Parties Face Hard Choices For Special Election

October 27, 2018 GMT

The late state Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich’s name will remain uncontested on the Nov. 6 election ballot, but the speculation on who might replace the popular Democrat next year heated up this week. The speculation list runs fairly long, but the may-be-a-real candidate list is probably much shorter. If you’re unfamiliar, the 114th House District Kavulich represented consists of the city of Carbondale, Waverly, Fell, Glenburn, Greenfield, Newton, North Abington, Ransom, Carbondale, and Scott townships and Clarks Summit, Dickson City, Jermyn, Mayfield, Moosic, Old Forge, Taylor and Vandling boroughs. This will start with a special election, the date of which will be set by the next state House speaker, but probably not until January. The special election can’t happen until at least 60 days after a vacancy occurs. Most expect a March or April election. A special election means a head-to-head race between a Democrat and a Republican and only one person from each party on the ballot. The county Republican and Democratic parties will nominate candidates for the special election, which will determine who serves the rest of the two-year term that begins Dec. 1. That means anyone thinking about running must convince party committees to nominate him or her. Anyone who isn’t nominated doesn’t get to run unless he or she wants to mount a write-in campaign. Here are the people whose names came up when we asked around about who might run. The Democrats: ■ Former state Rep. Jim Wansacz, 46, of Old Forge, who represented the 114th from June 2000 to November 2010. Wansacz, who lost his Lacakwanna County commissioner re-election bid in the 2015 Democratic primary, tops the Democratic possibles list. For one thing, he knows the job. For another, he’s one of the county’s great door-to-door campaigners. In 1998, he walked door to door in the 114th, which had different boundaries then, and narrowly missed knocking off longtime incumbent Republican Rep. Frank Serafini. Two years later, after a federal conviction forced Serafini out of office, Wansacz narrowly won a special election against Republican Tom Parry. He never faced a serious challenge after that and probably would still have the office today if he had not run and lost in 2010 for departing state Senate Democratic Leader Robert J. Mellow’s seat. Efforts to reach Wansacz were unsuccessful, but multiple sources told us he’s giving it serious thought. Wansacz runs the Scranton-Lackawanna Human Development Agency’s weatherization program. ■Gary Smedley, 32, of Carbondale, the Carbondale School Board president. He’s likeable and one Democrat thinks he’s the guy, but he would have to give up a pretty good gig as a pharmacist. Smedley said he hasn’t thought about it and seemed genuinely surprised that anyone floated his name. He said he wouldn’t rule it out, but he would have to weigh giving up his job for one that requires regular travel to Harrisburg. Smedley also serves as chairman of the county Democrats’ 114th district committee. His third term as a school director expires next year and he will have to run for re-election then. ■ Steve Armillay, 66, of Taylor, Kavulich’s chief of staff since his election in 2010. Armillay confirmed people have asked him if he’s interested, but said he’s focused on electing Democrats 10 days from now. After the election, he’ll talk further with party leaders about finding someone who will honor Kavulich’s legacy. At his age, he might prefer to stay out of the running if the Democratic nominee agrees to let him keep his job. ■Larry West Jr., 49, of Dickson City, the chief of staff to state Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, said he’s not interested. If this were an open seat in 2020, he might have gone for it, but Blake’s former aide, Kyle Mullins, is the favorite to win the 112th state House seat Nov. 6. Assuming Mullins wins, West seeking the 114th might look like one too many Blake guys for voters. ■ Former county commissioner Corey D. O’Brien, 45, of Moosic. He resigned as commissioner in 2015 to take a private-sector job. He’s vice president and chief strategy officer at AllOne Health. He still does politics as an election night analyst for WNEP, but he sounded sincerely uninterested. “I’m very happy at AllOne Health,” he said. ■Paul Macknosky, 45, of Dickson City, the Midvalley School Board president. He’s another guy who has a pretty good gig as director of Gov. Tom Wolf’s northeast Department of Community and Economic Development office. He said he hasn’t thought about it, though he has thought about running someday. ■Matt McGloin, 29, of Waverly Twp. The name of the former football quarterback for Penn State University and the Oakland Raiders keeps popping up in political speculation, but until you hear he’s interested from his mouth don’t believe it. As for the Republican speculation list: ■ County Commissioner Laureen Cummings, 54, of Old Forge. She chairs the Republican 114th committee and has started actively recruiting candidates. She won’t run for the House because she plans to run for re-election next year, she said. “If I run for state office, it’ll be for governor,” Cummings said. The commissioner said she respected and liked Kavulich so much, she blocked suggestions of a Republican write-in campaign against him this time around. ■ Old Forge School Director Frank Scavo, 56. He’s running against Blake for the state Senate at the moment so he could hardly be expected to show interest right now, but maybe he does if he loses, Scavo said. ■ Former first assistant district attorney Gene Talerico, 51, of Old Forge. Already rumored as a possible commissioner candidate next year, a state rep run seems unlikely. Most people think he’s biding his time and planning to run for district attorney again in 2021. ■ Former Jermyn mayor and county commissioner Bruce Smallacombe, 64. Cummings and other Republicans would dearly love to see him run. “They’re out to get me,” Smallacombe cracked. As popular and well-liked as he is, he has no interest. BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune’s politics reporter, writes Random Notes.