Tuesday, November 06, 2007

GOP wins Berks commissioners, but loses D.A. race

Two new members will join the Berks County Board of Commissioners, which will be controlled by Republicans for the first time in four years.

Incumbent Democrat Tom Gajewski lost his bid for re-election Tuesday, finishing fourth for the three open seats. Gajewski was the main target of Republicans, who reminded voters that Gajewski voted for a 34-percent property tax hike in 2005.

The new majority on the board will consist of incumbent Republican Mark C. Scott, who voted against the tax hike, and newcomer Christian Leinbach, who pledged not to raise county taxes if he was elected.

Leinbach said his message of "stop raising taxes" and "start fighting crime" resonated with voters across the political spectrum.

The third seat, which by law must go to the minority party, will be held by Kevin S. Barnhardt, the former mayor of West Reading.

With 99 percent of the vote counted Tuesday, Scott led all candidates with 33,965 votes. Barnhard finished with 30,665 votes. Leinbach received 30,287 votes.

Gajewski, who claimed during the campaign that he "helped keep taxes down" despite voting for the 34-percent tax hike, trailed the pack with 25,503 votes. All results are unofficial until certified by county elections officials.

The top vote-getter in the May primary, Democrat Judy Schwank, who voted for the 34-percent tax hike, dropped out of the race over the summer to take a job with an advocacy group.

The biggest upset Tuesday was Berks County district attorney, where incumbent Mark C. Baldwin, who has held the post for the past 16 years, lost to John T. Adams, a Democrat whose name wasn’t even on the primary ballot in May.

Adams received enough write-in votes to challenge Baldwin and managed to beat him on Tuesday, according to final but unofficial results.
With 99 percent of the vote counted, unofficial results show Adams with 35,456 votes and Baldwin with 27,862 votes.

Baldwin was widely criticized for his decision not to turn over $1 million in confiscated drug money to the City of Reading, which has the highest crime rate in the county.

Baldwin used the drug money to establish a fund to provide grants to all police departments in the county. His action drew the wrath of the law enforcement community and prompted a lawsuit by the city.

Democrat Frederick C. Sheeler defeated Republican John Fielding for recorder of deeds. With 99 percent of the votes counted, unofficial results show Sheeler, who owns a home mortgage service firm, with 32,632 votes and Fielding, a Berks County assistant public defender, with 29,707 votes. Sheeler outspent Fielding nearly 4-1 in the campaign.

This is the second year in a row that Fielding defeated an incumbent Republican in the primary only to lose to a Democrat in the November election. Fielding ousted the GOP coroner in 2006 but lost the corner’s race to Democrat Dennis Hess. Fielding defeated incumbent Republican Recorder of Deeds Ellen Antoine in May but lost to Sheeler.

The closest countywide contest was for Berks County sheriff.

The new sheriff is Republican Eric Weaknecht, who narrowly defeated Democrat Mike Garipoli by a 31,955 to 30,692 vote margin, with 99 percent of the votes counted, according to unoficial results. Weaknecht is a deputy sheriff under incumbent Sheriff Barry Jozwiak, who did not seek re-election.

Tim Rowley was elected to a 10-year term on the Berks County Court of Common Pleas, defeating Ron Stanko. Both are registered Republicans. Rowley won the Democratic nomination in the May primary, while Stanko won the Republican nomination in the spring, setting up a fall showdown. With 97 percent of the vote counted, Rowley received 36,049 votes, compared to 24,557 for Stanko with 99 percent of the votes counted. All results are unofficial until certified by elections officials.

Berks County voters retained Judge Jeffrey Schmehl for another 10-year term on the Court of Common Pleas. Schmehl received 39,764 "yes" votes to 13,161 "no" votes with 99 percent of the vote counted. That was a margin of 75 percent to 25 percent.

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