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Watkins launches write-in campaign; Targets Szymanski in Lackawanna race

The Rev. Dion J. Watkins, who narrowly lost the Democratic primary for Lackawanna mayor, will run an aggressive write-in campaign in the November election, continuing his challenge of front-runner Geoffrey M. Szymanski.

An outpouring of support following last Friday's vote tally at the Erie County Board of Elections convinced Watkins to stay in the race, the candidate said Thursday.

"I was done in my mind, but people flooded my office with calls," said Watkins, who announced his campaign strategy during a press conference Thursday in Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, of which he is pastor.

Szymanski, 2nd Ward councilman, won the Democratic nomination over Watkins by a final vote count of 1,544 to 1,529.

Watkins, a school teacher in his first run for political office, shocked the Lackawanna political establishment by ending primary night on Sept. 13 trailing Szymanski, the party's endorsed candidate, by a single vote, with absentee and military ballots yet to be counted.

Finishing third with 808 votes was Council President Chuck Jaworski. Patrick A. McCusker, who runs a tax preparation firm, received 189 votes.

McCusker won the Republican and Independence party lines, and he had sought the endorsements of Watkins and Jaworski to mount a serious challenge to Szymanski.

But McCusker's poor showing in the Democratic primary limited his leverage with the other candidates in the heavily Democratic city.

In an interview Thursday, McCusker said he will no longer actively campaign and would likely vote for Watkins.

"I told him I'll back out. I don't want to be a spoiler in the race. I'll let Dion and Geoff go head to head," said McCusker.

Jaworski said in an interview that he was leaning towards endorsing Watkins, but hadn't made up his mind.

Watkins faces an uphill climb. His name won't be on the ballot, while Szymanski's will appear on the Democratic, Working Families Party and Conservative lines.

Individual voters will have to write in his name and fill in the ballot circle for "other" to cast a vote for him.

Watkins said his campaign team is planning to hand out stamps with his name, which would allow voters to fill a write-in line with an easily readable printed stamp.

"We're going to be prepared," he said. "We have to work two times harder."

Szymanski said Watkins presents a formidable challenge, but he was more concerned about continuing his own campaign efforts than not having the support of Jaworski and McCusker.

"It's going to be an interesting race to say the least," he said. "We can only do what we do to try and win the election. When you start worrying about what the other campaigns are doing, you take the focus off what you should be doing."

John Nowak, who lost the Republican primary to McCusker, also is running as a write-in candidate. Former city employee Walter Seres will appear on the Time for Change line.