Jones wins district judge race

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec / Magisterial district judge Republican candidate Ben Jones gives his daughter, Reese, 15, a hug in the Bavarian Hall after winning his race on Tuesday. The race for the Magisterial District 24-1-02 spot came down to 125 votes as Jones edged out Democratic nominee Meghan Farrell Irwin.

It came down to 125 votes as Republican candidate Ben Jones edged out Democratic nominee Meghan Farrell Irwin for one of the two city magisterial district judge seats.

“I’m absolutely elated,” Jones said moments after word came in to the Bavarian Hall, where he and other Republicans gathered Tuesday night to await the election results, that he had won. Jones said he had tremendous support from his family and friends and said the news had left him speechless.

Unofficial results show Jones received 1,885 votes to Irwin’s 1,760.

“It’s just been an amazing experience. With the door-to-door campaign, I met so many great people, and I really want to thank everybody that supported me and especially the citizens of Altoona for having faith in me to be able to do this job,” Jones said.

“It’s been nerve-wracking throughout the experience,” Jones said of the campaign. “We started off with five candidates. We whittled it down to two, and tonight we knew it was going to be close; we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. My opponent had a great campaign, and I want to thank her and her family and her campaign for the way they ran their campaign. It turned out the way we had hoped.”

The hardest part of the campaign for the 43-year-old Jones was the time he had to spend away from his family during the campaign.

Working full time as the head of the Altoona Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division, he would then hit the streets, knocking on doors and talking to residents until it got dark before getting some dinner, going to bed and waking up to do it all over again.

“Generally, we did that five or six days a week,” Jones said, noting it was stressful on his family, and he appreciated their patience throughout the process.

It was a long, grueling campaign for both candidates, and Irwin said that although she came up a few votes short, she had great supporters and was happy it was not a negative campaign for either side.

Irwin said she knew that being a Republican running on the Democrat ballot would be an uphill battle, especially when many voters cast straight party ballots, but said the fact the race was so close tells her she was on the right track but just came up short.

“I do think I got my message across,” the 38-year-old Irwin said.

Irwin said she expects a strong showing with absentee ballots and that should close the gap but doesn’t think they will be enough to overcome Jones, who will likely have his own votes tallied among those absentee ballots.

Irwin, an attorney, ran as a Democrat after cross-filing in the spring and beating Jones out on that ticket. She said she believes running as a Democrat cost her some supporters even though the magisterial district judge races have always been rather nonpartisan.

“It’s been surprising,” she said, noting she had people who had supported her throw their support to Jones because of party lines.

Blair County Democratic Party Executive Committee member Jason Imler, who attended Irwin’s election night gathering at Jack & George’s, said the committee met with Irwin after she won the primary, and Democrats got behind her because she shares their values.

“A magisterial district judge race should be a very civilized race based on the values that make for a good judge — like temperament. That sort of thing,” Imler said. “It really should be nonpartisan. That is why you can cross file.”

Jones will take over for retiring Magisterial District Judge Todd Kelly, whose Magisterial District 24-1-02 serves residents of Altoona’s 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, 12th and 14th wards.

The seat was one of four district judge seats on the ballot this year. In the spring primary election, former Altoona police officer and current Altoona Area School District police officer Dan DeAntonio took both the Republican and Democratic nominations to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Auker.

In the southern end of the county, Republican candidate Andrew Blattenberger was the sole candidate on the ballot to take over for the retiring Magisterial District Judge Craig Ormsby after fellow Republican Derrick Elensky, who lost to Blattenberger in the Republican primary but did manage to win the Democratic side of the ballot, withdrew in August.

Magisterial District Judge Paula Aigner was unopposed from the beginning and will serve another term serving Hollidays­burg and the surrounding area.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.