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Four seek open seat on Jefferson County Board of Commissioners

STEUBENVILLE — With longtime Jefferson County Commissioner Tom Gentile opting not to seek re-election, four local men are vying to fill the seat.

Republican Tony Morelli, Democrat Edward Littlejohn and nonparty candidates Daniel Cermak and Patrick Murphy are the choices on county voters’ ballots.

Morelli and Littlejohn are local businessmen and have served in various other aspects of public life, while Cermak is a Smithfield Township Trustee and Murphy a former member of Mingo Junction Village Council.

Morelli, a resident of Wintersville, said he had previously thought about running for a commissioner’s seat, but this time, when asked by multiple parties, felt the timing was right.

“I’ve always been interested in politics, both locally and nationally,” he said, adding a lot went into the decision to run. “My wife, Colleen, said she thought I would be good at it, so I decided that I would.

“I want to help the people of Jefferson County. I think I’m tune with what is going on in the county.”

He also noted opposition to a new landfill as a reason for his candidacy.

Littlejohn, a Steubenville resident, said running for county commissioner is something he’s thought about for a long time because he feels he can make a difference, and now, the timing was right.

“I really believe in the county and am willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the county continues to move forward and grow,” he said. “I’m willing to learn, listen and lead.”

Cermak, a resident of Dillonvale, said he’s running because he feels his experience can benefit the county and the timing was right with Gentile not seeking re-election.

“I’ve seen some opportunities within the county and I think I can make a difference with the skill set that I have,” Cermak said. “With an open seat, I thought it was a good opportunity for me.

“I’m a conservative independent running against some very strong candidates.”

Murphy, a Mingo Junction resident, said he decided to run for the seat because the county needs change.

“I’m just tired of the way the county is being run,” he said. “Economic development has been stagnant. I think we need to get something going economic development wise and get the county running again.”

Morelli said he brings more than 40 years of business experience in the masonry supply and chemical industries, much of it coming locally. He has experience serving on boards including the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority, the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission and the Cross Creek Township Zoning Commission. He noted he helped grow the businesses he was involved in.

He said he has been involved in committees, groups and boards from a young age, including the Boy Scouts in the Tri-State Area, Big Brothers mentoring program and is an original founder of the Friendship Room.

“I think my strength is I’m a good manager of people,” he said. “I believe we’re all put on this earth to help others.”

Littlejohn’s experience includes serving on the board of Steubenville City Schools for more than five years, 30 years of experience as a real estate developer and 40 years as a small business owner, operating a storage business, martial arts studio and sandwich shop.

He served for 20 years as Positive Reinforcement of Inner Determination and Endurance facilitator for the Jefferson County Juvenile Court System, also serving 10 years in the Steubenville Municipal Court Community Service and Probation Department.

“My experience working in character development, I think, gives me a really good feel with people to really bring out their best and their strengths,” he said. “I have a lot of experience working with all different types of people from all parts of the county.”

He noted that his work with the youth has been central to his desire to create job opportunities for them here at home.

Cermak has served Smithfield Township as a trustee for the past nine years, is a Gulf War Veteran and small business owner and has experience working for a Fortune 500 company, noting the government experience is valuable. He said the township has received close to $10 million in road improvements during the last three years through partnerships he helped build.

“Being in government is different than any other job,” he said. “Government accounting is different. Knowing what you can do within the law is important. Having that knowledge and experience in government is important because you see it all the time in our small townships that a person gets in there and they stumble because they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.”

Murphy served on Mingo Junction’s council from 1994-98. He had 19 years of involvement with the village, including as a firefighter and EMT working for Mingo Junction’s service department in addition to his time on council. He also was a truck driver and member of the Teamsters Union and currently is retired and working as a networking marketer.

He ran for state representative as a Democrat in 2016.

“I have experience balancing budgets, working with department heads and working with people to solve the citizen’s problems,” he said of his experience on council. “My whole life has been about service to people, and that is what I want to continue to do – serve the people of Jefferson County.”

Morelli’s goals if elected include:

¯ Bringing an inpatient substance abuse facility to the county so county residents with addiction problems do not have to rely solely on outpatient care or go elsewhere for care.

“Everybody knows we have a drug problem in our county,” he said. “The best treatment available for substance abuse is an in-patient treatment center, and we don’t have one here. We need the best treatment available, that’s something else I worked on as a private citizen.”

¯ Economic development with “shovel-ready sites.”

“It’s easy to say you want knew business, but how are you going to do it?” he said. “One of the problems we have is we don’t have shovel-ready property. It’s kind of like we take the approach here is if you come, we’ll build it. What we need to do, what places that are successful do is we build it and buy it and then they will come.”

¯ Expanding high-speed Internet and cell service coverage to all areas of the county.

“One thing that I find hard believe in 2020 is a large portion of our county does not have decent, high-speed, broadband Internet,” he said, pointing out he has worked with U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, to bring attention to the area as a private citizen. “My neighbor can’t do his homework at his own house. I know there’s money and programs there to improve that in this area.”

Littlejohn’s goals are if elected:

¯ Solving the area’s drug problems.

“It’s two fold,” he said. “We have to make sure law enforcement gets the money they need to do their job and do it safely. The next thing is education — we have to make sure kids are getting an education and entering the workforce.

“Drugs are over the entire county. You only hear about Steubenville, but everybody is fighting it.”

¯ Preventing new landfills and monitoring the current facilities.

“I’m totally against the landfills” he said. “It affects the value of the property, it affects the people, their living conditions, everything. I would do everything in my power as a commissioners to make sure we don’t get any new landfills and make sure (Crossridge) is cleaned up as best as possible.”

¯ Expanding Internet service.

“With COVID-19 and people staying home, it has shown we need to have better Internet in certain parts of the county,” he said.

Cermak’s goals if elected are:

, Building partnerships.

“Gas and oil is here to stay,” he said. “I’m a proactive person, as opposed to being reactive. I think there are a lot of opportunities in the future with gas and oil in the county. We also need-shovel ready sites to attract new industries and businesses.

“I want to build partnerships with land owners and in industry to bring prosperity back to Jefferson County.”

¯ Improving housing in the county.

“Having adequate housing in the county is important to bringing new industries and new businesses to the county,” he said.

¯ Building a better workforce.

“Having a skilled workforce ready for new businesses is important,” Cermak said. “Part of that is developing the educational side of it.”

Murphy’s goals include:

¯ Bringing more economic development to the county.

“Economic development is my No. 1 goal,” he said, noting he would reach out to businesses about coming to Jefferson County. “We have railways, waterways and highways and we have workforce that wants to go to work.

“If we can get jobs and money flowing through here, we will have a much happier county.”

¯ Expanding Internet and cell service coverage.

“If you go out into the outer areas, they don’t have any service at all,” he said. “Everybody I talk says they need it.”

¯ Doing more to repair the county’s road system.

“I get a lot of complaints about the roadways,” he said. “I understand that the county engineer manages the roadways, but it’s hard for him to do anything without a budget. It goes back to economic development, if we can get a bigger tax base, we can have more money to do things.”

All four candidates noted that COVID-19 has created challenges on the campaign trail.

Morelli said his campaign has adapted by passing out hand sanitizer with campaign stickers as the label, doing social media videos on which he visited restaurants for takeout and utilizing a “mobile office” in various locations around the county among other creative actions.

“When coronavirus came, our team got creative,” he said. “We have given away almost 6,000 bottles of hand sanitizer (as of early October). We have meet people we wouldn’t have normally met through all the creative things we’ve done.”

Littlejohn said it’s hard to compare this year to past elections because he has not run for the commissioner’s office before, but noted social-distancing guidelines have been a challenge.

“It’s real challenging because I’m the type of person that likes to shake people’s hands and hug people,” he said. “We are America, the greatest county in the world, and we will get through this. We just have to focus on how to do things safely and move forward.

“We’ve been using Facebook, ads, mailers and talking to people in small groups.”

Cermak said the pandemic has made it especially difficult to get his message across to the county’s voters, noting his campaign has utilized some advertising and social media tools.

“My biggest challenge is trying to get my message out as an independent,” he said. “I’ve tried to attend as many events in the county so I can speak and get my message out there. Traditionally we would have had a booth at the county fair, but we didn’t have that opportunity this year.”

Murphy noted that the cancellation of the traditional dinners and events due to COVID-19 has made it challenging to gain recognition in the race and his campaign has utilized a door-to-door strategy.

“It’s very hard,” he said. “When I ran for state representative, I got invited to all kinds of different shindigs and things, it might also be because I’m independent, but I hardly got any invitations to anything. It’s hard to get my name out. We’ve been trying to go door-to-door.”

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