Just three months after winning a contested Democratic Party primary, state Sen. John Wozniak has withdrawn from this year’s race in the 35th district.
The veteran legislator said he wanted to run and win one last time, following a redrawing of his district, but decided to leave the race after talking with his family, friends and colleagues.
Wozniak, a Westmont Borough resident, cited his age as one of the reasons for his decision. If re-elected to another four-year term, Wozniak would be in his mid-60s by the time it concluded.
“I’m cognizant of my lifespan,” said Wozniak, shortly after the news broke on Wednesday. “I’ve got 10 good years left to do things before I kick back and smell the roses.”
Wozniak, who plans to remain
in the Johnstown area, is considering opportunities in the private sector.
“If a person’s life is broken down by seasons, I believe I have been a public servant for a summer and an autumn,” Wozniak, 60, said.
“God willing, I hope to have several more seasons left and I would like to use them to seek new opportunities, pursue other ventures and life experiences.”
Wozniak denied the persistent rumor he was offered a position in Tom Wolf’s administration, saying the governor “has not come to me with anything.”
Jeffrey Sheridan, Wolf’s press secretary, complimented Wozniak for his years of service.
“Gov. Wolf has great respect for Sen. Wozniak and the senator has been an important partner in fighting for greater investment in our schools and in efforts to combat the heroin crisis in Pennsylvania,” Sheridan wrote in an email.
“Senator Wozniak has served his constituents admirably for many years and he will be missed. We thank him for his service.”
Officials from the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and the three counties in the 35th district – Cambria, Bedford and Clearfield – will vet candidates to replace Wozniak, according to Brandon Cwalina, a deputy press secretary with the state party.
The state party’s executive committee will then vote to select a substitute candidate, who must be named by Aug. 25, the Pennsylvania Department of State said.
At least one prominent local party member, Cambria County Controller Ed Cernic Jr., has expressed interest in the nomination.
“It would be a good fit for me,” Cernic said. “I’m interested in working for the people to get jobs and develop the economy in this area.”
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, current executive director of the Pennsylvania Rural Development Council, has also been rumored, but he could not be reached on Wednesday to either confirm or deny the speculation.
Whoever is selected will go up against Republican Wayne Langerholc Jr., a Cambria County assistant district attorney.
“We thank John for his years of service,” Langerholc said.
“We’re committed to this race. We got into this race because it’s time for a change, time for new leadership in the 35th district.”
Langerholc has been officially campaigning since December.
In comparison, the new Democratic candidate will only have a few weeks to
meet voters and raise money before the general election on Nov. 8.
“It’s a daunting task to jump into a Senate race with only 90-some days to go,” Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Robert Gleason said.
“I would think it would give Wayne Langerholc a better chance to be elected.”
The election will take place in a 35th that became a lot less Democratic friendly since the district was redrawn following the 2010 U.S. Census.
The process, which was controlled by the GOP, removed Somerset, Centre and Clinton counties and added Bedford County where Republicans hold a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage – more than 20,000 to fewer than 10,000 – over the Democrats.
When asked if the change factored into his decision, Wozniak said, “not as much as you would think.”
Wozniak received 64 percent of the vote when he defeated Jerry Carnicella in the primary.
Wozniak joined the Senate in 1997 after serving in the state House from 1981 to 1996.
He has been involved in countless challenging and complex issues over those years, including budgets, transportation plans, infrastructure, drugs and crime.
Wozniak is considering putting together a trolley tour to take guests around the region to discuss projects he has worked on throughout the years.
“Our region faces tough challenges and has many needs, but it also has exceptional resources and outstanding people who are up to meeting any test,” Wozniak said.
“That is why I was pleased to be involved in large and small projects and to work collaboratively with local, state and federal officials to solve problems. Without the commitment of organized labor, small businesses, nonprofits and the wonderful citizens of this region working together, we would not have achieved success.”
He has also worked with and influenced generations of local elected officials and other members of the community.
“This is a sad time for our region,” Patton Borough Councilman Mark Stephens said.
“To me, John has been a role model for wanting to get involved with public service at a young age. His charisma, wit, and clout will be missed by many.”