Vote count shows 22 of grassroots group's 26 candidates won fall ballot spots

·3 min read

May 23—A progressive grassroots organizing group that fielded 26 candidates in municipal and school board races in five counties, including Westmoreland, is celebrating putting 22 candidates on the fall ballot.

It may seem small, coming at the end of a low-participation primary that featured thousands of ballot openings in municipalities and school districts across the state, but it's worth celebrating, said Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, managing director of PA United, the umbrella group that counts Voice of Westmoreland among its affiliates.

Locally, VOW endorsed five candidates — two for Greensburg City Council, two for Norwin School Board and one for Greensburg Salem School Board. All will appear on the November ballot.

Although Voice of Westmoreland has been active in civic affairs, lobbying county officials for equity in the vaccine roll-out and conducting phone banks and door-knocking campaigns during last year's election, this marked the first entry into local politics for the group that organized in 2017 in the wake of the Trump administration's Muslim travel ban.

Yukie King and Ceil Kessler, VOW candidates who ran unopposed on the Democratic ticket for Greensburg City Council, will face incumbents Greg Mertz and Donnie Zappone Jr., who ran unopposed as Republicans.

They will face a real test this fall when the general election pits the VOW candidates one-on-one against the incumbents.

Dana Barvinchak Williams and Carrie McConnell Muniz, both of whom cross-filed in the Norwin primary, won slots on the Democratic ticket. Sara Deegan, who cross-filed in the Greensburg Salem election, also won a spot on the Democratic ballot.

Amanda Rose Piern, a VOW volunteer who coordinated local election work, said the group did a lot of door-to-door campaigning.

"We're just so elated. We door-knocked a lot of people and had a lot of great conversations. We are not about the parties. We are about the issues," she said. "What the candidates did was fantastic. We consider this a move toward that progressive bold change that will get more people involved in the movement and provide everyone with a voice in the community."

PA United, which was formed in 2017, also has affiliated groups in Allegheny, Beaver, Centre, Crawford, Erie and Washington counties. Though its roots are with a coalition of labor, faith and environmental groups that have been active for many years, the progressive umbrella group that organized and trained grassroots community organizers for the Biden-Harris ticket last year says its commitments are to values, not party politics.

They fielded successful primary candidates in municipal and school board elections from Erie to State College. And now they're on to the real challenge this fall.

"My favorite day of the year is the day after the election, when the office opens up and we keep working," Rafanan Kennedy said. "With the parties, a lot of the infrastructure breaks apart after the election."

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, derdley@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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