Epic Battles No. 3: Krehel 'upset the apple cart' in '75 judgeship fight
In 1975, the Northumberland County Republican and Democratic parties, showing an affinity for bipartisanship - or nonpartisanship - that was rare for the times, reached agreement on a plan to mutually endorse two candidates for two open judgeships on the Northumberland County Court.
Leaders of both parties were chagrined when, as Republican Party Chairman Paul G. Ruane put it at one point during the long campaign year, Peter Krehel was "upsetting the apple cart."
Judges Michael Kivko and Frank S. Moser were nearing the end of their 10-year terms and were set to retire from the bench in 1976. Interestingly, the county's lawyers were not exactly tripping over each other in a rush to succeed them.
District Attorney Samuel C. Ranck, of Milton, a Republican, was definitely interested. Another prominent attorney who was widely mentioned early on was Vincent Makowski, of Coal Township, Ranck's predecessor as DA. Had Makowski made the race, the GOP would almost certainly have endorsed both, they would have been overwhelming favorites and the whole idea of dual endorsements would never even have been mentioned. But Makowski didn't run.
What prompted the unusual display of inter-party unity was the fact that except for Ranck, the only other announced candidate for the judgeship was Krehel, a Democrat, of Kulpmont. Krehel was not someone many Republicans wanted to see on the court, so their mission was to ensure Ranck's election by having him team up with a Democratic lawyer who was more acceptable.
The joint endorsement proposal was raised in February 1975 at a GOP executive committee meeting by, of all people, former Republican Chairman Henry W. Lark. Lark, who had devoted his life for the past 40 years to beating Democrats, said judgeship campaigns should be run on a non-partisan basis. So, he suggested the two parties both endorse the same two judge candidates, one Republican and one Democrat.
Democrats were interested, but naturally suspicious. Democratic Chairman John Mazur commented he wanted to see it all in writing. But, ultimately, Democrats agreed.
At one point, Andrew Pipa Jr., of Elysburg, was said to be mulling a possible candidacy. So was Sidney Apfelbaum, of Sunbury.
There was concern there might be four or five candidates altogether, complicating the parties' partnership agreement. In the end, four candidates filed - Ranck, Krehel, Myron Moskowitz, a Shamokin attorney; and a non-lawyer. Dr. John M. Linnet, of Shamokin, who was, of all things, an orthodontist. Much effort was spent trying to get Linnet off the ballot, but he ended up not being much of a factor in how the drama played out.
Although Republican and Democratic organizations backed Ranck and Moskowitz, their pact backfired. It was almost like Ranck and Moskowitz had too much support - from not only the political parties, but the county's attorneys, the newspapers and everyone who had the slightest claim to being a "mover" or a "shaker." The entire establishment seemed to be behind Ranck and Moskowitz.
Krehel enjoyed running as a loaner; he said he wanted to serve the people and not the powerful and owed his allegiance to no one. His message resonated with voters.
Though no longer chairman, Lark was still the most influential Republican in the county. During the primary campaign, there was a rumor, which he vehemently denied, that although he was the architect of the grand bargain, he was lending behind-the-scenes support to Krehel. There were people who still believed that, even after the final votes were counted in November.
Ranck and Moskowitz won the Republican primary, but they were unable to knock out Krehel. Krehel and Ranck were the Democratic nominees.
In the general election, as expected, Ranck finished first, but Krehel shocked the county political world by winning the second spot, beating Moskowitz by 1,400 votes.
Krehel became one of the most colorful judges in county history, but he never seemed to be far away from controversy. The court would have undoubtedly been a much quieter venue from 1976 to 1985 had Moskowitz won.
Krehel was defeated for retention in 1985 and died in the late 1980s. Ranck was retained to the bench in 1985 and after his second term ended in 1995, served as a senior judge; he died in 2010 at the age of 82.
Moskowitz, who remains well respected within the legal profession and in the community at large, still maintains an active law practice in Shamokin.