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RODERICK RANDOM: Scavo Gets New Chance To Sail Against Wind

January 19, 2019

There was high drama Thursday night when the Lackawanna County Grand Old Party executive committee met to nominate a candidate for the vacant 114th House District seat.

Last Sunday, the county Democratic Party executive committee basically rubber-stamped the candidacy of Bridget Malloy Kosierowski, who overwhelmingly earned the support of the party’s 114th voting-precinct leaders.

The county Republican Party’s 114th precinct leaders voted Tuesday to recommend Old Forge School Director Frank Scavo over attorney Stephen Semenza, history teacher Mike Conigliaro and photographer/car dealer Stephen Serge.

Scavo got 20 votes, Semenza, 16; Conigliaro, five; and Serge, two.

The Republican executive committee vote wound up even closer — one tie, two rounds of balloting.

On the first ballot, Scavo got 14 votes, Semenza, 14; and Serge, one.

That forced a second vote with Scavo winning 15-14 over Semenza

That means Scavo vs. Kosierowski in the March 12 special election for the 114th House District seat, vacant because Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich, a Democrat, died Oct. 16.

For Scavo, 56, the narrowness of his win seems remarkable. He’s a veteran Republican, a staunch conservative, and not a recent convert from the Democrats like Semenza, who changed his registration Dec. 7 to Republican. Semenza said he switched because his values and policy beliefs match up better with Republicans.

Semenza said he’s sure the switch probably created doubts about him in the minds of some Republicans who voted Thursday. He said he would support Scavo, who went out of his way to praise Semenza for working hard for the nomination.

“He made phone calls, he made visits for the job,” Scavo said.

He expects Semenza has a future in county Republican politics.

As for the close vote, Scavo said many of his executive committee supporters head to Florida for the winter and weren’t around, and that one died recently. Semenza was also perceived as likelier to raise more money for his campaign, Scavo said.

Undoubtedly, he said, some looked at his past election record in state legislative races and sought a fresher face.

Scavo lost state Senate bids to Sen. Bob Mellow in 2002 (a 38.3 percentage point loss) and Sen. John Blake in 2010 (a 25.2-point loss) and 2018 (a 22.7-point loss).

Scavo obviously has done better with each race, but said, more importantly, he’s done better in each race within the towns that make up the 114th.

He claims he won 25 percent of the vote in the 114th in 2002 and 44 percent last year. He said that 2018 performance in the 114th, in a Democratic year, shows voters have gotten to know him.

Scavo ran his first really strong campaign for the Senate seat last year. He put in time and money against Blake. He has the advantage of the 114th having voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 by 8 percentage points, according to state voting statistics. On the downside, the district has about 25,000 Democrats and just shy of 15,000 Republicans.

Here’s another fun tidbit about what happened.

In the last couple months, rumors abounded that insurance executive Chuck Volpe recruited Semenza into the race and promised him substantial financial support. As the rumor went, Volpe wanted someone running against Democrat Jim Wansacz, the former 114th representative and former county commissioner who thought about running for his old seat.

County Democratic Chairman Chris Patrick, who dislikes Volpe as intensely as Volpe dislikes him — Volpe has called for Patrick’s resignation as chairman — openly told us he thinks Volpe recruited Semenza, who denied that.

This might surprise because Volpe, like Wansacz, is a Democrat. Even after Wansacz decided against running, Volpe’s support for Semenza persisted.

It’s no longer a rumor.

Volpe freely admits to backing Semenza.

“I was 110 percent behind Steve Semenza,” Volpe, 58, said.

He backs Republicans occasionally when he thinks they’re better qualified, have more integrity and bring other qualities to the race, he said.

Scavo, he said, “is a fine and decent man.”

“I also think he’s 110 percent unelectable,” he said. “He has no money and no organization. He has virtually no chance.”

Semenza, he said, “is family for me.”

They’re not related, but Volpe’s son, John, and Semenza played biddy basketball against each other, Volpe said. Volpe and Semenza’s father, Al, the well-known former Old Forge High School coach, used to coach Amateur Athletic Union teams with their sons on them, Volpe said.

If anybody’s questioning how good a Democrat he is, Volpe said, remember Patrick recruited Commissioner Patrick O’Malley to switch back to the Democrats, and teamed him up on a commissioner ticket with Democratic incumbent Wansacz over a former city and county Democratic chairman, Jerry Notarianni.

Then, Volpe said, Patrick looked the other way as O’Malley teamed up with Republican Laureen Cummings to ensure the appointment of longtime Republican Andy Wallace as county chief of staff over county Recorder of Deeds Evie Rafalko McNulty, maybe the person who works harder to elect Democrats than anyone else.

Patrick, who happily wooed O’Malley to rejoin the Democrats and teamed him up with Wansacz, called for Volpe’s resignation as a Democratic committeeman in Waverly for backing a Republican.

Patrick said he had no idea of the deal between Cummings and O’Malley to support Wallace over McNulty, whom he wholeheartedly supports.

He reminded that Volpe supported Republican Bill Jones in 2015 over O’Malley. Volpe regularly has said he did that because he doesn’t think O’Malley is fit to be a commissioner. Patrick also said a couple of other things, but that’s for a future column.

This one started out highlighting a clear split in the county Republican Party, but it seems the Democrats still have a pretty good rift going, too.

BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune politics reporter, writes Random Notes.