Monday, November 28, 2011

A very important list should be seen by all

Today at 10 a.m., the Fayette County Election Bureau posted in its office the names of 31 absentee voters whose ballots will likey determine the outcome of the closest race for county commissioner in history.

The Herald-Standard newspaper made note of that fact in Sunday's editorial, "Democracy alive: Vote count being watched closely," -- which also noted that the list will be visible "for everyone to see," and that "anyone wishing to file a challenge (to an absentee ballot) must do so by Thursday at 2 p.m."

If the newspaper is truly interested in performing public service, and stands for transparency and open government, it should publish a list of those names. They certainly should have been available at last Wednesday's election board hearing, which was held specifically to determine the fate of those absentee ballots. It is so easy to print a list in the newspaper -- and it makes so much sense, given the importance of these ballots -- that we wonder why it hasn't been done already.

There is a reason that a list of absentee voters is supposed to be posted at each polling place on Election Day. That's because individual voters, or concerned citizens, can provide a check and balance to the system.

For example, Stutta Bubba here in the patch may go to the polls and see that her sister, Stella Bubba, is on the list of those who have submitted an absentee ballot. Stutta Bubba may find this interesting or appalling for any number of reasons: her sister Stella may have moved to Cleveland last year to live with her daughter, Stella may bebedridden in a nursing home and unable to recognize family and friends, Stella may be living next door to Stutta but has never voted in her life, or Stella may have died in 1982.

Thus, Stutta Bubba can challenge the ballot submitted in her sister's name. That absentee ballot would not be opened when the polls closed; it would remain sealed until after an election board hearing where Stutta Bubba, Stella Bubba and other pertinent parties would be afforded the chance to testify. The board would then take a vote on whether to accept or reject that ballot.

The problem with these 31 absentee ballots is that they apparently did not go through that normal process. According to the Herald-Standard, "there was a mixup at the Uniontown Post Office and a number of additional absentee ballots" were discovered. (At least that's what the county Election Burea has been saying; interestingly, we have yet to see anyone from the Fourth Estate call the post office to verify that fact. But hey, it's easier to just print what someone says without contacting the other side to let them defend themselves.)

(As a side note, we would love to see a reporter call Laurie Lint, the former director of the election bureau who was fired by Commissioners Vincent Vicites and Vincent Zapotosky, to ask her, "Did you ever forget to pick up or open critical mail in advance of Election Day?" We never heard about 31 absentee ballots not being properly handled during Lint's tenure.)

The problem is, the list of 31 names of absentee voters that posted in the Election Bureau at 10 a.m. today IS NOT available "for everyone to see." It is available only to those who are willing and able to travel to that office to look at it. Not everyone who may want to see the names of the 31 people whose ballots will make history will be afforded that opportunity. They may have to work or be in school. They may not be able to drive.

If the Herald-Standard and editor Mark O'Keefe really want to make sure that "democracy is alive and kicking in Fayette County," and that "everyone involved should be satisfied that the process has been above board" -- as stated in Sunday's sugary editorial -- then why wouldn't they want to do their part to inform the public to as great a degree as possible?

Printing the names is no big deal. These voters are at the crux of the most important local election in a long time. It should be done, in the name of democracy.

Hopefully O'Keefe and Co. sent a reporter over today to get this information. A word to the wise: Before dispatching anybody, we hope they made sure to double-check that all "Lohr" stickers have been removed from that "professional" emissary. Then again, perhaps they decided to hand some more out.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Vicites has no EB conflicts?

Speaking of ethics, is anybody besides us willing to question the continued presence of Fayette County Commissioner Vincent A. Vicites as a member of the Fayette County Election Board?

The three-member election board, which includes Vicites, is currently playing a critical role in the closest race ever for a spot as a county commissioner. The decisions that the board makes -- which absentee and provisional ballots to count, which to throw out --- are likely to determine a winner between Republican incumbent Angela Zimmerlink and Republican challenger Dave Lohr.

Since he wasn't a candidate in the Nov. 8 election, Vicites is legally eligible to reclaim his role on the election board (he had to step down during the primary election because he was then a candidate). But just because he can sit in judgment, does that mean he should?

Anybody who has followed county politics, even at the third-grade level, has got to be aware of these three salient points:

1. Vicites was the running mate of fellow Democrat Vincent Zapotosky in the spring 2011 primary election. On that basis alone, should Vicites be one of the three folks who will ultimately certify the results of the fall 2011 general election, where his former running mate was a candidate?

2. Vicites (along with Zapotosky) is the subject of a current lawsuit filed by Zimmerlink, who alleges that the two Democrats have basically hobbled her ability to do her job. On this basis alone, doesn't Vicites have an ethical, if not legal, conflict of interest? Think about it: If you were suing Vicites, would you want him having any say -- let alone the final say -- in the outcome of your close election? Would you think he would be impartial? (And if the roles were reversed, with Vicites locked in a nip-and-tuck battle with someone else for the third and final commissioner spot, and with Vicites having sued Zimmerlink, and with Zimmerlink sitting on the election board, how content do you think Vicites would be with that arrangement?)

3. Vicites and Zapotosky are the ones who voted to can former election bureau director Laurie Lint, and to replace her with current office director Larry Blosser. Zimmerlink voted against this switcheroo. Nothing against Blosser or the job he is doing, but the split vote clearly makes him Vicites' and Zapotosky's guy. Is Vicites the best person to serve in an oversight capacity where policies and procedures of that office are in play?

These are certainly questions worth asking. But we don't expect the Herald-Standard to even mention them. Not when editor Mark O'Keefe's choice for co-anchor of the newspaper's televised election night coverage was sitting Fayette County Commissioner (and election board member) Vincent Vicites.

There are a host of reasons why we don't expect the Herald-Standard to raise any of these issues. But what we find inexcusable is that during this whole election certification process, they have not to our knowledge made one single phone call to the Pennsylvania Department of State to independently find out the rules or to verify that the ballot-counting decisions by the Fayette County Election Board do indeed pass muster.

They have also not called any other counties to find out what they did, do, or have done with absentee and provisional ballots that fall into any of the categories that many of us are hearing about for the first time (i.e., those that were reportedly delivered to or by the post office but somehow didn't make it to the polls on election day).

How come we never have read of problems like this occuring with any other county election bureau in the area? Is that because those problems have never been reported -- or because they have never had such problems? That's something the Fayette County public, regardless of which candidates win or lose, deserves to know.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A picture really is worth a thousand words, sometimes

Any journalist worth his or her salt knows there are certain things you cannot do, certain lines you cannot cross, because doing so would taint your reputation for objectivity as well as that of the news organization you represent.

A reporter who works the polls for his or her favored political candidate, in plain view of the voting public, is crossing that line in a big way. He or she is committing a cardinal sin that would probably get you fired without hesitation by most news organizations that value their reputation.

So we can't wait for the Herald-Standard to offer up its explanation of the photographs of one of its reporters, Beka Sungala, that are making the rounds among the county's political chattering class. The snapshots of Sungala, reportedly taken at the Bullskin Township precinct 1 on Election Day, show her wearing a "Lohr" sticker on her jacket and apparently handing out water bottles at that polling place. (That would be for Dave Lohr, Republican candidate for Fayette County commissioner.)

In one of them, Fayette County District Attorney Jack Heneks is standing just a few feet away from Sungala. After Herald-Standard editor Mark O'Keefe re-reads his December 2010 column, "Ethics issues taken seriously," perhaps he can ask Heneks what Sungala was doing at Bullskin 1 on Election Day. We would think that the county's district attorney would be pretty credible witness, if O'Keefe has any remaining doubts.

O'Keefe surely knows about that damaging photo by now. Some enterprising person posted it on's website on Friday, with the caption "Bullskin Family Fun Day." For reasons unknown to us, that photo disappeared by Sunday. Could that be because it represented a huge embarrassment to O'Keefe and the newspaper he leads? Why else would this particular photo mysteriously disappear while others did not?

While we're betting that O'Keefe is plenty aware of the incriminating photo by now, we doubt that he's also aware of this: On Nov. 1 -- one week before the Nov. 8 election -- a story appeared in his newspaper with the headline, "County Conservation District raises fees."

The second paragraph of that story reads: The seven-member board -- which Fayette County Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink sits on with board Chairman Don Bowser and members Bill Geary, Frank Mutnansky, Larry Chaikcic, Warren Dick and Lloyd Moser -- is responsible for the conservation, protection, restoration and wise use of the county's natural resources.

The story goes on to say that the conservation district board voted 5-1 to increase the Erosion & Sediment Fee Schedule. The story quoted conservation district manager Doug Petro and board chairman Bowser on why the hike was needed.

One other person was contacted for the story. Curiously, it was not the dissenting voter, board member Moser, who might have added some balance to the story by offering up his reasons for voting no.

No, the other board member contacted was Zimmerlink, whom the story noted was "absent from the meeting" and "did not respond to requests for comment." None of the other board members -- Geary, Mutnansky, Chaikcic or Dick -- was contacted for comment.

This very important story, the one that informed the public of Zimmerlink's apparent deriliction of duty, was written by ... drum roll, please -- Beka Sungala! And the story was based on a meeting that was held -- ahem, ahem -- on Oct. 24!

That's an eight-day lapse between when the vote to hike the Erosion & Sediment Fee Schedule took place and when the Herald-Standard published a story. Couple that with the fact that the Herald-Standard does not regularly cover the Fayette County Conservation District, and we think you'll see what we see: An attempted hatchet job on Zimmerlink that should have O'Keefe asking, "Who came up with that idea?" (As soon as he gets the answer to, "Why is my newspaper publishing stories eight days after the fact?")

As a reporter, Sungala also covered at least one candidate forum for the newspaper that we are aware of. All three other candidates in the field, and their supporters, have grounds to question the objectivity of her reporting, given her rooting interest for Lohr. Had she shown up wearing her Lohr sticker, any or all of the other three candidates would have had ample reason to ask, "What's going on here?"

That is the same question that editor O'Keefe ane publisher Val Laub should be asking themselves right about now. After all they are the paper where ethics issues are taken seriously; at least that is what O'Keefe proclaimed to the reading world just 11 months ago.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is our version of the Mona Lisa, sent to us by a friend of a friend of a friend:


Friday, November 18, 2011

A little more information, please

It certainly appears to be a noble gesture that Dr. Charles D. Machesky, superintendent of the Uniontown Area School District, has volunteered to work for free for one year after his impending March 30 retirement.

"I've been lucky enough to have had this position for the past 10 years, and I wanted to give something back to the school district for everything that has been given me over the years," Machesky told the Connellsville Courier ("Retiring Uniontown Area superintendent offers to work for free, Nov. 16.)

In that same story, Machesky is quoted as saying he won't take any salary or benefits, and that his may consider working for three years for free if his health holds up. He pledged to take "nothing, zero" -- provided that the Pennsylvania State Retirement Board agrees to let him work free of charge.

We've got no beef with Machesky, who has been superintendent during a pretty rough time, including a costly and contentious building renovation phase that is still dragging on.

But in all honesty, Machesky can probably offer to work for free simply because he'll be able to afford to. As superintendent, he's likely been making in the $100,000-a-year salary range -- and we're betting that his pension (funded by the taxpayers) would be pretty close to that.

We wish a reporter would call the Pennsylvania State Retirement Board, or make an information request of the Uniontown Area School District, to inform the reading public what Machesky's pension amount is going to be.

Machesky is also willing to work without benefits. Could that be because his retirement package includes free health insurance until he reaches age 65 (again, funded by the taxpayers)? If so, what is that going to cost the district? (There is also the matter of whether Machesky will be getting paid for unused sick days, and how much that amount will total.)

We're not questioning Machesky's motives here, which appear on face value to be quite magnanimous. Most people in his position head out the door as quickly as possible, never to be seen or heard from again.

But what we are pointing out is that Machesky, like most school district administrators in Fayette County, probably qualifies for a retirement deal that is way sweeter than the average person. We're guessing that he's probably in his late 50s, age wise. If he qualifies for, and receives, health insurance coverage for seven or eight years, that's a considerable cost -- and a benefit that most folks who are footing the bill for his early retirement will never, ever get.

If you're in Machesky's position, we're betting that it's relatively easy to say that you'll work for "nothing, zero," because there's no steep income and benefits dropoff between working and retiring,

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why no GOP 'united front'?

Here in the patch, where not a single person has voted for a Republican since FDR became president, folks figure that the Fayette County Republican Party has got to be scratching its head as much as we are.

That’s because for years and years and years, Republicans here have said one of the reasons Fayette lags so far behind other counties is because of the dominance of the Democratic Party. In their collective view, Fayette gets nothing from the Democrats because they take the county vote for granted, and Fayette gets nothing from the Republicans because they write the county off as a place where they’ll never win.

The real story in the general election held Nov. 8 is not that the two Democrat candidates for county commissioner, Al Ambrosini and incumbent Vince Zapotosky, finished first and second, respectively. The real story is not even the closeness of the vote for the third and final commissioner spot, where incumbent Republican Angela Zimmerlink unofficially bested Republican Dave Lohr by 11 votes. (But this is Fayette County, so you shouldn’t be surprised if something new and previously unheard of to arise during the official vote count that begins this week.)

No, the real story is how close the two Republicans came to beating Zapotosky. Zapotosky finished with 25 percent of the vote, while Zimmerlink and Lohr each finished with 22 percent. That put each of them roughly 1,300 votes behind Zapotosky, which clearly put both Republican candidates within striking distance of the Number 2 Democrat. (For the record, Ambrosini captured 30 percent of the vote.)

The question that we would love to see a news reporter ask the Republican Party honchos is, “Given the closeness of this race, how do you feel about Lohr running a campaign, not aimed at the two Democrats, but at fellow Republican Zimmerlink?”

Make no mistake: Lohr was taking on Zimmerlink more than Ambrosini and Zapotosky combined. Any doubt can be erased by looking at Lohr’s full-page, color political advertisement in the Herald-Standard of Nov. 2 (yeah, the one where he’s once again shaking hands with Joe Hardy.)

The ad, which was “Paid for by Dave Lohr,” creatively poses as a letter from Hardy, who notes, “In the past, the sitting Republican commissioner has sought to form committees and slow down the process of welcoming this dynamic (gas) industry to our community.” (That’s not true, obviously, and we predict that as time unfolds, more and more Fayette County residents will come to appreciate Zimmerlink’s effort to form an informational Marcellus Shale Task Force.)

Back to the ad: The way it was structured gives Lohr cover to say, “Hey, it wasn’t me who said that -- it was Joe Hardy.” It’s a classic example of using someone else to say something bad about your opponent, so you won’t have to. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether that little trick is the mark of an honest person. Or an independent one.

There’s another basic and longstanding theory of Fayette County politics, which holds that the Republican Party is merely an extension of the Democratic Party. This theory holds that the county’s political structure is monolithic, and that a true two-party system is a myth because they are in collusion.

In the just-concluded primary election for county commissioner, where two Democrats and two Republicans were running for three spots, can you name us one other county where a candidate took aim at the other candidate from his or her own party, instead of taking aim at the two candidates from the other party?

In this election, Republicans may have had a golden opportunity to recapture control of the county, by winning two of the three seats. We don’t expect to pursue a story along those lines, or one that would delve into Lohr’s unorthodox use of a primary election strategy in a general election.

No, the newspaper appears quite content to do a follow-up story on the closeness of the race between Zimmerlink and Lohr, two Republicans, by contacting the chairman of the Democratic Party, Fred L. Lebder.

Lebder is a political legend whose insights are worth seeking on any topic. But the real story here involves Republicans and the county Republican Party. Someone should give them a call.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The case for Angela Zimmerlink

In Tuesday’s election for Fayette County commissioner, only one candidate can lay undisputed claim to owing no one anything -- and that candidate is Republican Angela Zimmerlink.

That’s because Zimmerlink’s only campaign contributions have come from herself and her husband Tom. In an age where money matters immensely in politics, Zimmerlink has never accepted any campaign cash from outside her immediate family.

She’s won twice doing it that way -- and here in the patch, we think that her refusal to accept campaign cash is a powerful reason to keep Zimmerlink in office. This policy allows her to make decisions in the best interest of the county, without regard to politics. You can bet she won’t get any phone calls from someone seeking to cash in some chips, in terms of a board appointment, a contract, a hire, or any other sort of favorable treatment.

Let’s be brutally frank here: Does anyone think that campaign contributions -- especially hefty ones -- do not come with invisible strings attached? Do campaign contributors throw thousands of dollars your way because they think you’re a good guy?

However noble, Zimmerlink’s policy places her at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to such things as advertising and paying poll workers, two staples of the Fayette County political dynamic. Still, voters have twice elected her to the commissioners office -- and we hope they have the wisdom to do it again.

According to the story, “$70,000 spent on Fayette’s race for commissioner,” of Nov. 3, 2011, Democrat Vince Zapotosky was the big kahuna when it comes to raking in other peoples’ money. Zapotosky pulled in $24,717 in the reporting period that ended Oct. 28.

Democrat Al Ambrosini got $17,600 in new contributions, and Republican Dave Lohr received $11,750.

Zimmerlink and her husband contributed $1,310 to her campaign. In the reporting period, Zapotosky raised nearly 19 times as much money as Zimmerlink, Ambrosini 13.4 times as much, and Lohr nearly 9 times as much. (That gross imbalance is likely to get worse when the candidates file their post-election reports, which cover campaign contributions raised and spent AFTER Oct. 28.)

In analyzing Lohr’s numbers, what popped out at us was this: Of the $11,750 he raised according to, $5,500 came from two people named Terrance Shallenberger, another $4,800 came Lohr’s way from Sean Miller of Washington Security Group, and yet another $3,400 was put into Lohr’s campaign by Neil Brown of Acme.

(In the “Can you trust what you read?” department, we think someone ought to buy a calculator, or give its reporters a refresher course in basic math, because the Shallenbergers, Miller and Brown contributions alone add up to $13,700, which is $2,000 more than the $11,750 the newspaper reported that Lohr raised. In any case, those three contributors provided the backbone of Lohr‘s campaign financing.)

Inaccurate numbers aside, would this happen to be the same Terrance Shallenberger who is a member of the Fayette County Airport Authority, or whose company is heavily involved in the Marcellus gas industry operating here (think “frackwater treatment plant, Masontown Borough“)? Would this happen to be the same Sean Miller whose company is embroiled in a zoning dispute over a shooting range near Laurel Mall? Would this be the same Neil Brown who is a member of the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board?

According to, Zapotosky received $1,000 each from John and Justin Garlow of Uniontown (would this be the same John Garlow who owns Ford Business Machines, which has the county copy machine contract?), $1,100 from Fred and Rhonda Zeigler of Uniontown (the same couple who are trying to purchase Great Meadows Amphitheater property from the county?), and $3,500 from Terrance Shallenberger.

Ambrosini also got $2,000 from Terrance Shallenberger and $1,000 from John Garlow, in addition to $1,000 each from Robert W. Sleighter of Uniontown and Terry E. McMillan of Uniontown (who are each affiliated with engineering firms, if memory serves us correctly.)

There is nothing wrong or improper with any of these contributions, which are allowable by law. But if and when the county commissioners ever have to make a decision involving these or any other contributors, or any of the interests they represent, the fact that they contributed money could be interpreted, well, as a contributing factor in those outcomes.

That will never be an issue, real or imagined, with Zimmerlink. And we like that very much.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What do you mean by a 'united front'?

There's a paragraph in the election preview story, "Candidates running own campaigns," (Amy Revak, Oct. 16, 2011) that we really wish the newspaper had followed up on.

It reads:

Lohr said the three commissioners on the board need to present a united front, even if they despise each other personally.

Given the propensity for government entities to have meetings before the real meetings, to cut deals away from the public spotlight and, especially in Fayette County, to tamp down or eliminate dissension (which can also mean tamp down or eliminate opposition), we wonder what Lohr means -- and what this approach would mean for the concept of open government.

For example, if there is an issue on which he disagrees with the other commissioners, would Lohr be prone to say, "You know, I disagree with you 100 percent on this matter -- so much so that I despise you personally. Now let's get out there in the public meeting and present a united front!"

We certainly hope that would not be the case, because if it were, the public would end up being the big loser. There's a reason the system is structured so that one minority party commissioner is elected, and that reason is to prevent complete one-party dominance. The minority voice can be very effective in policy debate -- but only if that voice is raised. In public.

We wonder how Lohr's stated philosophy would have played back in the late 1990s, when he felt that voter fraud at personal care homes had contributed to his 1995 election loss and was a blight that needed eradicated. Lohr took a great personal interest in the voter fraud investigation matter, which at the time was being single-handidily pushed by Democrat commissioner Sean Cavanagh, who most certainly was not presenting a "united front" with fellow commissioners Harry Albert (Republican) and Vince Vicites (Democrat).

In short, without a county commissioner who was more interested in seeing justice done than in presenting a united front, there would not have been any uncovering of absentee ballot voter fraud at a large personal care home. Lohr was very much in Cavanagh's corner on that one, and Cavanagh's two terms as county commissioner are very much the antithesis of any "united front."

It would have been great if, which champions the need for open government, had asked for, and provided to, its readers a fuller explanation of Lohr's "united front" comment. On face value, it's a pretty strong statement about how one intends to approach the job. And in our view, not a very good one.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Zapotosky would prefer Lohr

In the race for Fayette County commissioner, two candidates (Democrat Vince Zapotosky and Republican Angela Zimmerlink) are known quantities, while the other two (Democrat Al Ambrosini and Republican Dave Lohr) are unknown quantities.

Zapotosky and Zimmerlink are incumbents, so those who vote for them on Nov. 8 are pretty sure what they are getting. Zapotosky has been commission chairman the past four years, during which he and his primary election running mate, Democrat Vince Vicites, ran county government as they saw fit.

Zimmerlink has completed two terms in office, and formerly served on the board of the Fayette County Housing Authority, although in the past four years she's been relegated to a minority voice in the commissioners' suite as Zapotosky and Vicites ran the show.

Generally speaking, with Zapotosky and Zimmerlink, you have a pretty good idea what they're going to be like if returned to office. More importantly, each of them has a pretty good idea of what they're getting if returned to office with the other. (Remember that point, because we'll be revisiting it shortly.)

Ambrosini is a newcomer to elected office, but the fact that he was top vote-getter in the Democratic primary speaks volumes about what Democrats felt about the direction Zapotosky and Vicites had taken the county. Given that Zapotosky and Vicites ran as a team, it's a pretty fair assumption that since Vicites got the boot and Ambrosini got the most votes, Democrats wanted a change in direction, and pinned their hopes on Ambrosini to deliver it.

Lohr, who also has never held elected office, got the fewest number of votes of the four primary election survivors, but it was enough to keep him in the game. Lohr's unsuccessfully tried for this office three times before; the closest he came was in 1999, when he formed an independent team with former commissioner Sean Cavanagh. That year, it was the long coattails of Cavanagh that Lohr nearly rode into office.

Here in the patch, we've heard the scuttlebutt about Zapotosky and Lohr running a shadow campaign as silent partners, a theory that bears watching given the preponderance of their campaign signs placed side-by-side throughout the county.

So we placed a few calls to our political friends in other patches, trying to find out the answer to one simple question: Why would Zapotosky want to see Lohr elected?

The answer came back in two parts. The more obvious one is that Zapotosky would like to be rid of Zimmerlink, who is among the most informed and savvy commissioners in recent history. She has been, and will continue to be, a formidable voice on policies that she agrees or disagrees with -- which might not always be the same policies that Zapotosky agrees or disagrees with.

But the second answer is one we felt compelled to share with our readers, because even we hadn't thought of it: If Zapotosky can lay claim to having helped Lohr get elected, or even if Lohr believes Zapotosky had something to do with it, guess who becomes the main power broker and likely chairman of the commission? Zapotosky.

If Zimmerlink is elected instead of Lohr, it keeps Zapotosky, at best, the junior partner in a Democratic alliance with Ambrosini; at worst, Zapotosky becomes the minority commissioner on some issues, such as appointments to boards and authorities. In short, in an Ambrosini-Zapotosky-Zimmerlink administration, Zapotosky could end up as the odd man out.

But if Lohr is elected instead of Zimmerlink, especially if he is elected with the help of Zapotosky and/or his Democratic supporters, or he thinks he was, Lohr becomes Bob Jones to Zapotosky's Fred Lebder, and Ambrosini becomes the possible odd man out even if he is the top vote getter Nov. 8.

Don't ya just love all this inside baseball?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The new Harry Albert

The question everyone here in the patch is asking themselves -- and one we hope you are asking, too -- is this: Why is Republican challenger Dave Lohr running against fellow Republican incumbent Angela Zimmerlink for Fayette County commissioner, instead of against Democrats Vincent Zapotosky or Al Ambrosini?

The only plausible answer, of course, is that Lohr recognizes that given the Democrats' huge voter registration edge, there's only room for one Republican to sit at the Fayette County commissioner table. And the independent insurance salesman Lohr, who's failed in three previous attempts to secure the job, has no problem casting party unity aside if it finally benefits his ascension to the office.

Here in the patch, where we pride ourselves on having a little bit of political insight, it's plain to see that Lohr is quite willing to suit up as the new Harry Albert, the former Republican commissioner who was often the subject of Lohr's ire, back in the days when Lohr was railing against the county establishment rather than snuggling up to it.

Back in 2003, when Lohr was wearing his own clothes, he said this about then-competitor Joe Hardy: "I'm going to beat him," says Lohr, 46, who ran for commissioner in 1995 and 1999. "He can bring his money to the table all he wants, but this election's going to be won by sweat and hard work by the candidates."

The same primary election story that appeared in the Herald-Standard on March 26, 2003, entitled, "GOP hopes for political rebound in May primary," contains these continguous paragraphs:

Lohr also believes that Hardy was put in the race to "to knock me out," because back in 1995 he told the county political powers that he wasn't "buyable" as a candidate. Lohr predicts that if Hardy were elected, he would resign shortly thereafter, paving the way for appointment of a "hand-picked puppet" who would do the bidding of the old-guard political establishment.

Lohr also believes that Hardy was inserted into the race as a complement to one of the Democrat challengers, with hopes that electing both of them would return political power to the old guard.

It was Dave Lohr who once proclaimed that he wasn't "buyable" as a candidate, Dave Lohr who scoffed at Hardy for bringing all his money to the table, and Dave Lohr who warned against a "hand-picked puppet" and of a Republican running as a complement to a Democrat in order for the old guard to retain power.

With that curriculum vitae, it makes perfect sense that Dave Lohr, version 2011, would choose to unveil billboards and newspaper advertisements that show him shaking hands with ... Joe Hardy?

My, how the worm has turned. If Hardy is such a strong supporter of Lohr, why didn't they roll out this ad campaign back in 2003, instead of running against each other? Back then Lohr, based on his comments, wasn't too interested in shaking Hardy's hand, unless he intended to squeeze it hard enough for old Joe to reveal the name of his "hand-picked puppet."

Hardy certainly wasn't interested in shaking Lohr's hand in 2003, or in either of the other two times Lohr ran for commissioner and lost. If Hardy were interested in pressing the flesh with Lohr, he would have decorated the county's FACT buses with the handshake photo, instead of those garish historical scenes and painted-over windows.

As for Lohr's 2003 warning that Hardy was in the commissioners' race as a complement to a Democrat, we think that same trend is relevant today. And it's not Zimmerlink that we're concerned about.

Before anyone goes all ga-ga over Hardy's visual endorsement of Lohr, it is important to ask one question: What is a Hardy-endorsed Lohr going to do for Fayette County that Hardy himself could not do in four years as county commissioner? Hardy was swept into office with high hopes that he would use his business acumen and connections to turn the county around, at least economically.

That never happened. Not even close.

The biggest thing remaining from Hardy's tenure as a county commissioner is the controversial renaming of the county airport to the Joseph A. Hardy/Connellsville Airport.

Perhaps Lohr can build on that legacy, and they can change the name again, this time to the Dave Lohr/Joseph A. Hardy/Connellsville Airport.