Keith Rothfus wants to tear down any divide that may exist between Cambria County and the rest of the 12th Congressional District.
On Election Day, the Allegheny County Republican defeated U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, with 51.7 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns. Critz’s home county, though, went heavily in his favor with 62.5 percent of voters supporting him.
Including Critz, a Johnstowner has been in Congress every year since Rep. John Saylor joined in 1949. And in every year since 1935, at least one Cambria County citizen has served in the chamber.
Some local business owners, politicians and residents are concerned about not having a congressman living in their immediate area. Rothfus, who will take office on Jan. 3, addressed the subject Wednesday during a Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Sunnehanna Country Club in Westmont.
“I’ve said it once and I’ve said it a thousand times: Please don’t think of yourself as from Johnstown or don’t think of me as being from Pittsburgh,” Rothfus said. “We, us, we’re from southwestern Pennsylvania.”
The congressman-elect spent the day in Cambria County, including taking time to look at a potential location for an office in downtown Johnstown.
“I think he’s putting to bed the issue of are we ever going to see him,” said Cambria County Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder, a Republican who was one of the few local political figures to openly endorse Rothfus during the race. “Even before he’s been sworn in, congressman-elect Rothfus is here, talking to people, listening to what we’ve got to say.”
In addition to living outside the area, Rothfus is on the opposite side of the political aisle from most Cambria County politicians, who are Democrats.
“I look forward to working with him,” said state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont. “Obviously, his role is in Washington and mine is in the state. My concern is that the decisions in Washington affect the decisions we have to make.”
Other community leaders also are looking to foster working relationships with Rothfus.
“It’s imperative to be synergized from top to bottom with your local leaders, state leaders and federal leaders,” said the Cambria County War Memorial Arena’s acting general manager, Tom Grenell. “I’m excited to meet Keith Rothfus and move into his direction, and follow the lead of our commissioners as we stretch all our financial resources and maximize our opportunities.”
Rothfus will attend a similar Eggs & Issues series gathering on Dec. 13 at the Somerset Country Club.
“It is extremely important that we create an open dialogue with the new congressman so he has an understanding of the issues we face in Somerset County and how he can best represent us in Congress,” said Ron Aldom, executive director of the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce. “The 12th district is very diverse in its makeup, so we really need to give Representative-elect Rothfus a great overview of who we are, especially in a time of uncertainty in our manufacturing and energy sectors.”
Somerset County voters split 53.8 percent to 46.2 percent in Rothfus’ favor.