellevue, Ben Avon and Emsworth - have seated female mayors at one time or another in the past, this will be the first time they will all serve at the same time. In Bellevue, Democrat Emily Marburger scored a decisive win over current council member Tom Fodi. Democrat Melanie Hughes Holcomb unseated incumbent Republican Bob Jones in Ben Avon. And in Emsworth, Democrat Amy Sue Lillie had little trouble defeating her opponent, a young, Republican Joe Michael.

The only female mayoral candidate to lose was Brigitte Jackson in Avalon, where the Republican appointed to the office last summer could not overcome the Democratic support for current council member Tom Lloyd.

That same Democratic surge produced perhaps the day's biggest upset, in Bellevue's first ward council race. Long-time Republican incumbent Kathy Coder lost her bid for re-election to Jodi Hause, a Democrat who actually aligned herself with the borough's Republican candidates. The big winner in that ward was the man who will become Bellevue's first black member of council, Val Pennington, who was not deterred by some last-minute social media mud-slinging by a member of the Northgate School Board.

Unofficial Allegheny County vote totals for all the local races are:

Northgate School Board

There really was only one race to be decided on Tuesday, and that was for a two-year seat created by a resignation earlier this year. Democratic newcomer Michael Rajakovic faced long-time Republican Bellevue council member Mark Helbling after each were appointed to the ballot by their respective political parties this past summer. The outcome was not even close. Rajakovic received 1,501 votes to Helbling's 806 from voters in Avalon and Bellevue.

The four seats on the board for four-year terms were pretty much decided in the primaries, where four candidates won nomination on both the Democratic and Republican ballots. In the general election, Christine King, appointed to the board last summer, led the tickets with 1,738 votes, followed by incumbents Amy Joy Robinson with 1,728 and Jennifer McWilliams with 1,687, and newcomer John Gratner with 1,654.
Avonworth School Board

Three of the four four-year school board seats were secured in the primaries by Patrick Stewart, Victoria Carlson and Sandra Bolain nominated on both parties' ballots. That left one seat open for voters in the general election, where they chose incumbent Republican-only candidate Beau Blaser over Democrat-only candidate Renae Daniels-Simmons. Despite what many pundits view as a disadvantage to being on only one ballot facing cross-filed opponents, the vote totals were not all that far apart. Bolain had 1,825, Carlson had 1,840, Simmons had 1,376, Stewart had 1,841, and Blaser had 1,447.


Most of Avalon's ballot featured unopposed incumbents. The exceptions were the mayoral race and one council seat.

Appointed incumbent mayor Brigitte Jackson received 331 votes to Tom Lloyd's 464 in the borough-wide race.

Ralph Dennis Narcisi was the sole candidate for tax collector and received 655 votes borough-wide.

For council in the first ward, Democrat Ruth Ann Lloyd faced a challenge from Bryan Davidson, who created the “Avalon is Awesome” party to run in the general election. Lloyd took the four-year seat 136-78. Democrat John Crawford, appointed to council last summer, was unopposed for a two-year seat in the first ward, and received 184 votes.

Incumbent Republicans William Pascale and Lee Nelson were unopposed for two seats in the second ward, and received 149 and 126 votes, respectively.

In the third ward, appointed Democrat J.P. McFeeley and incumbent Republican Shawn McWilliams also were unopposed, and received 217 and 126 votes, respectively.

Democrat Emily Marburger, who has garnered national media attention for being one of the young, progressive women nudged into politics by last year's presidential race outcome, had no problem defeating incumbent Bellevue Council member Tom Fodi for a four-year term as mayor. Marburger recorded 917 votes to Fodi's 660.

Incumbent tax collector Joe Nolan was cross-filed and received 1,384 votes.

In the first ward, Democrat Val Pennington led the ticket for the two seats on Bellevue Council with 355, followed by Democrat Jodi Hause with 292, Republican Kathy Coder with 208, and Republican Alexander Scioscia with 99.

In the second ward, Democrat Anthony DiTullio led the ballot with 324 votes. Anya Pikul, who was on both ballots due to Democratic write-ins during the primary election, received 319 votes to secure the second four-year council seat in that ward. Unseated was Republican Michael Kendall, who was appointed to council to fill a vacancy this summer, and received only 165 votes.

In the third ward, Democrat Glenn Pritchard easily won against Republican Aaron Price, 328-164, for the one open council seat.

Ben Avon

Melanie Hughes-Holcomb led an endorsed democratic ticket that unseated three incumbents in the general election. One of those incumbents was Republican mayor Bob Jones, who received 249 votes to Holcomb's 368.

The race for four four-year seats on council left behind two more incumbents, Republican Michael Wrbas and Russell Kuehner, who actually is a Democrat but received primary write-in votes that put him on the GOP ballot in the general election. All four seats were taken by endorsed Democrats Megan Griffin Dolan (354 votes), Jennifer Bett (345), David Stoekle (342) and Henry Casale (322). Of the remaining candidates, Wrbas received 247, Victoria Brind'Amour got 242, Kuehner picked up 272, and there were 173 write-in votes, presumably for Democratic incumbent R.J. White, who lost the primary nomination but attempted to retain his council seat with a write-in campaign.

For the two-year seat on Ben Avon Council, Republican Michele Boyd won with 333 votes, with 139 write-in votes recorded as Democrat Jennifer Fustich campaigned for that seat.

Emsworth voters easily elected Democrat Amy Sue Lillie to the position of mayor over Republican Joe Michael, who also ran for a four-year seat on Emsworth Council. Lillie received 363 to Michael's 150 votes.

For four four-year seats on Emsworth Council, there were four Democrats and two Republicans running. Democrats elected to the seats were Jolene Bennett (313 votes, Kevin Yurkovich (331), Jason Helfrich (304) and Dan Lenz (287). Republican Carolyn Galante received 244 votes, and Michael received 163.

There were 166 write-in votes cast for a two-year seat on council, and it is believed that Yurkovich also secured that seat. He will have to decide which seat to accept, which will leave a vacancy for Emsworth Council to fill after the first of the year.

Laura West was unopposed for tax collector and received 469 votes.