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Vatavuk’s replacement will be decided in the primary

February 20, 2019 GMT

Voters will ultimately decide who will replace the late Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk.

Somerset County President Judge D. Gregory Geary said Tuesday that he has decided to appoint the highest Democratic vote-getter in the May 21 primary.

Nurse Frank Pelesky, former Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes and Somerset County Democratic Party Vice Chairman Daniel Hillegas have announced their intentions to seek one of the two Democratic nominations.

“I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit and boiled the decision down to three options,” he said.

Geary said he considered doing something similar to how he replaced former Commissioner James T. Yoder by soliciting applications from people who did not want to run for office or appointing one of the Democratic candidates.

“My decision boiled down to this,” he said. “If I were to appoint a placeholder, that person could be in position by mid- to the end of March.

That would essentially give them nine months in office — many of those months just getting up to speed.”

Geary said the highest Democratic vote-getter will most likely fill one of the three seats in the municipal election.

“In the end, I will let the voters decide,” he said. “The only downside that I see is . . . the Democratic Party will have no representation on that board between now and May 22. I understand that, and the second downside is if having two commissioners ends up being problematic if in major decisions they are deadlocked.”

Geary said his decision may produce more interest in the Democratic primary.

“I suppose it is possible that the person who wins the Democratic primary might not want to accept the appointment,” he said. “That is a bridge we can cross when we get to it.”

Vatavuk, a Democrat, died last month after a short battle with cancer.

Commissioner Gerald Walker said he appreciated the judge’s decision.

“It is a little longer stretch than we endured the last time,” he said. “We are going to keep this county moving as flawlessly as we can.”

Walker, a Republican, is joined on the board by Pat Terlingo, who was selected in August to replace Yoder, who resigned in July to head the Area Agency on Aging. Terlingo has said he has no plans to run for a full term as commissioner.