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Pennsylvania Senate campaigns: Retirements are bringing fresh blood to contests for state senate

Tuesday, March 28, 2000

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

With incumbent state senators retiring in the 41st and 45th districts, voters will get to choose from new crops of candidates who are plunging into state politics for the first time.

In the 41st District, long-time state Sen. Patrick Stapleton, D-Indiana, a fixture in the state Senate, is stepping down after three decades.

    More on the candidates

The Pennsylvania Senate campaigns by District


Three Republicans and two Democrats are vying for Stapleton's seat, a four-year position that pays $59,246.

Tax reform is the big issue with the Republican candidates, who are holding a series of debates around the district, which includes Indiana, Armstrong, and parts of Jefferson and Westmoreland counties.

Republican John Gray, 64, a Kittanning businessman, is campaigning on a platform to eliminate the school property tax and allow voters to decide whether to make up the shortfall by increasing the state income tax, increasing sales taxes or a combination of both. Gray has made two previous unsuccessful tries for public office -- for Armstrong County commissioner and Armstrong County controller.

Bill Rush, 50, an insurance agent from Kittanning, also is promoting the idea that using property taxes to fund the public schools is an antiquated, inequitable system that needs to be replaced. He also wants to abolish the state Department of Education and allow local districts to determine curriculum and standards.

"Our kids would get a better education," Rush said.

Don White, 49, an insurance agent from Indiana, Pa., doesn't think abolishing the school property tax is a viable idea, favoring instead a push to hold school boards more accountable for their spending.

White, a novice in the political arena whose prior community experiences have been with the Jaycees and the local chamber of commerce, said the death of his 19-year-old son, Ben, in a car crash in May 1998 changed his life and prompted him to decide to try to "give something back to the community."

In the Democratic primary, voters will have to choose between James McQuown, an Indiana County commissioner, and Charles Fox, a Westmoreland County attorney.

Stapleton has thrown his support to McQuown.

McQuown, 45, of Indiana, Pa., has been a county commissioner for 16 years. He said the state should increase its subsidies to local school districts as a first step in reducing the amount of property taxes needed to fund schools. He also favors allowing the voters to decide by referendum whether to replace property taxes with either a personal income tax or a consumption tax as a way to fund schools.

Fox, 55, of Washington Township, Westmoreland County, has been practicing law for 25 years. He is a long-time member and past president of the Kiski Area Board of Education.

Fox said the 41st District always has been viewed as an Indiana County seat, but he would try to represent the interests of residents of all four counties in the district.

McQuown said he has been endorsed by the Indiana County Democrats and has the support of the Jefferson County Democrats. Fox has been endorsed by the Westmoreland County Democrats.

Battle for the 45th

With the retirement of state Sen. Albert "Bud" Belan, D-West Mifflin, three Democrats decided to run for the 45th District seat in the April primary. They are John Andzelik, the former West Mifflin police chief; James Brewster, McKeesport City Council president; and Sean Logan, the mayor of Monroeville.

The winner will face Laurie Zacharia MacDonald, president of the Elizabeth Forward school board, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary.

The district stretches along eastern Allegheny County from Springdale Township to Forward. Some of the Allegheny County communities it includes are Plum, Monroeville, McKeesport and Elizabeth Township. It also includes Murrysville and Sewickley Township in Westmoreland County.

Andzelik, 56, of West Mifflin, is a novice to politics who has emphasized his status as a political outsider. He spent 27 years in the West Mifflin police department, the last three years as police chief.

He said his chief concerns are keeping the 45th District intact, pushing for the development of the Mon-Fayette Expressway through the district, finding ways to bring better-paying jobs to the area and helping people get low-cost medical assistance.

Brewster, of McKeesport, has been a vice president at Mellon Bank for the past 26 years and has been involved in McKeesport politics. He served eight years on McKeesport council and made an unsuccessful bid for the post of McKeesport mayor last year.

Logan, 29, has worked for both U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale, and former Allegheny County Commissioner Mike Dawida.

He said Doyle is chairman of his campaign.

Logan recently took a job with Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, heading up a new office of consumer protection that will work to protect senior citizens from scams and frauds.

Logan won the endorsements of both the Allegheny and Westmoreland County Democrats. He also noted that he received the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 91 in a race in which a former police chief is running.

The lone Republican candidate, MacDonald, 41, of Elizabeth Township, holds a degree in education and is in her second term on the Elizabeth Forward school board. She has served as board president since 1995.

MacDonald believes that her experience on a local school board would be beneficial for a state senator, particularly on the topic of funding public education.

"They need someone like me who understands what it is like to be in the trenches, to make things happen," MacDonald said.

"Education reform and tax reform are joined at the hip," she said.

Other races

All other state Senate candidates in the region are unopposed in the primary.

In the 37th District, Republican incumbent Tim Murphy of Mt. Lebanon will be challenged in November by Democrat Joseph Rudolph of Library.

In the 39th District, the candidates are Democratic incumbent Allen Kukovich and Republican Gene Porterfield.

In the 43rd and 47th districts, Democratic incumbents Jay Costa Jr. and Gerald J. LaValle, respectively, face no opposition in the primary. No Republican candidates are on the ballot for the primary in either of the two districts.

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