You’ve likely seen her signs. But when you go to the polls on Tuesday to vote in the 2023 Municipal Election, you won’t see the name “Mary Jo Moss” on your ballot for Schuylkill County Commissioner.
But Moss is definitely running to win this election and she believes – even as a write-in (or stamp-in) candidate – she’s got a legit shot at winning.
In the Spring Primary vote, Moss finished a close third among eight candidates for two Republican Party nominations for Commissioner. They eventually went to the two candidates you will see on the ballot, Larry Padora and Boots Hetherington.
Moss finished right behind Hetherington.
Normally, that would mean it’s the end of the campaign for Moss and the other five candidates who didn’t win a nomination. But Moss sees it differently.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Canary recently, Moss explained how she believes the math is on her side.
The Primary Election earlier this year was a relatively low-turnout vote. Only 34% of Republican voters turned out to make picks among the 8 candidates vying for the 2 nominations for County Commissioner.
Further, neither Padora or Hetherington came anywhere close to securing a majority of the votes. So, Moss believes there’s a lot of room for someone like her to win over voters who didn’t turn out in the Spring while maintaining the support she had in that vote.
“I have an excellent chance. I’m giving (voters) an option,” Moss said. “Nobody stood out, so it wasn’t decisive.”
The Stamp-In Candidate
Moss is taking a unique approach to her write-in campaign this year. Actually, make that a stamp-in campaign.
At polling locations, voters will be able to find a stamper from one of her poll watchers outside or placed in cups attached to her signs where watchers aren’t located.
Those stamps can be taken into the voting booth and then stamped onto one of the write-in spaces on the Schuylkill County Commissioners ballot area. Moss’ name can also be written on the ballot in lieu of a stamp.
But if you intend to vote for Moss, either by stamp or by writing, the vote won’t count unless you fill in the oval next to her name.
According to a report in the daily newspaper several weeks ago, Moss was referred to as a “renegade” and is largely seen as a distraction or instigator by the Schuylkill County Republican Party’s powers that be.
Moss seems to be wearing that as a badge of honor and a sign that they consider her a legit threat.
She may be right, too.
Not long ago, at a GOP fundraiser dinner, Moss was shown the door there before it even got started. And then, according to another newspaper report, Party Chairman Howie Merrick labeled Moss a “bad Republican” because she was unwilling to back the Primary nomination winners and launch her write-in campaign.
Normally, a write-in candidate wouldn’t get a second look from the party they represent. But that’s definitely not the case with Moss. She’s more than just on their radar.
Outside of the name-calling and threats against her for continuing with her campaign, GOP voters in Schuylkill County were recently sent a mailer from something called the WTF Coalition, which attempts to label her as an “Extreme Liberal” Black Lives Matter supporter because she appears in her daughter’s Facebook profile picture.
The local GOP and who- or whatever that WTF Coalition is is going to their own extremes to make you despise Moss.
“The reason it’s become intense is because I’m a threat to them,” she said in our interview.
But she wants voters to know that she’s not a “bitter Republican” and is just looking at the numbers from the Primary Election this year, and from within her own party, and seeing an opportunity.
“There’s tons of precincts that aren’t represented (by Republican Committee members). It’s a sliver of a representation of the Republican Party. The system is set up so you can do a write-in vote so you can have a choice,” she said. “People are dissatisfied with what they’re seeing on the ballot. I have a tremendous amount of support within the party. The party is divided.”
Lack of Leadership at the Courthouse
Moss explained the reason she’s running isn’t to be a thorn in the party’s side. It’s to help fix the Courthouse and the way it’s run right now. That just happens to include current Commissioners Chairman Hetherington.
“The first order of business is cleaning up our reputation,” Moss said. “Our reputation is soiled, to say the least. And it’s not just from George (Halcovage).”
Right now, Moss sees a “divided” board of Commissioners serving Schuylkill County, or not serving it, as she sees things.
“All three are divided. Leadership is lacking,” she added. “You need three Commissioners. They need to be on the same page. They need to work as a three-person body.”
Moss also believes that “retaliation” continues against the women who filed a civil lawsuit in federal court a few years ago against Halcovage and several other County officials and the government itself.
She believes this atmosphere at the Courthouse can be fixed by being present for the job of County Commissioner.
“Commissioners need a presence. You have to be there as a full-time commissioner,” she said.
A regular attendee of Commissioners meetings and outspoken of late, Moss sees the way those public events are held and believes it’s a microcosm of how the rest of the Courthouse and government are run locally.
“The whole structure how they run the meetings shows how they run the rest of the Courthouse. They’re not following procedures. The leadership is poor. It takes policy and enforcing policy,” she said.
No matter how many times the current Commissioners try to convince the public that Schuylkill County government is sound financially, Moss, like others, isn’t really buying it.
In fact, during our interview, she said, “The state of our financials is horrendous.”
And those “horrendous” financials could be made less so by the Commissioners being more transparent and also using even the slightest bit of vision, especially when it comes to how money is spent.
First, she said the budgeting process is far too closed from the public. At a recent meeting, Moss pointed out how no parts of the budget process happens in view of the public. The first time it’s discussed is when a draft of the next year’s spending plan is unveiled and open for comments and then it’s not seen again until final approval.
And the main reason Moss believes the financial situation at the Courthouse isn’t as good as the Commissioners make you try to believe is due to inefficiency, she said.
Moss pointed to the hiring of outside consultants to do far too many tasks that she believes the County government, as it’s currently assembled, is capable of completing. The problem comes from not knowing what skills and talents are available to them.
She didn’t dismiss the value of outside consultants either, but perhaps only needing them if the Commissioners realize the job they need completed doesn’t match anyone’s skills internally.
“Sometimes you need to hire consultants for the expertise you don’t have in-house,” she said. “We don’t even know what we can do. Again, it’s ineffectiveness. It’s an easy way to get things done. It’s an easy out.”
Moss says the tax base in Schuylkill County needs to be broadened and doesn’t believe this can be an “immediate fix.
“You have to keep pushing for economic development,” she said.
When we pressed Moss a bit to determine how meaningful economic development can happen in Schuylkill County – beyond more small businesses opening – with more larger employers, she responded by pointing to the CHIPs Act, which is “huge government money” available to develop jobs and business in the tech industries, specifically in semiconductor production.
Moss said Schuylkill County only needs to be a part of the supply chain in semiconductor production to make a meaningful impact toward putting people to work making family-sustaining wages again.
“I don’t see us getting a complete foundry for semiconductors,” she said. You don’t have to be the entire foundry to bring in good jobs to increase the opportunity in our county. Being a part of it is fine.”
Improving education in Schuylkill County will be key to creating those opportunities, too, she said.