GOP candidate seeks breakthrough in Kennedy’s Democratic territory
By Jamie Wiggan
A Republican resident is hoping to make headway in deep-blue Kennedy this upcoming election.
Diane Schmitt, a retired healthcare administrator, is running for one of four commissioner seats up for grabs in November. Assuming she secures her party’s endorsement in the May primary, Schmitt will face off against three Democrats vying for four-year at-large seats.
A separate two-year commissioner seat only has one Democratic candidate in the running.
“Kennedy Township is a wonderful community,” Schmitt said. “But there are some things that have not evolved over the years.”
While she considers herself a “grassroots conservative,” Schmitt said her primary motives for
running are practical rather than partisan.
She wants to improve communications between local government and the people they represent by upgrading the township website, and she wants to work with the local business community to strengthen entrepreneurship and establish a clearer vision for future development projects.
“I would like to be able to serve to supplement what’s happening in Kennedy to offer some options that might be unavailable because people have been doing the same thing for 30 years.”
Schmitt grew up in Stowe before moving to Kennedy after graduating high school. She later spent more than 20 years in Pittsburgh’s northside communities before returning to Kennedy to look after her aging mother in 2007.
Schmitt has been involved in civic organizations for much of her life and currently sits on several advocacy boards.
Mel Weinstein, chair of Kennedy’s Democratic committee and an elected official wearing several hats in the township, said the track record he has set with his colleagues poses a high bar for any incoming challenger.
“If someone says, ‘I’m gonna run’ — Why? Look at what you have [already in Kennedy].”
Incumbents Donald Morrow, Susan Butya, Gary Vituccio and Fred Kauffman are all seeking re-election.
With Morrow employed as an insurance agent, Butya an attorney, Vituccio a former municipal manager and Kauffman a former Montour educator, Weinstein said their combined experience yields effective township leadership. The fruits of this experience include a property tax rate lower than all but three Allegheny County municipalities coupled with high-quality services and amenities, he said.
“That professional experience brought together… they really make Kennedy Township a great place to live, work and worship,” Weinstein said.
A tax discount for qualifying senior homeowners and an arrangement with the local EMS provider making available low-cost ambulance services are two programs Weinstein said he’s particularly proud of.
Butya, Morrow and Vituccio were all appointed to fill vacated terms during a string of commissioner resignations between late 2018 and 2019. Kauffman was appointed to fill a seat won in 2019 by George Dudash, who declined the position and now serves on the Montour school board.
First elected as a commissioner in 1973, Weinstein has been involved in Kennedy politics ever since, cycling through various elected and appointed positions. He currently serves as the township’s treasurer, tax collector and — since 2019 — as interim manager.
Weinstein is seeking re-election as the township’s tax collector this fall.
As a veteran politician and party leader, Weinstein is known to wield sizable influence in the community. He and his endorsed running mates are accustomed to comfortable wins in a community with a healthy majority of registered Democrats.
After a hiatus of several years, the Kennedy Republican Party reformed in 2019, with ambitions to enter candidates in local races and increase party turnout at the ballot box.
Schmitt, committee treasurer, is the first to run for local office since the GOP relaunch two years ago.