Epic Battles No. 5: Feudale upsets Rosini for judgeshipEpic Battles #5: Feudale wins hearts, minds in judge race
Judge Peter Krehel's defeat in the 1985 retention election resulted in a vacancy on the Northumberland County Court. That vacancy was ably filled - temporarily - by James J. Rosini, former county district attorney.
Rosini, a Republican, was elevated to the judgeship following his interim appointment in 1986 by Gov. Dick Thornburgh and subsequent ratification by the Pennsylvania Senate. Rosini's appointment was supported by both the Democratic and Republican parties in the county.
Rosini's appointment was good only through early January 1988. Because Rosini became a judge through appointment, not election, he had to become a candidate through the normal election process in 1987, rather than a yes-no retention vote, if he wanted to remain in the position.
It was a foregone conclusion that Rosini would be a candidate for a 10-year term in 1987, and indeed he was the odds-on favorite to win the election. For a time, in fact, it looked like he might have no opposition. Robert B. Sacavage, the first Democrat to be elected district attorney in many decades, was widely mentioned as a possible judgeship candidate in 1987, but he decided instead to seek re-election as DA.
Enter Barry Feudale, Shamokin attorney and chief county public defender. Though not well known countywide and with no experience in politics, Feudale, not wanting to see the position go unchallenged, decided to challenge Rosini.
The entire political establishment seemed to overwhelmingly favor Rosini. Going into the May primary, Rosini enjoyed the official support of the Republican organization and the de facto support of many prominent Democrats. Feudale did not have organization support and ran an independent campaign. Rosini and Feudale both cross-filed on the Democratic and Republican ballots.
The expectation was that Rosini would win both nominations, thereby locking up the election in November. That didn't happen.
Rosini, as predicted, won the Republican nomination easily, by a margin of almost 2-to-1. Rosini also came close in the Democratic primary, but close wasn't good enough; Feudale ended up winning the Democratic nomination by 570 votes.
Anyone who added the candidates' total Democratic and Republican primary votes found that a total of 9,344 people voted for Rosini in both primaries according to unofficial returns, compared to 7,706 for Feudale. So, even though Rosini failed to deliver a knock-out punch in the primary, he was still favored by most political observers.
Unfortunately for Rosini, by then voters in both parties had a closer look at Feudale, and they liked what they saw. They appreciated that he, a virtual unknown with a lack of resources and party support, had the courage to challenge the political establishment. In the months ahead, Feudale wore the underdog mantle like a badge of honor, knocked on every door in the county and convinced the voters that he deserved the judgeship. The fact that his campaign coordinator was the well-respected Jim Nolan from Mount Carmel was also a key asset for Feudale.
In what was heralded as one of the most stunning upsets in county political history, Feudale defeated Rosini by about 500 votes.
Thomas D. Brennan, executive editor of The News-Item and a longtime observer of county politics, aptly observed that Feudale "captured the hearts and minds" of county voters.
Feudale served his 10 years on the county bench, but did not seek retention in the 1997 county judicial election. However, he continues to serve in assignments throughout the commonwealth as a senior judge.
Rosini, who, by all accounts, did a good job as county judge during his brief tenure, never ran again for office. He was mentioned as a potential judgeship candidate in 1997, but did not make the race. Tragically, he, his wife, his brother and a family friend died in a traffic accident in Florida in February 2012.