Paterno faces ballot challenge in LG race

A rival candidate for lieutenant governor on Monday filed a challenge to the validity of Jay Paterno's nominating signatures, raising the possibility that the former Penn State assistant and son of the icon could be kept off the ballot. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Jay Paterno, a former Penn State assistant football coach and the son of the school’s iconic head coach, may not make the Democratic ballot for lieutenant governor after all.

Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski, a rival candidate, filed a challenge to Paterno’s nominating petitions with Commonwealth Court Monday, arguing that he had failed to qualify because of numerous deficiencies in the signatures presented.

To run for lieutenant governor in a primary, a candidate must collect valid signatures from 1,000 voters of the same political party, with at least 100 of those signatures coming from each of five separate counties.

Paterno turned in 1,117 statewide signatures, but enough of them were flawed to drop him below the 1,000-signature threshold, the complaint said.

Petitions from Chester County, Mifflin County and Philadelphia County contained fewer than 100 valid signatures, leaving Paterno with only two counties toward the fiive-county requirement, the complaint said.

Lawrence Otter, an election-law attorney from Bucks County, filed the challenge.

“You can’t run a statewide campaign on a shoestring,” Otter said. “The average of valid signatures you get just standing in front of a Sheetz or a Giant Eagle, in, say, Centre County, is 30 percent.”

Paterno, of State College, was a surprise late entrant into the lieutenant-governor sweepstakes, announcing shortly before petition were due on March 11 that he was getting into the race. With his revered name, leading Democrats figured that Paterno would be a formidable candidate in a largely unknown field.

“I am confident in the petition signatures I submitted,” Paterno said in a statement. “I oversaw the petition gathering effort. A member of my family, a volunteer or myself gathered each one of these signatures.”

Koplinski said that he was filing the challenge as a matter of fairness. “The Commonwealth sets out rules to make sure that all candidates have an even playing field to run for office,” he said in a statement. “We are asking the Commonwealth Court to review the signatures in question to enforce fairness and justice in the system.”

Also running for the Democratic nomination for LG are state Sen. Mike Stack of Philadelphia, former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz of Johnstown, Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith, and state Rep. Brandon Neumann of Washington County in southwest Pennsylvania.