A Republican justice kept her seat on Pennsylvania’s highest court Tuesday and voters approved a constitutional amendment that could eventually lead to property tax cuts.
Justice Sallie Mundy held off Allegheny County Judge Dwayne Woodruff, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, in what was the most closely watched race in an off-year election.
Mundy’s victory gave her a full 10-year term and meant Democrats were unable to add to their 5-to-2 majority on the high court.
Two other incumbent justices were retained for another decade in up-or-down retention votes.
Mundy, a resident of Tioga in the state’s northern tier, was a Superior Court judge when Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf nominated her and the Republican-controlled state Senate confirmed her to replace Justice Michael Eakin. Eakin stepped down early last year, nearly three months after being put on paid suspension to await an ethics trial for his role in a salacious email scandal.
The constitutional amendment gives legal authorization for state lawmakers to pass a law to let local governments exempt the full value of homes from taxes, replacing what had been a 50 percent cap on cuts.
The amendment itself did not reduce any taxes, and the Legislature may struggle to find revenue to replace the property taxes that currently generate billions for schools and other purposes.
Lower down the ballot, races were close for four openings on the state’s Superior Court, which hears intermediate appeals from county courts, and two openings on Commonwealth Court, which handles litigation in which state agencies are a party.
With nearly all votes cast, Democrats were leading for three of the Superior Court seats: Philadelphia judges Carolyn Nichols and Maria McLaughlin, and Beaver County Judge Deborah Anne Kunselman. Allegheny County District Judge Mary Murray and Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman, both Republicans, were in a close race for the fourth opening.
A Democrat, Philadelphia Judge Ellen Ceisler, and a Republican, Delaware County Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon, held leads in the Commonwealth Court race.
For many voters, the real interest was in local races, including mayor, district attorney, county executive, judges, local councils and boards. Turnout was a far cry from a year ago, when the state was a presidential battleground and featured a closely watched U.S. Senate race.
Philadelphia’s next district attorney will be Democrat Larry Krasner, a man whose career as a civil rights attorney led him to sue the city’s police department.
In York, Democratic Mayor Kim Bracey lost to the city council president, Mike Helfrich, a fellow Democrat who won the Republican nomination on the same day this spring that she beat him in the Democratic primary.
And in Allentown, the incumbent mayor, Democrat Ed Pawlowski, won a fourth term while he faces federal corruption charges, allegations he denies.
The Erie School Board is getting what’s described as the first openly transgender person to be elected in Pennsylvania. Clinical therapist Tyler Titus, a Democrat, won one of four open seats.