Epic Battles No. 15: Nepotism charges sunk Rumberger in 1975
By all appearances, the Northumberland County Democratic Party was on top of the world in 1975.
Democrats had controlled the commissioners' office for two consecutive terms after decades of Republican control. By this time, the county Democratic organization was fully entrenched and enjoying patronage at the county level and the state (thanks to the Shapp administration). The Kelley-Rumberger campaign also had the necessary financial resources to mount an aggressive fall campaign.
Yet, on Nov. 4, 1975, Republicans staged an amazing comeback. Incumbent Commissioner Lawton Shroyer and Dr. George Deitrick won, with Kelley, who, ironically finished first in the balloting, relegated to minority commissioner and Rumberger out.
The Kelley-Rumberger team won renomination easily that May, even though they had three primary opponents, the most prominent being Dr. Guido Varano, of Mount Carmel.
Shroyer and Deitrick, who also ran as a team in the primary, had a somewhat more difficult row to hoe. They, too, had primary opposition, with the most serious challenge coming from Robert Varano, of Mount Carmel. Robert Varano was said to have the support of the once-powerful former Republican chairman, Henry Lark.
In the general election campaign, Kelley and Rumberger, stressing their record, offered the slogan, "Keep the County Moving." Shroyer and Deitrick countered that it was moving in the wrong direction. Republicans cited an increase of more than 100 percent in number of county jobs since Democrats came to power in 1969 and charged Kelley and Rumberger with approving a roundabout tax increase through an increase in real estate valuations.
But the GOP's most damaging accusation was that there were 15 Rumberger relatives on the county payroll. The nepotism charge was probably the principal contributor for Rumberger's defeat.
The 1975 campaign was unique in that three of the candidates had fathers who served as commissioner. Kelley's father, James F. Kelley (namesake of the present Northumberland County coroner), served as a Democratic minority commissioner. Thus, the three men elected in 1975 were all "commissioner sons."
John U. Shroyer and George Deitrick, fathers of the 1975 winning candidates, served together as Republican commissioners from 1952 to 1956. Bucking Lark's Republican organization, they won the 1951 primary and election that November. Lark presided over their defeat for renomination in 1955.
Rumberger never again ran for county office. But Kelley's stature was, if anything, enhanced by his stint as minority commissioner. He was elected four more times, all as majority commissioner.
Shroyer died in office in 1977, and Deitrick was defeated for renomination in 1979.