State Rep. Bill Kortz to take on Specter

Posted: July 07, 2009

While Congressman Joe Sestak keeps sticking his toe in the water, another Democrat has already plunged into a primary race against U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter - state Rep. Bill Kortz, a little-known two-term legislator from the Mon Valley, outside Pittsburgh.

Kortz, 54, a 30-year veteran of the steel industry who's held elective office for just 2 1/2 years, announced his candidacy in April, when Specter was still a Republican and various Democrats were licking their chops about taking him on. Specter's metamorphosis to a Democrat won endorsements from President Obama, Gov. Rendell and Sen. Bob Casey, and convinced Joe Torsella to drop out of the Senate race.

But Kortz says that the party leadership is out of touch with Democratic voters and vows to drive his Ford minivan throughout the state to contest Specter's re-election.

"I'm not knocking Arlen," Kortz said in an interview. "In the totality of his career, he's done a good job. But it's time for a change. I don't think he represents the future. I can bring a lot more energy into this job than he can bring right now."

Political experts describe Kortz's chances as virtually nil, citing Specter's statewide name recognition and $6 million campaign war chest. Sestak, a former Navy vice-admiral, has been using his potential Senate candidacy as a fund-raising tool and has close to $4 million stowed in his congressional PAC.

Kortz's most recent finance report, in early February, showed $42,700 in the bank - and $11,600 still owed to himself from past campaigns. That money can't be used for a federal campaign, anyway.

Kortz, a former manager for U.S. Steel Corp., has beaten long odds before, when anger over the Legislature's 2005 pay grab drove him to take on a House member. In his first run for public office, campaigning door-to-door, Kortz beat both the incumbent and a county office-holder in a three-way election.

Last year he won a second term, with more than two-thirds of the vote in the primary and general elections.

"The number-one reason I'm running is this economy," Kortz said. "I come from the working class and I'd take a working-class viewpoint down there to Washington. They're out of touch."

He blamed Specter for voting to reduce federal restrictions on the banking sector in the 1990s and failing to regulate derivatives and other financial products that have contributed to the world's economic swoon. Kortz criticized Specter's support for the Iraq war and said that, if elected, he'd push for a unified, single-payer heath-care system. *

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