Epic Battles No. 13: GOP turns on Deitrick in '79
In 1979, something was missing in Dr. George Deitrick's re-election campaign for Northumberland County commissioner.
That something was actually "someone." His 1975 running mate, Lawton W. Shroyer, died in 1977 and, two years later, Deitrick was on his own, battling against four candidates who all wanted to take his place on the Republican ticket.
The county political world had turned upside down with Shroyer's death. Shroyer, then serving his third term, was board chairman, the unchallenged leader of county government. Deitrick, in only his second year in office, was thrust into the position of chairman; he didn't enjoy the spotlight. His new fellow majority commissioner, appointed by the court, was a surprise choice - former county Judge Frank S. Moser. As an unelected commissioner who had no intention of running in 1979, Moser saw his role more as a caretaker than an innovator. More often than not, he deferred to Deitrick in setting county policy.
One-on-one, Deitrick was one of the most congenial politicians in Northumberland County history, but few saw him in this setting. In his official role, however, many members of the general public found Deitrick a bit aloof, and, as became painfully apparent, much of the courthouse Republican clique and their friends didn't care for him very much.
Ned Stank, of Ranshaw, and Merle Phillips, of Upper Augusta Township, entered the primary campaign as a team. Also joining the race were former state Rep. Paul G. Ruane and Chet Gard.
On election night, Deitrick finished a distant fourth, almost 1,000 votes behind front-runner Stank. Phillips, also nominated, was second, and Ruane was third.
A celebratory photo the next day showed Stank and Phillips toasting their victory, Phillips with a coffee cup, not a glass, in his hand.
Stank won in November; Phillips did not. Elected as majority commissioners for their first of four terms were James P. Kelley and Charles F. Lewis Sr.
The most common "take" on the Republican campaign was that Deitrick made a fatal mistake by not teaming up with Ruane. The two reportedly got along fairly well, and the partnership might have been an effective counter to the Stank-Phillips campaign, which was supported by most organization Republicans.