Luzerne County Controller Michelle Bednar will keep her seat another four years, blocking Walter Griffith’s attempt to reclaim the office, according to unofficial results.
A 51-year-old Democrat from Conyngham Township, Bednar highlighted her orderly approach conducting in-house audits that recouped $250,000 for the county since she took over in 2014.
Griffith, a 63-year-old auto repair business owner and Republican from Kingston Township, had argued the county would benefit from his outspoken style and willingness to exercise the controller’s authority to conduct a wide range of reviews of any county department, authority, board or commission.
Bednar received 24,458 votes, or 54 percent of the ballots cast, compared to Griffith’s 20,609, or about 46 percent, according to unofficial results from all 180 precincts.
Celebrating at Cork Bar and Restaurant in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday night, Bednar thanked voters for believing in her.
”I’m humbled and thank voters who came out and supported me,” Bednar said.
Bednar said she has started establishing goals for the next four years to expand the department’s focus, reserving specifics for a future date.
“I look forward to moving our office forward. There’s much more for us to accomplish,” she said.
The controller is paid $64,999 annually and is the “independent watchdog over county fiscal and management activities,” according to the county’s home rule charter, which took effect in January 2012.
Griffith opted to monitor returns from his home.
He decided to run again because he wanted to ensure voters had a choice.
“I wish Michelle well. She did a good, clean campaign. We didn’t beat each other up, and I think that was good,” he said.
While Griffith said he had hoped to make changes “from the inside” as an elected official, he will still attend county government meetings and point out his positive and negative findings.
He also thanked the voters who supported him, noting Bednar did not win by a landslide.
“If the people want her in there, it’s perfectly fine. It doesn’t change me in any way. I’m not giving up in what I believe in, and this won’t deter me from coming out,” he said.
Even seasoned political observers were unable to confidently predict the controller race.
Griffith held the seat from 2010 until 2013, when he resigned as part of a plea agreement for allegedly recording two phone calls related to office matters and a closed-door executive session without permission of the parties involved. However, many did not view this as an impediment because he said he made a mistake in his efforts to fight for the people.
Councilman Eugene Kelleher stepped up days before the election with an ad endorsing Bednar as an “unassuming, quiet, competent public servant” who is not “egocentric, boastful or media driven.” In contrast, Councilwoman Kathy Dobash publicly supported Griffith, characterizing Bednar as a “do nothing” controller who fails to look into fiscal matters of interest to county taxpayers.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.