New Castle News

May 14, 2012

Mitchel Olszak: GOP dispute is matter for the party, not the law

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — John Altman is someone I would describe as a good citizen.

You may not always agree with him, but he is involved and active in the community in a variety of ways. A frequent candidate for New Castle City Council, Altman has never won elected office, but he keeps trying. Plus, he is well known for his interest in animals, working with the Lawrence County Animal Relief Fund.

And some of you may recall Altman as the driving force behind efforts to have New Castle declared a distressed community under Pennsylvania’s Act 47. There was a lot of resistance to that effort, but if Altman and others hadn’t pursued state involvement, the city would have been in deep, deep financial trouble.

However Altman is apparently one of those people who think legal action solves all the world’s wrongs. He has a record of filing complaints with the courts and governing bodies, seeking redress of assorted ills.

For instance, he went to court twice in a dispute last year involving New Castle City Council candidate Gary Mitchell. Altman, who also was a candidate for that office, was seeking to have Mitchell removed from the ballot, and then denied the council seat he won, because Mitchell had a felony record and couldn’t serve under Pennsylvania law.

Technically, Altman was correct. But the law spells out a procedure for dealing with this type of issue that didn’t include a complaint by a private citizen. Altman’s cases in the matter were tossed from court.

Now, Altman is complaining to the Lawrence County Board of Elections that the local Republican Party — and primarily its chairman, the Rev. William Schafer — violated election rules by sending out campaign material that didn’t identify who had paid for it. The literature dealt with candidates for the local Republican committee.

Altman will lose on this point as well, because there is no law prohibiting anonymity in internal party literature.

However, what’s legal isn’t necessarily ethical. And it’s worth noting that the specific candidate backed by the literature Altman complained about — former New Castle Mayor Wayne Alexander — lost the race for the GOP committee seat in his precinct. Alexander finished last among three candidates.

Who knows? Maybe Republican voters in the precinct objected to anonymous advertising pushing Alexander’s candidacy in this fashion.

It’s no secret among political circles that a battle is under way for control of the local Republican Party, with two factions fighting for it. For the most part, the struggle seems to have more to do with personality and management, rather than any ideological differences.

The chairman runs the local party, but it’s the committee members who select the chairman. Thus if Schafer were pushing some committee candidates over others, it was a blatant attempt to maintain his control of the party by making certain the desired committee people were elected.

Schafer’s critics waged an aggressive effort to get their people elected to committee seats. They apparently believe they now have the votes to block Schafer’s retention as chairman. We shall see.

Concerning the anonymous advertising for GOP committee seats, no law was broken. But local Republicans might wonder why resources were spent to favor one GOP candidate over others.

Those funds won’t be available to do battle against Democrats in the fall. At the very least, Schafer may have to explain his priorities to the local GOP.