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Webster leads votes; Beam ousted

First-timer Burke, incumbent Erb also win

Incumbent Republican Blair County Commissioner Bruce Erb is congratulated by his aunt Ginny Erb of Hollidaysburg during the Republican party at the Altoona Grand Hotel on Tuesday evening. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County will have two new commissioners in January.

Republican incumbent Bruce Erb of Hollidaysburg will return to the board, voters decided Tuesday, along with two first-time winners and Hollidaysburg residents: Republican Amy Webster and Democrat Laura Burke.

Democratic incumbent Ted Beam Jr. of Altoona, a commissioner for eight years, finished last with 5,944 unofficial votes — 1,019 votes behind Burke’s tally of 6,963 unofficial votes.

Results also showed Webster taking the top of the ticket with 14,524 unofficial votes and Erb coming in second with 13,803 votes.

Beam, who gathered at Park Hills Country Club with his supporters, named reassessment as the reason behind his loss.

Republican candidate for Blair County Commissioner Amy Webster checks election results during a gathering at her Hollidaysburg home on Tuesday evening. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

“There’s no question that reassessment needed to be done, and I have no regrets voting in favor of it,” Beam said. “But the voters chose to vote me out, probably because of that one issue.”

The county’s reassessment project was already moving forward when Erb took office almost four years ago, and he promised to put his financial management background and experience to use.

“I think the voters have recognized the need for a competent financial manager in the commissioners office,” Erb said when asked about the support he garnered for re-election.

Webster topped the Republican ticket in the primary and came out on top again Tuesday.

“This whole experience has been something,” Webster said. “When it started, I didn’t know that I would make it past the primary.”

Democratic candidate for Blair County Commissioner Laura Burke and her husband Sean look at election results in their Hollidaysburg home on Tuesday evening. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Burke kept an eye on the results while playing dominos with her husband, Sean, at home.

“Excited? Absolutely,” she said. “I was trying not to get my hopes up. But obviously, seeing the returns, it’s a great feeling to know that all my hard work paid off.”

Burke said she and her supporters found some anti-incumbent sentiment among the potential voters they talked with, but they didn’t pinpoint if it was linked to reassessment.

“In general, it seemed that people were tired of the same old thing,” Burke said. “Whether that was reassessment or an anti-incumbent sentiment, I don’t know, or might have been some other factors.”

Webster, an attorney and real estate broker, identified reassessment as a key reason for her success.

She helped numerous clients appeal the new values assigned to their properties, then she opted to run for office.

Webster also garnered support from the Citizens Tax Policy Group, represented in election documents by treasurer Richard Latker of Hollidaysburg.

That organization initiated an prominent billboard and television advertising campaign about the “botched reassessment,” using contributions from the Blair County Taxpayers’ Alliance totaling $85,000, based on campaign expense reports filed in June.

Donors who made those contributions to the alliance have not been publicly identified.

The Citizens Tax Policy Group also launched a pre-election attack on Sunday and Monday, with online and TV advertisements criticizing Beam for his support of the reassessment project.

Beam said he didn’t see the organization’s latest advertisements criticizing him for supporting reassessment, but he thought Webster and “her backers, whoever they may be” were wrong to introduce their negative type of campaigning.

“That’s not sour grapes,” Beam said Tuesday. “It’s just how I see it, and I think she (Webster) has made many promises that she won’t be able to keep.”

Webster said she realizes that some people liked the advertisements, and some didn’t.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say they liked the ads because they got to the issues,” Webster said. “And I think that was good because it’s not a popularity contest.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is 946-7456.

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