Epic Battles No. 17: Zalar loses despite Belfanti's endorsement
Voters in the 107th District elected Bob Belfanti to the state House of Representatives 15 times, and had he not chosen to retire, he might well have remained in office for 16th and 17th terms. But although he tried very hard, Belfanti was unable to push his chosen successor over the finish time. And it turned out many voters didn't like that he even tried.
After announcing in February 2010 that he would not seek another term, Belfanti quickly - and openly - endorsed Coal Township Commissioner George Zalar for the Democratic nomination. But the support of Northumberland County's most prominent Democrat didn't earn Zalar a free ride. Zalar wound up with three aggressive primary opponents, Ted Yeager, Steve Bartos and Kulpmont Mayor Myron Turlis, and his eventual Republican opponent, county Commissioner Kurt Masser, had just one challenger, former Mount Carmel Township Supervisor Sam Scicchitano.
Zalar won the primary, as expected, but his win, though decisive, was not overwhelming.
Zalar's loss in November generated much analysis from professional and amateur analysts. Many factors were seen as contributing to the defeat: The bruising Democratic primary, Zalar's bulging war chest (mostly from unions), an ill-conceived personal attack against Masser masterminded by the House Democratic Campaign Committee and the fact that 2010 turned out to be very much a Republican year, both nationally and in Pennsylvania.
Pre-election predictions were that the race would be close. In the end, it wasn't. Masser beat Zalar by a 2-to-1 margin.
Belfanti, by any objective analysis, was an outstanding legislator for 30 years. Belfanti, as much as anyone, deserves credit for "saving" the Shamokin Hospital. He played a major role in the demanding that the state and federal governments take action to protect Centralians from the harmful physical effects of the mine fire. He was responsible for major Route 901 improvements and the construction of the Strong Connector. He devoted countless hours each week to ongoing efforts to attract new industry and assist existing businesses. And when it came to constituent services, his office staff was superb.
But, on Nov. 2, 2010, voters, in rejecting Zalar, decided that the Belfanti era was over.
And politicians should have learned a difficult lesson: Popularity is seldom transferable.