A dozen candidates have applied for the vacancy on the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners. That seat became vacant as a result of the resignation of Commissioner Bill Leiner. Under the Home Rule Charter, 4 commissioners are chosen on an at-large basis and 5 are elected to represent specific districts. The vacancy must be filled by a member of the same party as the former commissioner. Leiner was one of two Democratic at-large commissioners and his replacement will reinstate the 5-4 GOP margin on the board.
The dozen candidates will go through interviews with the Intergovernmental & Appointments Committee, which will forward a recommendation to the full board, most likely at the Feb. 10 meeting. The recommendation will likely be considered by the full board on Feb. 24. If the committee’s recommendation is not accepted, the commissioners can make nominations from the floor at the meeting.
Of the twelve candidates, only one was an unsuccessful candidate in the Nov. 2009 election. A second 2009 candidate, Hillary Kwiatek, was expected to apply but was not among the 12 applicants. She had been the subject of an attack by blogger Bernie O’Hare and reportedly still harbors resentment over last year’s campaign.
The only Democrat who ran unsuccessfully in November who is coming back for more is Marc Basist. As I have written before, I believe if one of these former candidates is deemed qualified that they should get the nod because they have done the ground work to get up to speed in the election. Basist would be a great addition, in my opinion, because he combines a strong business background and a compassionate sensibility. Basist was genuinely concerned about not hurting his opponent in November and about running a clean campaign. In addition, he is a fiscal conservative.
Basist, of South Whitehall, was actually the leading Democratic commissioner vote-getter in the Nov. 2009 election but he lost the 2nd District race to GOP incumbent Percy Dougherty. Basist pointed to his showing in the race in seeking appointment to the open seat. As many of us in the 2nd District would conclude, Basist may actually be to the right of Dougherty.
Based on his experience and the last election, I think he should be the slam-dunk winner now that Kwiatek is out of the mix.
Basist said “I have extensive business experience and will be able to work effectively with the current county commissioners in a respectful and productive manner in order to address the numerous difficult decisions needing to be made over the next several years.” He has financial experience as a chief financial officer of a private company.
To be fair, I’ll preview the other 11 as well.
Geoff Brace of Allentown has lived in Lehigh County in various aspects of county life and is currently the executive director of the Kutztown Community Partnership.
“I have worked on a farm, mentored inner-city youth and supported community revitalization efforts in boroughs in western and southern Lehigh County,” Brace said.
Bruce Brinker of Whitehall was a Whitehall Township Commissioner from 1992 until 2007.
He is a former part-time police officer and has 34 years of service with Yoccos, Inc.
John Cooney of Lower Macungie is president of a leadership consulting firm. He is seeking a return to the Board of Commissioners, having served as a one-year appointee in 1999.
Zionsville’s John Cramsey has a family history of elected office with his father having served on Allentown City Council and an uncle having been a member of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners. He is a member of the carpenter’s union and previously owned his own construction company.
Allentown’s Walter Felton once ran for Lehigh County Sheriff on the GOP ticket and as a district judge on the Democratic side.
He said “the experience from law enforcement, military and community relations in excess of 30 years can be a positive asset for the county.”
Robert George of Whitehall, who owned a charter bus company, has previously sought election to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in both houses. He says “I have 50 years experience in business and government.”
Government consultant William Hansell of Macungie has been very active in establishing the Lehigh County Congress of Government and often appears at COG meetings as a contributor.
Hansell has been a manager or administrator for three municipalities, Allentown, Catasauqua and South Whitehall.
John Hoffman of Catasauqua is the owner of a Sears Hometown Store and prior Republican councilman in that borough. In asking “Why me?” Hoffman said he had done the job before on a smaller scale, he is a student of history, he has learned from past failures and “it is all about reasonableness.”
Andrea Landsbach is one of two female candidates and an Allentown resident. She has a degree in art education and is currently seeking her master’s degree at Kutztown University.
She has taught in the Allentown School District and has union credentials as Raub Middle School Representative for the teachers’ union. In her application, Landsbach said she was also planning on getting a law degree.
Landsbach attended the last meeting of the commissioners, taking extensive notes.
George Speros Maniatty, Jr. is active in the Democratic Party and is the one candidate who regularly attends commission meetings. His resume lists experience as a political consultant.
Maniatty also boasts a “broad scope of accounting experience in varied work environments including manufacturing, service, health and insurance sectors.”
Maniatty is one of the county commissioner “groupies” but always seems to have a firm grasp on the political scene.
The final applicant is Deana Zosky of Lower Macungie. She was one of the court-appointed Lower Macungie Commissioners following the vote to change the form of government to that of a first-class township.
She owns her own consulting business.
With a 5-3 edge on the Board, the Republicans can control the selection of the new commissioner. Chairman Dean Browning said that the candidate should share the vision that the Board of Commissioners must be an effective check and balance on the Lehigh County Executive, Don Cunningham.
While he would not commit to any of the candidates, Browning did indicate that he thought there were qualified candidates among the applicants. He did discuss some of the pluses and minuses but I think in fairness that should remain private until he goes through the interview process.
One of the major issues to be faced by the new commissioner will be a potential 2011 tax hike. Browning indicated that one of the issues that may be presented to the applicants is their view as to use of the county’s $20 million Rainy Day Fund to balance the 2011 budget.
The appointee will join Browning, Andy Roman and Gloria Hamm as the at-large commissioners. The new commissioner will serve the remainder of Leiner’s term and face possible re-election in November 2011.
Although there were rumors that a Republican candidate might surface who would change parties to be appointed, that does not seem to be the case. To his credit, Browning made it clear that he would only accept a candidate changing parties if the county Democratic head signed off. While some of the candidates were one-time Republicans, they have all had a history on the Democratic side.