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Chester County Press

Rep. Chris Ross forges campaign as candidate choice in the 158th

10/01/2014 04:54PM ● By Lev

On Sept. 29, Chris Ross was selected to replace candidate Cuyler Walker in the 158th District.

By John Chambless

Staff Writer

State Rep. Chris Ross is hastily assembling a political campaign this week after accepting his nomination to be the Republican candidate in the 158th district on Sunday night.

Ross, who had announced his intention to reitre in December, has been brought back as a candidate after the sudden resignation of Cuyler Walker over what he called "certain personal issues."

On Sunday evening, Ross met with county Republican party committee members. Also at the meeting was Roger Howard, who lost to Walker in the spring primary but had been championed by some supporters as the logical replacement for Walker in the race against Democratic challenger Susan Rzucidlo.

Ultimately, Ross got the nod from the party and accepted his nomination.

The path to selecting Ross was paved on Sept. 26, when the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania granted Walker's petition to withdraw his candidacy. Walker had revealed his decision on Sept. 22. He has not spoken to the media since that time. He is still the chairman of the East Marlborough Township Board of Supervisors.

“I am pleased that the Commonwealth Court applied the law correctly and allowed us to move forward," said Val DiGiorgio, chairman of the Republican Committee of Chester County. "Now, we can get to the important business of ensuring that the citizens of the 158th State House District continue to be represented in Harrisburg by a fiscally-conservative Republican."

The fallout from Walker's late resignation from the race -- well after the Aug. 11 deadline  -- has sparked debate and rumors throughout the 158th district. Democrats have called foul on letting Walker withdraw, and they are questioning whether Republicans were aware of the issues that would have ruined Walker's chances and simply sat on the information until they could nominate another candidate of their choosing.

Ross has run against Rzucidlo before and won. Rzucidlo, however, has found her campaign in the 158th -- once believed to have had little chance of victory -- to be re-energized.

Last week, Brian McGinnis, chairman of the Chester County Democratic Committee, issued the following statement about Walker's withdrawal:

"The public has a right to know why, at this late date, with ballots printed and already being sent to our military personnel and those living overseas, Cuyler Walker has abruptly decided to abandon his campaign and those that supported him,” McGinnis said. “More troubling is the fact that the Republican Party seeks to marginalize the votes of our service men and women, as well as those citizens living overseas, by trying to substitute a hand-picked candidate that the Republicans view as more electable.”

McGinnis questioned why a candidate would be permitted to withdraw so close to the date of the election when preparations were well underway to prepare the voting machines and ballots for voters.

“This effort at backroom politics could also have a cost to the taxpayers of Chester County,” McGinnis said. “The legal deadline for Cuyler Walker to withdraw as a candidates was Aug. 11. Under these circumstances, allowing the candidate to withdraw would disenfranchise military and overseas voters. In fact, if Mr. Walker wished to withdraw, why did he not do so before ballots began to go out to military and overseas voters on Sept. 19? What took place in the last week that prompted this sudden move?”

For now, those questions are unanswered.

On Tuesday, two local media reports suggested that Walker may be the subject of a criminal investigation, possibly because of widespread rumors surrounding Walker's reason for withdrawing from the race. In court documents filed by Walker and his attorney, Michael S. Gill of West Chester, Walker invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, but "remains willing, and intends to continue, to cooperate with law enforcement authorities while preserving his constitutional rights," the document reads. Invoking his Fifth Amendment rights is not an admission of any wrongdoing on Walker's part.

The existence of a criminal investigation could not be confirmed as of Tuesday.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail [email protected]