On March 26, Judge Joseph James dismissed two challenges made by former City Councilwoman Tonya Payne against her opponents in the race for the 19th legislative district. The challenges claimed incumbent Rep. Jake Wheatley and District 8 School Board Rep. Mark Brentley did not have the required number of signatures on their petitions.
“I immediately noticed she filed in the wrong court,” said Brentley. “This petition is supposed to be filed in Commonwealth Court; she filed in Common Pleas Court. It’s a state issue.”
As it turned out, Brentley was right. Judge James dismissed the challenges because he said they should’ve been filed with Commonwealth Court.
Brentley said even after going over Payne’s allegations he still had enough signatures to be a candidate on the ballot. He said candidates file irrelevant challenges every year to discourage opponents who don’t have as much time or money to devote to campaigns.
“A few years ago Rep. Wheatley did the same thing. For candidates who don’t have a lot of money this can be an inconvenience,” Brentley said. “This is what they do when they don’t want to talk about issues. It’s really an embarrassment. To be the former city councilwoman and be the endorsed candidate, this sheds a bad light on her.”
Payne challenged Brentley because she said some of his signatures were from people who were not registered democrats and others who did not live in the 19th legislative district.
However, her challenge against Wheatley was a little more serious. She said several of the signatures on a petition circulated by District 6 Councilman Daniel Lavelle were forged.
“He had over 300 signatures also but we found out signatures on petitions circulated by councilman Lavelle that were forged,” Payne said. “Some people were angry that they turned up on a petition.”
Identification is not required when a person signs a petition. A handful of people whose signatures were forged attended the hearing to testify that they did not sign Wheatley’s petition.
“We feel that we’ve done nothing wrong,” Wheatley said. “Out of all the people she chose to go against, he is one of the most honorable people I know, and it just happens to be the person who beat her in the election a few months earlier.”
Wheatley said he is not worried about the accusations, but worries that Payne will continue to make similar accusations throughout the campaign.
“The challenge filed against me, like everything else, it was a non-issue,” Wheatley said. “This is typical Tonya Payne and we hope this won’t be typical in this election – that she’s making accusations that have no merit.”
Payne said she wasn’t given accurate information about where to file challenges for the state house race. She is consulting with her lawyer about filing an appeal.
“Normally I wouldn’t even file a challenge but I’ve learned from experience that you should look over all of the petitions, so that’s what I did. I was prepared to run period,” Payne said. “Honestly I don’t think I erred in anyway. I did everything else by the letter of the law. If the requirements are that you need 300 democratic signatures – that should be the requirement.”