Three people have applied for the Republican Luzerne County Controller ballot slot vacated by Walter Griffith’s recent withdrawal from the race: Walter Mitchell, Carolee Medico Olenginski and Karen Ceppa-Hirko.
A fourth unidentified person applied by Wednesday’s deadline but is expected to withdraw due to issues with current employment.
The county Republican Party’s 11-person executive committee will choose the Republican controller nominee on Sunday. The nominee will run against Democrat Michelle Bednar in the Nov. 5 general. The elected controller will take office in January and be paid $64,999.
County Republican Chairman Bill Urbanski said he will be focusing on applicants’ credentials and likelihood of winning.
“I want the candidate with the best background and experience. At the same time, even if we have the best candidate in the world, if they can’t get elected, what’s the point?”
Executive committee member Ed Warkevicz agreed, saying the party needs a contender “who is both electable and qualified to handle the job.”
Mitchell, 69, is the mayor of Bear Creek Village and has been owner/operator of Mitchell Financial Group, an insurance and financial and estate planning firm, for 36 years. He has a bachelor of arts degree from Lafayette College and has completed accounting and finance courses at American College.
Though he wanted to lock in his application, Mitchell said he will make a final decision on whether he wants to run for the post by Sunday.
“I am considering all my options. I’m honored that so many people have taken it upon themselves to contact me and encourage me to put my name in,” Mitchell said.
Medico Olenginski, 69, received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in human resources administration from the University of Scranton. She has 20 years of experience as a management consultant, seminar facilitator and staff trainer and was twice elected county prothonotary.
The elected prothonotary post was eliminated by home rule, but Medico Olenginski continues to be paid $36,562 until her term expires the end of this year. Medico Olenginski said she wanted to continue working in the office, but county Manager Robert Lawton instructed her to stay home in September 2012 after the two clashed over her responsibilities under the new home rule government.
Ceppa-Hirko, 45, of Wilkes-Barre, has a master’s degree in business administration with an accounting concentration from Misericordia University and has worked as a tax accountant at DeAngelo Brothers Inc. in Hazleton since 2011 following previous positions as a controller and accountant at other companies.
The Republican nominee will be behind the curve in campaigning and fundraising due to the late entry in the race.
County voters are free to pick candidates from any political party in the general.
Griffith won with 28,181 votes in November 2009, beating a Democrat who received 21,937 votes and an Independent with 8,210 votes. In comparison, Democrat Maryanne Petrilla received 30,398 votes to capture the seat in 2005 over a Republican who received 16,692 votes.
Medico Olenginski was elected county prothonotary two out of three times, winning in 1997 and 2009 but losing to Democrat Jill Moran in 2001.
Mitchell unsuccessfully ran for two countywide offices. He competed against Medico Olenginski for the Republican prothonotary nomination in the 2009 primary. In 2001 Mitchell beat another Republican to land the party’s primary election controller nomination but lost to Democrat Steve Flood in the general.
Ceppa-Hirko lost the Republican nomination in May, with 4,380 votes to Griffith’s 5,844.
Griffith, who resigned without explanation, potentially as part of a pending plea agreement related to felony wiretap charges filed against him, said he believes all three applicants would be “good candidates,” but he endorses Medico Olenginski. He cited her knowledge of county operations and willingness to publicly expose questionable activity.
“Carolee has demonstrated her ability to fight for the people,” Griffith said.