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Lieutenant Governor: Knoll wins 9-way race for No. 2 spot

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

By Tom Barnes, Johnna A. Pro and Dennis B. Roddy Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The race for lieutenant governor stayed neck-and-neck all night, but in the end Democrats decided to stick with a familiar name by nominating former state Treasurer Catherine Baker Knoll over state Sen. Jack Wagner.

Former state Treasurer Catherine Baker Knoll, center, is surrounded by longtime supporters, including Katie Sansotta, last night. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

With 99 percent of the statewide vote counted, Knoll came in first with 25 percent of the vote compared to Wagner's 22 percent. In third place was state Sen. Allen Kukovich of Manor, Westmoreland County, at 20 percent. There were six other candidates in the race.

Because the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Jane Earll of Erie, won an uncontested primary yesterday, Pennsylvania is guaranteed of having its first female lieutenant governor come January.

Knoll was wearing a red, white and blue outfit when, just before midnight, she entered the South Side home of her longtime friend and political ally, City Council President Gene Ricciardi. She hugged and kissed the crowd as Ricciardi put on a recording of "Hail to the Chief."

"I knew I would win," Knoll said, her eyes filled with tears. "I didn't think it would be this close." She credited her victory "across the whole state to my family and my friends."

She added, "I didn't do the political thing. I campaigned in schools, at fashion shows, at local clubs. I went everywhere."

Knoll, who ran alone in the primary, will now team with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed Rendell.

State Sen. Jack Wagner was in Scranton last night to be with his running mate, state Auditor General Bob Casey Jr. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

Knoll said she "loves Ed Rendell" and is looking forward to the general election campaign against the Republican gubernatorial candidate, state Attorney General Mike Fisher, and Earll.

Wagner flew last night from Pittsburgh to Scranton to be with his running mate, state Auditor General Bob Casey, who lost yesterday to Rendell. Wagner was with Casey and his family at the Casey home in Scranton's Upper Hill neighborhood.

Wagner was the surprise of the Casey team yesterday, with his narrow loss to Knoll. Wagner did manage to convincingly win his home county, Allegheny, with 47 percent to Knoll's 27 percent.

Wagner and Casey eventually appeared after 11 p.m. at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel, where glum Casey supporters milled aimlessly about the ballroom.

"Bob Casey is one heck of a guy," Wagner said. "It was an honor to run with him. The Wagner family and the Casey family have become very close in this race."

Wagner admitted to feeling "down" due to the close loss. "All I can tell you is that it's been an honor running for lieutenant governor," he said. "I've learned a lot."

The third-place finisher, Kukovich, finally conceded about 11:45 p.m. "My goal is to go back [to Harrisburg] and try to be the best senator I can be," he said.

He hadn't decided whether to make any future attempts at statewide office, but if he did, "We'll try to do a better job next time."

Knoll, 71, who spent two terms as state treasurer in the 1990s, was running against a field of eight other Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor. She was the only woman in the race.

Wagner, 54, is a former Pittsburgh City Council president who lives in Beechview. He lost a Democratic primary race for mayor in 1993 to incumbent Mayor Tom Murphy. Wagner went to the Legislature the next year.

It was a tense night for Knoll, as Wagner stayed within a few percentage points all evening. Several times during the evening the two candidates were in a virtual dead heat.

Knoll spent most of the the evening at her home in McKees Rocks with family members, before finally joining the nearly 100 supporters gathered at Ricciardi's home on the South Side.

The house was decorated in red, white and blue balloons, banners and candles. Throughout the evening the mood of the crowd was optimistic even as Knoll and Wagner dueled it out.

"Do you realize she's winning a statewide office?" said state Rep. Michael Diven of Brookline. "She's a heartbeat away from the governorship."

Her decision to celebrate her victory at a house on the South Side shows her appeal to common people, Diven said. "It's not the frills. She doesn't need a ballroom," he said.

About 10 p.m. when Knoll and Wagner were tied with 26 percent of the vote, a jubilant Ricciardi threw his arms around retired Pittsburgh Assistant Police Chief Therese Rocco and screamed, "What a race! This is a horse race!"

Just minutes later, when Knoll pulled ahead by 1 point, a group of five campaign workers broke out in screams and cheers.

Throughout the night, Deputy Mayor Sal Sirabella was camped out in front of the computer in Ricciardi's office, calling the play-by-play of the race to the political junkies present.

Knoll, who had the widest name recognition statewide because of her two terms in the treasurer's office, had been expected to win fairly easily. Recent polls showed her with a comfortable double-digit lead over Wagner and Kukovich, although both challengers had been closing the gap in recent days.

The nine-way race for lieutenant governor was largely overshadowed this spring by the acrimonious contest between Casey and Rendell.

The other candidates in the Democratic race for lieutenant governor were state Rep. John Lawless of Montgomery County near Philadelphia; Thaddeus Kirkland of Delaware County, also near Philadelphia; Wyoming County Commissioner Ron Williams; Green Tree Councilman Ron Panza; David Woodard, an instructor at Community College of Allegheny County; and Edward Truax, a Harrisburg artist.

The lieutenant governor does have a few specific duties, but in the past has often been obscured by the governor. But twice in the past 10 years the No. 2 person has emerged from the shadows.

Lt. Gov. Mark Singel took over temporarily in the mid-1990s when Gov. Bob Casey was incapacitated after a heart-liver transplant. Just last fall, Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker became governor when Gov. Tom Ridge took a post with President Bush's administration.

Knoll cited her record of experience in the state treasurer's office as a plus during her campaign. She also pointed to programs in the treasurer's office such as modernized investment policies and a "tuition savings program" to help parents of college students in Pennsylvania.

Knoll does have some potential weaknesses, however.

The federal Securities and Exchange Commission investigated her department and found that some of her advisers had improperly profited from refinancing of state bonds. Knoll was not implicated in the scandal, however.

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