Epic Battles No. 16: Startzel v. Warner was '81 primary's biggest matchup
It's rare, but not out of the question, to experience a confirmed sighting of the bashful ash-throated flycatcher. Similarly, it's not impossible for a Republican to be elected to office in Mount Carmel Township; it happens from time to time, but you might not witness it for years.
Mount Carmel Township politics has traditionally been a largely intramural affair. If there is a major electoral contest, it is generally waged between Democrats in a primary election.
Arguably, the most intense Democratic party fight in the township occurred in 1981 when Joseph B. Warner, Mount Carmel Area superintendent of schools, decided to challenge incumbent Ronald F. Startzel for the party's nomination for supervisor.
Startzel, who was first elected supervisor in 1975, was a teacher at Mount Carmel Area High School, so Warner was essentially his boss. They didn't like each other much. Startzel was a critic of the district administration (not uncommon in those days), and Warner didn't approve of how Mount Carmel Township was being managed.
Startzel, who was supported by the township Democratic organization, adopted a campaign slogan of "Keep Township Government in the Township." Startzel, who spent his first term enhancing the township's public visibility, had been zealous in fighting for what he believed should have been township prerogatives, such as representation on the sewer authority and a greater township role in area recreation projects. He suggested that Warner's principal supporters were from Mount Carmel Borough.
Warner, a resident of Atlas, questioned supervisors' financial management skills, suggested their compensation was too high and promised to forgo a salary if elected.
It was a primary race in which few township Democrats were neutral. Turnout in the primary was unusually high - 79 percent - and when the dust cleared, Startzel was the winner by only 83 votes.
Despite the loss in the 1981 primary, Warner became a member of the board of supervisors four years later. He was appointed Dec. 30, 1985, to fill a vacancy that resulted when supervisors resigned because of legal problems related to the former township landfill.
Warner was elected to the board for a four-year term in 1987 and then re-elected to six-year terms in 1991 and 1997. He was still serving on the township board at the time of his death on Oct. 6, 2000.