By MICHAEL P. RELLAHAN
WEST CHESTER — Republican voters in Chester County are likely to see contests on the primary election ballot in April for two county row offices and possibly more.
Candidates for the county district attorney and register of wills offices failed to establish the number of votes in the straw polls at the conclusion of area committee interviews necessary to win the party's endorsement at its nominating convention next month.
In addition, candidates for Common Pleas Court judge are closely ranked together, so there may be the chance that no clear choice for the two open seats prevails at the convention.
An endorsement at the convention is tantamount to a clear path to winning the party's primary and owning a favorite position in the November General Election. An endorsement gives the candidate the political resources
of the GOP committee, its committee members and financial backing.
To win endorsement, candidates must receive more than 60 percent of the committee members voting. There are currently 422 committee members, which means that if all members are present at the convention, the threshold for an endorsement is 253 votes.
In the straw poll results released by GOP headquarters Friday after the last interviews session concluded, only two candidates had garnered more than 250 votes — Terence Farrell, seeking re-election to the board of commissioners, and Ryan Costello, the current recorder of deeds running for commissioner. Farrell received 309 votes, while Costello had 294. Thornbury businessman James Jordan ran a distant third with 96 votes.
In the race for Common Pleas judge, veteran trial attorney Mark Tunnell, a West Chester attorney with the firm of Gawthrop Greenwood, took the most number of votes out of a field of six candidates, with Joseph Carroll, the current district attorney, running behind him in second place.
Tunnell had 194 votes through Friday, while Carroll had 140.
"I am very pleased to receive this indication of broad support across the 28 area committees of the Republican Party of Chester County," said Tunnell in a statement last week. "I humbly thank all those involved, and have every reason to expect that this support will carry through in the endorsement process at the party's convention next month."
Carroll said: "I enjoyed meeting with the committee to answer their questions, and was very impressed with how knowledgeable they are about issues and how hard they work to find the best possible candidates. Their work results in better public officials. I look forward to the rest of the process."
Of the remaining four candidates, Exton attorney Susan DiGiacomo and West Chester attorney Jeffrey Sommer were tied with 106 votes, while Anne Marie Wheatcraft, an assistant district attorney, had 86 and Allison Bell Royer, the county's former prothonotary, had 75.
In the tight race for district attorney, Patrick Carmody, the county's first assistant district attorney, led the field of three candidates with 156 voters, followed closely by Thomas Hogan, a West Chester attorney with the firm of Lamb McErlane, who had 154. Stephen Kelly, a county deputy district attorney, had 42.
In statements, Carmody praised the committee members, Hogan thanked the law enforcement organizations that have endorsed his campaign, and Kelly congratulated his opponents.
Said Carmody of the candidate interviews, "It's democracy in action and it is an honor to be part of the process. I identify with the Republican committee people. They dedicate time and effort trying to make a difference for the people of this county. Their job, like mine, is all about commitment."
Hogan, a former county and federal prosecutor, noted that he had been given a chance to speak "about my approach to prosecuting criminals and fighting crime in Chester County. I deeply appreciate the support of the Chester County law enforcement community, and I look forward to taking the next step in seeking to gain the endorsement of the Republican Committee."
Saying it was the first time he'd been involved in the GOP process, Kelly acknowledged that he was "disappointed in the number of straw votes I received. Nevertheless," he said, "I will continue to advocate for goals I wish to see accomplished, such as curfews placed on felons that are on probation or parole. I congratulate my opponents for their fine showing at the candidate interviews and I know they also have worthy goals."
In other races, East Goshen Supervisor Carmen Battavio and West Chester School Board member Terri Clark were deadlocked in a race for the endorsement for county register of wills — Battavio with 176 votes to Clark's 173. Candidate Rick Loughery seemed well ahead of opponents David Cox and Patty Diggin for recorder of deeds.
Incumbents Sheriff Carolyn "Bunny" Welsh and Prothonotary Bryan Walters are seeking renomination and were unopposed in the interviews.