Epic 14: Rep. Bradley, meet Ed Helfrick
Democratic state Rep. Joseph P. Bradley Jr. had two people to "thank" for his defeat at the polls in 1976 after just one term.
One. of course, was his general election opponent, Edward W. Helfrick. Helfrick, in his first campaign ever for elective office, proved to be a masterful campaigner, and he eventually parlayed his outstanding people skills into a career in elective office that lasted almost 30 years.
The second "opponent" was an unintended one. By 1976, Pennsylvania voters were experiencing a severe case of "Shapp fatigue."
The governor, Milton Shapp, was mid-way through his second term. Bradley suffered not only for being a member of the same political party, but for trusting that Shapp could fulfill a key promise that was made to the area.
Bradley, it seemed, had no luck at all. The bad luck started early in the year when Gus Veach Jr., of Kulpmont, a member of the Mount Carmel Area School Board, challenged him in the primary. The Bradley-Veach campaign generated widespread attention, attracting a turnout of more than 60 percent. That turnout might have been higher except for the fact that the April 1976 primary was the first election in Northumberland County in which the new voting machines were used.
The primary results were not nearly as close as many expected. Bradley easily won renomination by a margin greater than 2-to-1. But the need to defend himself in an intra-party fight weakened Bradley for the fall election.
Disaster struck in September 1976 when Shapp visited Mount Carmel to announce that he had to renege on a promise he had made to relocate a state agency to eastern Northumberland County. Rumors that the office plan had fallen through had circulated throughout the area for weeks, and Bradley made a calculated gamble that it was better to have the governor confirm the fact rather than let speculation continue.
Still, the election was very close, with the result finalized only after a recount of some precincts. Bradley carried the Mount Carmel area, as expected, but not by as much as he should have to offset heavily Republican areas, including parts of Schuylkill County that were then part of the 107th House District. Had Shapp delivered better news, Bradley, who was hard-working and tuned in to the district's needs, might well have prevailed.
Bradley tried for a comeback in 1978, but, once again, lost to Helfrick. He was frequently mentioned as mulling another try for the Democratic nomination in 1980, but he never made the race. That ended up being Bob Belfanti's year.