Karen Ceppa-Hirko expects to gain some votes Tuesday in the race for the Luzerne County controller Republican nomination due to the wiretap charges filed against opponent Walter Griffith, but she’s not presuming a victory.
“I don’t think the issue of this coming out is going to deter the supporters of Walter until he’s actually convicted,” said the tax accountant from Wilkes-Barre.
“Does it help? In some ways yes, but I’m still moving forward as if he’s running and this never came out,” she said.
Ceppa-Hirko responded to the charges with a public statement describing her work ethic and promising to be a “faithful steward” of county funds.
“Let us just say this is another sad day for the citizens and voting public in Luzerne County with the indictment of another elected official — the one who is supposed to be overseeing our elected officials’ use of our tax dollars — on charges of wiretapping,” the statement said.
“Like a lot of other voters I talk to, I am getting sick and tired of elected officials doing the wrong things,” she wrote.
Despite the charges, some political observers question if Ceppa-Hirko’s somewhat subdued campaign is enough to overcome Griffith, an outspoken incumbent with widespread name recognition.
Griffith: Still in race
Griffith said he’s not pulling out of the race and has asked voters to consider the timing of charges filed days before the primary.
Ceppa-Hirko said she is busy with her full-time job and family commitments but has held two campaign events and attended several community events to discuss her qualifications and seek voters. She posted campaign information under her name on the Facebook social networking website and has invested about $3,000 of her own funds on signs and other campaign material, she said, noting she purposefully decided against accepting campaign donations that are not from friends and family.
Even if Griffith wanted to pull out of the primary, his name must appear on the ballot because the deadlines have passed for withdrawals and nomination challenges, said county Election Board solicitor Mike Butera.
If Griffith wins the Republican nomination Tuesday, it’s highly unlikely the charges against him will be adjudicated in court before November, unless he pleads guilty, Butera said.
The county Republican Party would choose someone else to run in the November general if Griffith makes it through the primary and withdraws from the race before the general because of a guilty plea or personal decision not to run, Butera said.
However, Butera stressed there are deadlines to withdraw from the general election race.
He pointed to former Republican state Rep. Scott Dietterick, who was found guilty in an insurance fraud case one month before the 1990 general election. Commonwealth Court would not allow Dietterick to withdraw from the race after his trial because of the deadlines.
Democrat Phyllis Mundy won the seat.
Someone could attempt to forcibly remove Griffith from the general election ballot if he wins the primary, but Butera said it would be “virtually impossible” to win based on charges that have not been resolved in court.
“You’re innocent until proven guilty,” Butera said.
Griffith is paid $36,562 annually as controller. The salary will increase to $64,999 for the controller elected in November.