Joe Musso off York city mayoral ballot

Judge rules half of the signatures for independent’s mayoral bid were improperly collected.

Joe Musso off York city mayoral ballot
Judge rules half of the signatures for independent’s mayoral bid were improperly collected.
Daily Record/Sunday News
Updated: 08/14/2009 07:13:33 AM EDT

Barring a successful pre-election appeal, Joe Musso’s only chance to become the next mayor of York could be through a write-in campaign.

On Thursday, following a five-hour hearing, Common Pleas Court President Judge Richard K. Renn struck 63 of the 130 signatures Musso had submitted on nomination papers to have his name placed on the November ballot as an independent candidate.

Renn, relying on a 2001 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, held that Musso had not personally circulated three of the six petition documents that he signed, had notarized and filed in the county elections office. The judge told Musso that a candidate cannot sign off on nominating petitions he did not personally circulate.

“Does anyone want a tally at this point?” Renn asked. “I think you might come up short.”

Musso needed 100 valid signatures to be placed on the ballot. Democrat Kim Bracey and Republican Wendell Banks are already on the ballot for the November election. Musso and his attorney, John Ogden, both declined to comment after the hearing.

Tim Brennan, whose Allentown firm represented the three city residents who challenged Musso’s nomination petitions, said, “This case was about protecting the process and good government. The judge got it right.”

County solicitor Michael Flannelly said Musso’s only options now are to appeal to the state Commonwealth Court, mount a write-in campaign or drop his desire to be mayor for the next four years.

Earlier this week, the challenge was filed in county court by attorneys representing Halman Benson Smith II, a Democrat; Lisa M. Kennedy, a Republican; and Jamiel Alexander, an independent.

Typically, a challenge to a candidate’s nominating petitions must come from within the candidate’s own party. All three residents were needed to challenge the signatures on Musso’s petition because, as an independent candidate, Musso could solicit signatures from any registered voter regardless of party affiliation.

Renn heard lengthy argument from the challenging party about incomplete dates, incorrect addresses, illegible signatures, unregistered voters and printed signatures.

He ruled after hearing from both Musso and his wife, Cathrine Musso.

Joe Musso told the court he could not “recall specifically which ones (signatures) I got.”

Cathrine Musso told the judge she was with her husband when some signatures were collected, working the opposite side of the street and helped him solicit signatures at her place of employment.

Renn determined the only petitions with valid signatures were the ones Cathrine Musso testified she did not help collect.

The candidates for York mayor on the ballot in the November election are Democrat Kim Bracey and Republican Wendell Banks.

Bracey said Thursday night her position on the Joe Musso ballot challenge is no different now than it was before the judge’s ruling.

“We’re still working hard,” Bracey said. She added, “This has shown me almost anything can happen.
“We’re going to keep working hard to show the citizens I am the best candidate.”

Banks could not be reached for comment Thursday.