Epic Battles No. 19: Clausi was 'change' voters wanted
2003, by rights, should have been a "change election" for Northumberland County Republicans. For the first time since 1975, the GOP won control of the county, thanks to the financial debacle left behind by the last elected Democratic commissioners, Allen Cwalina and Charles Lewis Jr. On election night, Republicans thought the pendulum had finally swung in their direction after six commissioner elections that went to the Democrats.
The Democratic nominees in 2003 - Frank Sawicki and Vinny Clausi - had nothing whatsoever to do with the late discredited Cwalina-Lewis regime, but alas, voters, fearing another Democratic administration might bring more of the same, opted for the Republican alternatives of Kurt Masser and incumbent Commissioner Sam Deitrick, with Sawicki elected as minority commissioner and Clausi out.
Deitrick and Masser thought they had done a great job from 2004 to 2007 in putting the county back on the road to fiscal solvency. But it turned out voters were not all that impressed with the level of change.
The 2007 general election had the same cast of characters, Masser and Deitrick, seeking re-election, were running as a team, but just like in 2003, Sawicki and Clausi were not.
The difference in the 2007 campaign was that Clausi was more determined, and perhaps more confident. He struck a nerve with his charge that county voters were being overtaxed, and his challenge to the Republican commissioners to "tell the truth" resonated with the electorate.
At some point between 2003 and 2007, voters apparently remembered that Deitrick served as a minority commissioner during the last 3 1/2 years of the Cwalina-Lewis era. Although no one blamed Deitrick for the bad financial decisions, critics thought he should have been more vocal in opposing these decisions.
On election night, Clausi finished first; Masser second, just 80 votes behind Clausi; Sawicki, third, and Deitrick, last and out. The election was by no means a blowout (Deitrick had only about 800 fewer votes than Clausi), but it was decisive.
Deitrick was out of office until he was elected jury commissioner two years later. Masser resigned from the board of commissioners in late 2010 following his election as a state representative.
On election night 2007, the separate Sawicki and Clausi campaigns ended in separate victory celebrations - Clausi's at the Springfield Banquet Hall and Sawicki's at the Pine Burr Inn. They were both nominees of the Democratic Party - twice - but they never really connected as a team, as became painfully obvious during the tumultuous next four years.