Epic Battles No. 20: 'Anti-Warner' faction takes over Mount Carmel Area board
Back in the mid-1970s, "pro-Warner" and "anti-Warner" were more accurate political labels in the Mount Carmel Area School District than "Democrat" and "Republican."
Joseph B. Warner, appointed superintendent in 1971, had found himself, by 1977, at the center of a continuing string of school district controversies. Warner was destined to become a campaign issue in 1977 and in many subsequent elections, even though his name didn't actually come up very much during the campaign.
The election of 1977 marked the first time that candidates critical of Warner won control of the board. "Anti-Warner" forces owed the 1977 victory to the work of a broad bipartisan coalition that succeeded in defeating Dorothy C. Spurr, a key Warner ally on the board.
Spurr was the only "Warner majority" school director up for re-election that year. Her four majority colleagues - Gus Veach, James Ambrose, Francis Mohan and Robert Bierowski, either one-third or two-thirds of the way through their current terms - would still be on the board no matter what happened in November. So, the opposition had to capture all three seats up for election.
Five candidates survived a crowded primary. Andrew Marshalick won both Democratic and Republican nominations. Spurr and Nicholas Gard, also an incumbent director, won Democratic nominations, and Robert Litwin and Thomas Zosh were the Republican nominees.
After the primary, opposition to Warner quickly coalesced around an alliance supporting Marshalick, Gard and Litwin. Election of the three-man team would shift the balance of power on the board since the other two incumbent board members, Dr. Clement Cooper and Joseph Mirarchi, were considered Warner critics.
Everyone knew that with Marshalick, a double nominee, and Gard being likely winners, the race for the third spot was really between Spurr and Litwin. Going into the race, Litwin's prospects weren't at all promising. He only had a Republican nomination in what was still considered a "diehard" Democratic area, and straight-party voting was more common then.
But the names of Marshalick, Gard and Litwin appeared together for weeks on campaign signs and in newspaper advertising. Voters were urged to split their party tickets and vote for all three. The candidates and their supporters unleashed a continual barrage of accusations against Spurr. Spurr, who always relished a good campaign fight, responded in kind, defending the record of the board majority and expressing concern that the election of her opponents could increase the influence of political bosses.
When the votes were counted, Spurr finished fourth, finishing 300 votes behind Litwin. The heated school board race generated a large turnout - 60 to 70 percent.
Critics of Warner believed the 1977 election would mean the end of his tenure as superintendent. Actually, he served in the job until 1989.