On Politics: Chatting with Luzerne County’s new Democratic leader

Roger DuPuis - On Politics
Pekarovsky -

When he was elected chairman of the Luzerne County Democratic Party last week, John Pekarovsky vowed to fix a party he said was broken.

In an interview on Monday afternoon, Pekarovsky spoke with me about what that means.

For starters, involvement is down. Each voting district in the county is supposed to have two Democratic committeepeople — one man and one woman.

Right now, Pekarovsky said, 35 to 40 percent of those positions are vacant.

He attributes some of that to a declining tide in civic and political activism. “Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t want to get involved anymore,” Pekarovsky said.

Filling those vacancies is a key issue on the agenda for an upcoming July 12 party meeting.

A rising red tide

But Pekarovsky also knows there are larger trends to combat. The extent to which Luzerne County voters embraced Republican Donald Trump in his 2016 presidential race, as we all know, turned the heads of political scientists and media from around the world.

As we reported in May, registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans in Luzerne County, but things are changing:

• Republicans gained 509 voters from last fall until that point, for a new total of 74,911.

• Democrats lost 228, bringing the party’s total to 106,328.

• Voters with other affiliations or no affiliation increased 498, to a new total 24,297.

As reporter Jennifer Learn-Andes also pointed out, the county through last month gained 10,877 more voters than it had in the 2016 primary, which was a presidential election year.

Since then, Republicans have gained 6,308 voters, compared to 841 new Democrats.

Between the 2014 and 2018 primaries, the number of Republicans has increased by 11,000, while registered Democrats have decreased 4,905. The unaffiliated/other affiliation is 3,600 higher today.

Healing divisions

Pekarovsky aims to focus on two areas.

“One of the things I’m trying to do is make the party more inclusive,” he said Monday.

First, he says bringing more young people into the party is important. On that note, he says expanding social media presence and outreach will be critical.

Second — and clearly related, to a degree — Pekarovsky feels that the county Democratic Party needs to heal the wounds of the 2016 primary, when the Hillary and Bernie wings split and have yet to fully reconcile.

With several high-profile contests in the offing this year — including the races for U.S. Senate, Pennsylvania governor and several regional battles — 2018 “is an important time,” he said, as Democrats gear-up for one of the most closely watched midterms in years,

“I’m trying to build on the momentum we have right now,” Pekarovsky said.

Over the coming months, it remains to be seen whether that strategy will prove successful — and in this column I expect we will hear from a lot of people on both sides.

Pekarovsky is ready to plunge in with vigor.

A veteran member of Larksville Borough Council who has served as a committeeman himself, Pekarovsky, 56, is confident he can galvanize longtime Democrats while energizing younger voters around the party based on what he sees as its traditional roots.

“Our values are hard work and working hard for everyone,” Pekarovsky said.


Roger DuPuis

On Politics