Next year may go down locally as a prime example of how a progression of open seats will make for a more compelling May primary than a November general election.
“You often see this chain effect of everyone climbing a ladder,” said Sarah Niebler, an assistant professor of political science at Dickinson College. “What is interesting is you are seeing all of it take place in Cumberland County.”
Republican Congressman Lou Barletta made it clear he would vacate his 11th District seat when he announced his run for the U.S. Senate opposite Democratic incumbent Bob Casey Jr.
That vacancy created an opening for Republican state Rep. Stephen Bloom to announce his campaign for Congress, and he will not campaign for his 199th District seat.
With Bloom moving on, the field is open for Republicans and Democrats to vie for a state seat that for years has been a GOP stronghold. But so far only Barb Gleim, a former Cumberland Valley School Board president, has announced her run for the Republican nomination for the seat.
Niebler suspects more candidates will declare after Jan. 1 because “you don’t want to wait until the 11th hour.” Her area of expertise is the study of how public opinion shapes campaigns and elections.
“The smaller the district, the less important it is to declare early because the fundraising concerns are not as great,” Niebler said. Not as much money is needed to be competitive in a state legislative district race.
In contrast, Barletta and Bloom had to announce early because more funds are needed to build name recognition across a broader geographic area. Both men face challengers for the GOP nomination.
Bloom especially has his work cut out for him. He is from the southern portion of a diagonally shaped congressional district that runs from almost the New York state line to about 20 miles from the Maryland border. The 11th District is often cited by critics as a prime example of partisan gerrymandering.
Though well-known in Cumberland County, Bloom will need to spend a lot of time over the next four months traveling the Interstate 81 corridor to try and draw the notice of voters and media elsewhere in the district.
“His challenge will be mainly logistics,” Niebler said. She said Bloom and the other candidates for the Republican nomination will also be working hard to secure endorsements, which act as a shortcut in establishing trust among voters when name recognition is hard to establish. Here, a nod from Barletta would be useful, but the congressman may opt to stay out of the primary.
“Clearly, the primary will be the big thing for Bloom,” Niebler said. “When it comes to Barletta’s seat in the general election, the Republicans have a distinct advantage because of the conservative nature of the [11th] district.”
Republicans are already clamoring for the party nomination. Running against Bloom are Andrew Lewis, former state Revenue Secretary Daniel Meuser, Sean Donahue and Berwick borough councilman Andrew Shecktor whom the AP said dropped his candidacy for the Senate seat to run for Barletta’s seat. Two Democrats have also announced their campaigns—Alan Howe from Carlisle and former state Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff.
A number of Republicans are also looking to take Casey’s Senate seat. Among those who have announced their intention to seek the Republican nomination are Barletta, Paul Addis, Cynthia Ayers, state Rep. Jim Christiana (15th district), Paul DeLong, Bobby Lawrence and Joseph Vodvarka, who previously ran for Senate seats in Pennsylvania as a Democrat. Libertarian Dale Kerns has also announced his campaign for the Senate seat.
All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be up for grabs in the 2018 midterm elections in November. There are 239 Republicans, 193 Democrats and three vacancies.
Historically, the party that is out of power gains seats in the midterms, Niebler said. “The question is how many seats will they [the Democrats] gain and will it be enough to take the House.”
Democrats would need to gain 50 seats in the chamber to take control over the leadership of committees and the legislative agenda.
Another thing working in favor of the Democrats is the tendency of the party not controlling the presidency to gain seats in the midterm elections. “The predominant theory is Americans don’t like one-party control,” said Niebler, adding that it makes voters nervous so they tend to make adjustments.
Early in 2017, most experts thought the U.S. House would remain in Republican control after the midterm elections, Niebler said. But significant Democratic wins in special elections over the past six months have some people speculating the House may be in play. Part of this is due to the historically low approval ratings of President Donald Trump.
The resources of both parties are finite in terms of money, time and volunteers. No doubt both the Republican and Democratic national committees are studying every available seat to decide how to best allocate supplemental resources toward races with the best chance of success.
“The Republicans have to feel optimistic about holding onto the Pennsylvania 11th,” Niebler said. “Barletta’s seat is pretty reliably a Republican district. You’re signing up for an uphill battle if you’re the Democrat.”
There are other congressional districts across the country and state that are more likely to flip to the Democrats than the Pennsylvania’s 11th District, she said.
In general, an incumbent in office holds an edge over a challenger. Incumbents tend to have greater name recognition and the ability to present a track record of accomplishments. They also tend to have greater knowledge of the district and an advantage in fundraising.
But in this election cycle, there are no incumbents running in either the 11th Congressional District or the 199th State Legislative District. Since both are known Republican strongholds, there will probably be a slate of candidates vying for the GOP nomination and every candidate, including Bloom, would have to find a way to stand out. This could make the May primary more compelling than the general election.
Voters will likely see the same level of competitiveness among Republicans vying for the party nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Bob Casey Jr.
Thirty-three of the 100 Senate seats will be up for grabs in the 2018 general election. Of which, about 23 are held by Democrats.
Ten of these Democratic senators represent states that sided with Trump in the 2016 general election. This includes Pennsylvania and Casey. “He is somewhat vulnerable,” Niebler said. “But I don’t think he is in the top tier of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate.”
One advantage Casey may have over Barletta is statewide name recognition among Pennsylvania voters. There is also the advantage Casey enjoys as the incumbent.
Historically, Pennsylvanians tend to elect presidents of one party and senators of the other party, Niebler said. She said there is also the tendency to split the Senate vote by having one senator from each party.
In the primary, Barletta may enjoy an advantage over his Republican opponents because he has Trump’s endorsement, Niebler said. She believes the president is popular among most Republicans and Barletta could use the endorsement as a way to set himself apart.
But the impact of that endorsement may depend on what Trump does in the months between the May primary and November general election.
In December, Trump endorsed the controversial Roy Moore as the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate during a special election in Alabama. Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones.
“But Moore is not Barletta,” Niebler said, referring to allegations of misconduct by the Alabama candidate. “Moore had a host of other baggage. Barletta is much more of a traditional Republican candidate.”
She said, however, Democrats have a much better chance of taking over the U.S. Senate in the midterm election. There are 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats and two independent senators who tend to caucus with the Democrats.
Four school districts in Cumberland County will be grappling with major transition woes in 2018.
Carlisle and South Middleton school districts are both on the hunt for superintendents to replace top executives that retired last summer.
Both school boards will be pressed to make decisions on the future leadership and direction of their district before the fiscal year ends on June 30.
Meanwhile, Cumberland Valley and Mechanicsburg school districts are trying to balance money, space and time with the need to accommodate surges in enrollment and changes in educational programming.
Their school boards made decisions in recent years that will start to have a decisive effect in 2018. Local families will experience the flux in new school construction, building renovations and the redistricting of attendance areas.
The school board last summer appointed Christina Spielbauer as acting superintendent through the 2017-18 year. She was the assistant superintendent under John Friend, who stepped down last June.
The board in September approved an updated job description for superintendent as the first step in the process to find a permanent replacement for Friend. It was the first review of the job duties, qualifications and expectations since the board promoted Friend from assistant superintendent in March 2010.
At last word, Carlisle school board members planned to discuss the search in executive session to arrive at a consensus on the top four to five priorities for a new superintendent. The plan is to outline a process from there.
This school board in early November reopened its search for a superintendent after it was unable to reach an agreement with an unnamed candidate for the position. Since then, the board has retained Templeton Advantage of Newport to conduct an expanded nationwide search. Earlier, the Perry County firm had conducted an expedited search that focused mostly on Pennsylvania.
“We have once again reviewed the job posting and begun to layout the timeline for the process,” the board-as-a-whole announced in a Dec. 11 website posting. Three of the nine board members are new to the board, having been elected in early November and sworn into office in early December. They have been briefed on the particulars of the search.
The board is planning to schedule a stakeholders meeting in January where the public could ask questions and offer input on the strengths and weaknesses of South Middleton School District, board President Randy Varner said in late December. “We will take all of that into account as we move forward with the search.” There will be separate focus group meetings with faculty, staff and administrators.
Since 2010, Cumberland Valley School District has seen a sharp increase in enrollment that went beyond statistical projections and continues to the present-day. In early August 2017, the administration reported that 5.9 percent of the incoming 9,171 students for 2017-18 were new to the district, and that figure did not include the kindergarten.
Part of this growth surge will be addressed in August when Winding Creek Elementary School is scheduled to open on a new 120-acre campus on 120 acres at Lambs Gap and Bali Hai roads in Hampden and Silver Spring townships. This campus also includes Mountain View Middle School, which is scheduled to open in March 2019.
In November 2015, the school board accepted new attendance boundaries implemented in two phases. The first phase took place in 2017-18 and involved 81 students from Silver Spring Elementary School being moved to Monroe Elementary School.
The second phase will take place in the 2018-19 and would involve moving students from Silver Spring, Green Ridge, Hampden, Middlesex, Monroe, Shaull and Sporting Hills elementary schools and the existing middle schools. A portion of these students will be redistributed to the new 850-student capacity Winding Creek school and the new 1,450-student capacity Mountain View school.
In addition, Cumberland Valley School District could build into its 2018-19 budget money for a feasibility study to come up with options on how to address its expanding enrollment.
In June 2015, the Mechanicsburg Area School District authorized a feasibility study in response to growth in its enrollment, which numbered 4,023 students in 2017-18 — a jump of nearly 170 students since 2015-16.
The board then formed an 18-member committee of principals, teachers, administrators, parents and school board members to review the recommendations in the study and report back on the findings. The result was a number of board actions take in 2017 that will spill over into much of 2018.
The changes will begin early in the New Year when the board is expected to approve contractor bids for a $17 million expansion of the Kindergarten Academy, which needs renovations and an additional classroom wing. The second floor over the new wing will serve as the district’s new administration office. Construction could begin in mid-March with occupancy expected in fall 2019.
In mid-November 2017, the board approved new attendance areas for 2018-19 that will affect students in the elementary grades. This was done as part of a strategy to expand and renovate all district buildings over the next five years to accommodate increasing enrollment and changing educational and activity needs.
Work could begin in February on a plan to convert Elmwood Elementary School from a one-through-five facility into the district center for grades four and five. The district’s remaining elementary schools — Broad Street, Northside, Shepherdstown and Upper Allen — will switch from their current configurations of grades 1-5 to accommodate grades 1-3 in 2018-19.
Cumberland County will have a new district attorney in 2018, creating the potential for changes in how the criminal justice system operates.
After more than a decade at the helm, David Freed was nominated and confirmed as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Former district attorney and current common pleas judge Skip Ebert will take over the position in January.
District attorneys have a great deal of discretion and nearly all criminal cases flow through the office. However, the office receives far less attention than other pieces of the criminal justice system, like police, judges and jails.
John Pfaff, a professor at Fordham University School of Law, spoke to The Sentinel in October to explain why he saw district attorneys as the most influential actors in criminal justice systems.
“It’s sort of remarkable to me how little attention their discretion gets,” Pfaff said. “No other person has more opportunities to use their discretion.
“Police can decide do I arrest this guy or not,” he said. “But, a prosecutor can decide do I charge him or do I dismiss the charge? Do I accept diversion or do I not? Do I charge him with the misdemeanor or the felony? Do I charge the felony with the mandatory minimum or the one without? ... It’s a huge amount of direct control.”
A change in the district attorney can mean changes in how that discretion is used, from which cases to offer deals and what deals to offer to which cases to seek harsh penalties, which to seek leniency and even what charges to bring.
All criminal charges must be approved by the district attorney’s office before filing in Cumberland County, a policy Ebert put in place during his previous tenure as the county’s chief law enforcement officer. Ebert had served as district attorney from 1995 to 2005.
Other counties in Pennsylvania allow police to file charges without seeking district attorney approval.
A study done by The Sentinel in October found Cumberland County on average brought less severe charges than surrounding counties without charging approval. Cumberland County also had lower bail amounts on average, lower use of the county jail and a higher conviction rate than surrounding counties, The Sentinel found.
As district attorney, Ebert will also have control of the staffing in his office and policy matters beyond the day-to-day decision making.
One notable example is the county’s appeal of a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court that deemed retroactively applying the current sex offender registry law unconstitutional.
Freed had made the decision to seek a review by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, Ebert said he is still weighing his options.
He said that if proposed changes are made to the state law, he may withdraw the appeal, adding that a loss at the U.S. Supreme Court would set precedent for the entire country.
“If (the Legislature) addresses it satisfactorily, there might not be a need to proceed with it,” Ebert said.
Less than 2 percent of all charged with sex crimes in Cumberland County between 2013 and 2016 involved a person on the sex offender registry, according to analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.
“Emotionally with victims and the public (the registry) sounds like a great idea, but how many people are really protected,” Ebert said. “We get plenty of arrests because people don’t register. It has a feel-good aspect to it, but I’m not sure it’s enhancing the public safety.”
Years of preparation will begin to bear fruit in 2018 at two of the three former industrial sites included in the Carlisle Urban Redevelopment Plan.
By the end of the year, buildings will be completed or well underway at the IAC/Masland and Carlisle Tire & Wheel brownfields with little or no activity expected at the Tyco Electronics site.
Carlisle Borough will spend much of 2018 completing the final design and permitting work leading up to major street improvement projects tied to this redevelopment.
Carlisle Events purchased the former IAC/Masland site in 2010 shortly after the factory on Carlisle Springs Road closed. A fire in 2012 caused severe damage and prompted five years of demolition, environmental remediation, engineering and finance work, which culminated last November with an official groundbreaking of the mixed-use development plan.
Work has begun to install erosion and sedimentation controls on the site, said Mark Malarich, borough public works director. He said the installation of underground utilities — storm water drainage and water and sewer lines — will start in early 2018.
“People will finally start to see a difference in the landscape in the next two years for sure,” said Michael Garland, public relations manager for Carlisle Events. “It’s a long time coming, but we’re excited to have made it this far.”
Carlisle Events management is continuing to work with developers Mark and Allan Galbraith to bring “car condos” to the site. These three-story units will have ground floor garages able to hold four to six vehicles, with the intention of being marketed as second homes for die-hard car collectors who attend Carlisle Events’ shows and auctions.
The current timeline is to break ground on this housing in the third quarter of 2018, Garland said. He said the expectation is to start construction of a hotel in the second quarter. Simraj Hospitality Management, a hotel group that operates several Midstate hotel franchises, will manage the Hilton Hotel planned for the site.
Carlisle Events also has commitments from Tri-Corner Communities to build out several residential parcels as well as an agreement with Aldredo Iannuzzi, owner of Marcello’s Ristorante, to develop a 6,000-square-foot restaurant at the corner of Carlisle Springs Road and an A Street extension at the IAC/Masland site.
The approved land development plan for this brownfield calls for the extension of A, B, C and D streets from Fairground Avenue to Carlisle Springs Road. The street extensions will be completed in 2018, Garland said.
The first buildings of the Carlisle Urban Redevelopment Plan started to go up on this brownfield in late 2017. The schedule is for those units to be completed by fall 2018.
Cleveland-based developer PIRHL secured an agreement to purchase the former Carlisle Tire & Wheel site in fall 2015. Since then, the developer has partnered with the Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities on a plan to build 40 townhouses, 12 flat apartments, a two-acre park and a 2,000-square-foot community building on a portion of this brownfield. The plan is to also extend B and C streets through the property and to address storm water drainage issues.
In October 2017, borough council narrowly approved a letter of support for a proposed Phase II for this site to include 42 rental units including 11 one-bedroom, 20 two-bedroom and 11 three-bedroom units.
Of the three former industrial sites, the one for Tyco Electronics is among the most challenging to develop because it carries significant upfront costs associated with demolition, storm water management, infrastructure and site preparation, said Jonathan Bowser, chief executive officer of the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp., during an interview in September with The Sentinel.
Real Estate Collaborative, a subsidiary of CAEDC, has control of not only the Tyco site, but two adjacent lots with frontage on North Hanover Street. Cost figures in September have the Tyco site costing at least $2.5 million to develop with about $1.4 million of that related to demolition and remediation costs. At the time, Bowser anticipated building 43,000 square feet of retail space and 30,000 square feet of office space.
“The borough has not received any concrete plans for that redevelopment site,” Malarich said in late December. “It has not progressed. I don’t expect to see anything next year.”
Construction work on improvements tied to the Carlisle Connectivity and Urban Redevelopment plans will probably not occur until 2019, Borough Manager Matt Candland said.
“The borough has several projects that are still in the design phase,” Malarich said. Those projects include three roundabouts: one at B and College streets, one at B Street and Fairground Avenue and one at North Hanover and Penn Streets.
The work also includes modifications to Fairground Avenue. The borough intends to have a meeting in early April to review the project schedule with the public, Malarich said.
Next year will see design work underway on a proposed road resurfacing project on Interstate 81 in the Carlisle area that may include some kind of median barrier to prevent crossover collisions.
Mike Crochunis, press officer for PennDOT’s Engineering District 8, mentioned the project in a Dec. 21 email to The Sentinel. Phone calls seeking clarification on project details and location were not returned by press time.
The state agency has advanced the project, which is currently under design, with survey work that was underway during the third week of December, according to the email. The project could go out to bid in late January 2019.
In late March 2017, District 8 convened a meeting at its maintenance office on Army Heritage Drive in Middlesex Township. Though scheduled months in advance, the meeting took place soon after an accident seriously injured three people on I-81 near the Hanover Street exit in Carlisle.
That accident occurred when the driver of a tractor-trailer had an apparent medical emergency that caused him to cross the grassy median and hit two vehicles in the southbound lane. The second major crossover crash of 2017, it renewed calls by the public to make improvements to reduce the number of crashes.
Nathan Harig, assistant chief for administration for Cumberland Goodwill EMS, has been a vocal advocate for improvements. In an interview this past week, he said the PennDOT meeting was productive because agency officials were made aware that the public would continue to push the state for safety upgrades.
“We’re going to be watching,” Harig said this week. “It’s definitely on the radar.”
Back in March, Harig identified two sections of highway as the most active hot spots for crossover collisions. One section is between Allen Road Exit 44 and College Street Exit 45. The other is around the York Road exit, next to the Carlisle airport.
His takeaway from the March meeting was that PennDOT officials were unsure how effective cable median barriers would be along those two sections. However, there was a willingness by the state agency to at least look at some other kind of rigid median barrier, Harig said. The last he heard PennDOT may be looking at fiscal year 2019 to install safety upgrades along I-81 in the Carlisle area.
PennDOT in late September announced the start of a safety improvement project to install a high-tension cable median barrier along seven sections of highway in south-central Pennsylvania.
“The purpose of the cable barrier is to help prevent errant vehicles from completely crossing the median area and colliding with vehicles travelling in the opposite direction,” Crochunis wrote in a Sept. 25 press release attached to the e-mail.
“Work will begin along the northbound lanes of Interstate 81 in the Shippensburg area as crews prepare to install concrete foundation and steel posts, and then to attach the high-tension cable,” he said.
PennDOT on June 29 awarded a $3.23 million contract to Morgan Rail Inc. of Temple, Berks County, to install more than 181,000 linear feet of cable along the different sections of highway.
Two of the sections are along I-81 through Cumberland County. One section runs from just east of U.S. 11 in Shippensburg to just north of Exit 37 for Newville and Route 233. The other section goes from Exit 61 for Route 944, the Wertzville Road, to just south of Exit 65 for Marysville/Enola and U.S. 11/15.