Candidates OK with judge’s plan to fill vacancy

February 21, 2019

Somerset County Democratic commissioner candidates support President Judge D. Gregory Geary’s plan to fill a board vacancy.

On Tuesday Geary announced that he will appoint the highest Democratic vote-getter in the upcoming primary to fill the remainder of John Vatavuk’s term. The commissioner died in January after a short battle with cancer.

Geary said he made the decision in part because he thinks the highest Democratic vote-getter will most likely fill one of the three seats in the municipal election. All three seats are up for election.

Candidate Dan Hillegas said he agrees with Geary.

“It is not going to change any of my plans,” he said. “I am going to keep campaigning like I am doing.”

Hillegas said that if he is the top vote-getter, he would consider accepting the appointment.

“I would seriously think about it,” he said.

He said he hopes the decision will create more interest in the primary.

“Voter turnout isn’t very good in these off-years,” he said.

Pamela Tokar-Ickes said it is important to remember why there is an unexpired term, referencing Vatavuk’s death.

“I think it is important to remember we are in the midst of unfortunate circumstances,” she said. “I’ll conduct my campaign with respect of the events of the past few weeks.”

She said she respects Geary’s choice to place the decision in the hands of the voters. She said she will accept an appointment if that’s what voters want.

“If that is the will of the Democratic voters, I will accept the appointment,” she said.

Frank Pelesky echoed the sentiments of his opponents.

“I was extremely excited, because it gives me two opportunities to become commissioner,” he said. “It also intensifies the next three months for the spring primary.”

He said he would be willing to take the appointment if he wins the primary.

“I would try to work something (out) with my present employer, (and) say this is what I would like to do if I win in the fall,” he said. “I’d definitely find a way to work it in.”

Somerset County Democratic Party Chairwoman Shelley Glessner said she and Geary had a discussion prior to him making his decision.

“I’m good with the decision that he made,” she said. “I’m also grateful that he asked me for my input.”

The primary is May 21.