Less than a month before November’s general election, one Cambria County race has grown contentious.
Signs referring to Republican county commissioner candidate Jerry Carnicella as “Conman Carnicella” have been placed throughout Carnicella’s hometown of Patton, as well as in the West Hills front yard of Mark Pasquerilla, a registered Republican and CEO of Pasquerilla Enterprises.
In response, Carnicella said he doesn’t know where the “con man” title came from and put out several of his campaign signs throughout his community.
“(Pasquerilla) is helping me,” Carnicella said of the con man reference. “I don’t usually have to put any signs in Patton. Just leave your con man signs up there, they’re not doing you any good.”
The “Conman Carnicella” yard signs were paid for by the Committee to Elect Chernisky/Smith, according to a disclaimer at the bottom of each.
A joint statement from President Commissioner Tom Chernisky and Commissioner William “B.J.” Smith – both incumbents seeking re-election – said “the committee purchased the signs because candidate Carnicella demonstrates a pattern of saying one thing and doing another, thus the ‘con.’”
“The campaign will reveal that Jerry’s values are out of touch with the voters of Cambria County,” the statement says.
Republican Scott Hunt of Upper Yoder Township is the fourth candidate on the ballot for three seats.
Carnicella says he believes Pasquerilla has defamed him because of the signs, as well as comments that have been posted on Facebook.
Pasquerilla said he’s not worried about a potential lawsuit, saying Carnicella “is not the only person with First Amendment rights,” pointing out that Carnicella has also written insulting statements about him on Facebook.
Money and politics
Carnicella says he’s most concerned by the role donations could have in the outcome of the Cambria election.
“It just appears that the money and the money people want to have control over the candidates,” he said. “You can be penniless and brainless, but if you can talk Mark Pasquerilla into giving you $30,0000, you can win. Here’s the unfortunate thing: this campaign is going to be between me and Mark Pasquerilla. Plain and simple. The people can decide.”
Pasquerilla said he thinks Carnicella being elected to the Cambria board of commissioners “would be a disaster.”
“I think (Carnicella) is totally unfit for office,” Pasquerilla said. “I don’t think this guy’s been vetted properly. I take the governance of our county and city seriously.”
Carnicella has said he would like to approach the federal government about money to help Cambria with its opioids crisis.
Pasquerilla said he’s concerned about the truthfulness of Carnicella’s campaign talking points and “his credibility to be talking about the opioid issue.” Carnicella has been vocal about his intent to support mandatory rehabilitation for drug offenders, the establishment of drug court in Cambria County and more use of Vivitrol, a medication that blocks the effects of opioids, over Narcan, an overdose-reversing nasal spray.
“I think Carnicella’s promises are way beyond the scope of a county commissioner,” Pasquerilla said. “A county commissioner is not (the district attorney) or the county’s super cop. And our legislative team doesn’t want to hear from or deal with Mr. Carnicella.”
A recent fundraiser organized by Jackie Kulback and Pasquerilla brought endorsements for Hunt from U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, former U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus and state Reps. Jim Rigby and Tommy Sankey.
“I am proud to endorse Scott Hunt for Cambria County Commissioner,” Thompson said in a statement Tuesday. “As a township supervisor, Scott has a proven 12-year record of fighting for lower taxes and serving Upper Yoder Township residents. It’s clear that Scott Hunt has the credentials, temperament, and vision to be a great county commissioner.”
Hunt said he’s “happy to have the support of the many in the business community” and called the endorsements “both exciting and humbling.”
“I hope to bring fresh ideas and be a voice for everyone in the community, if elected,” he said.
Kulback, chairwoman of the Cambria County Republican Committee, said the local GOP has tried to work with Carnicella and has invited him to every county party function.
“Our goal is to help every Republican candidate get elected,” Kulback said. “We provide support to all the candidates. Some choose to take it, while others do not.”
Along with holding training open to all Republican candidates for financial reporting, campaign management and media relations, Kulback said the Cambria County Republican Committee website and literature lists all the county’s Republican candidates, Carnicella included.
Carnicella says no one called to congratulate him after he was the top vote-getter in May’s primary election, earning 3,823 votes or nearly 23 % based on unofficial results.
Carnicella says the county’s other Republican candidates were urged to distance themselves from him, and, despite that rumor, he reached out to the other Republican candidates to work together.
Jared Bowling, an Ebensburg pastor and Republican candidate for register of wills, said he agrees with Carnicella’s pro-life stance, his efforts to unite with fellow county Republican candidates and his loyalty to President Donald Trump.
“We have a lot of common values,” Bowling said. “(Carnicella) is not a fake Trump supporter, he’s a genuine Trump supporter.”
Bowling said Carnicella is approachable, speaks for himself and “can’t be bought,” which he says may be why Carnicella has upset people of both parties.
“I absolutely believe (Carnicella) is the Trump of Cambria County,” Bowling said, adding that the negative comments about Carnicella is “a lot of hearsay.”
According to Carnicella, Republicans are outraged that Pasquerilla has voiced his opposition to Trump, but has endorsed and donated to Hunt.
Pasquerilla said Hunt, who has been elected to the Upper Yoder Township board of supervisors since 2008, is the best candidate on the GOP ticket.
“I have confidence in the voters,” Pasquerilla said.
Along with Pasquerilla, JWF President and CEO Bill Polacek said Carnicella “has me concerned,” and called Carnicella “extremely disruptive.”
Polacek added that he doesn’t support politicians who “make it tough to do business in Cambria County.”
“There’s so much great momentum right now from Vision 2025 and other programs, and the county is going in the right direction,” Polacek said. “That’s my No. 1 concern. It takes a lot of energy to do the things we do that we don’t get paid for.”
Carnicella said, if elected, he would work for the people, not just for those in the business community.
“This idea that Jerry Carnicella won’t be able to work with people ... listen, I’ll be able to work with everybody,” Carnicella said.