The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

December 16, 2012

Big change for Critz

JOHNSTOWN — Mark Critz has spent a lot of time with his wife and children over the past few weeks.

Many mornings, he has watched his twins, Sadie and Joe, leave for Greater Johnstown Middle School, and then, at night, shared dinner with them and his wife, Nancy, a speech pathologist for the school district.

Gone are the days when what seemed like an endless series of political meetings and campaign events filled the congressman’s schedule.

His daily routine started changing on Nov. 6, when Critz lost a re-election bid against Republican Keith Rothfus, a lawyer from Allegheny County.

Since then, his work demands have greatly decreased, although he has traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the current lame-duck session.

Much of his newfound free time has been spent at home in the Moxham section of Johnstown.

“I love seeing my family,” said Critz.

Still, getting ready for his tenure in the U.S. House to end on Jan. 3 has taken some adjustment.

“I’m so used to being busy that I like stalk around my house now when I don’t have something to do, (thinking) I should be doing something, I should be accomplishing something, I should be meeting people. I don’t do that now. I don’t know if I like it or if I don’t,” he said.

Critz also has spent a lot of time closing his eight offices within the district and getting ready to say goodbye to his 17 staff members.

“The last month has been tough,” admitted the Democratic representative. “It’s like closing a business, because we’ve got to shut all the offices down, we’ve got to pack everything up. Everyone’s getting laid off. It’s been a real challenging time emotionally because we’re all one family.

“This is something that we got into all sort of together for this ride. I look back at what we’ve been able to do over the last couple of years, and I’m pretty proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

Critz entered Congress after winning a special election in May 2010 to replace his mentor, the late Rep. John Murtha.

He survived a Republican surge in that year’s general election to hold onto the seat. Then, earlier this year, Critz defeated Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, in a rare member-versus-member primary after their residences were drawn into the same district.

Rothfus beat Critz unofficially by 3.4 percentage points in a district where the candidate atop the Democratic ticket, President Barack Obama, was unpopular. Critz was considered vulnerable and targeted heavily by outside groups.

“If I had known at the beginning of this year that they were going to spend $7 million or

$8 million against me, that they were going to draw a district that was 70 percent new, and that the national political (atmosphere) was going to be so toxic, I would have taken a deep breath, let me tell you,” Critz said. “We projected that Obama was going to lose our district by 13 points. He lost by 17. That’s my margin right there. He loses by 13, I win, but the ‘anti’ vote was so large.”

Throughout his time in office, Critz did not seek national attention. He instead focused on local economic issues and performing day-to-day tasks, such as helping high school students apply to military academies, making sure a 110-year-old widow from Cambria County received her husband’s military benefits and attempting to get Route 219 expanded.

“During probably one of the worst times in American economic history, we were able to maintain,” Critz said. “We maintained the Showcase for Commerce, we maintained the defense industry, we continued to work on infrastructure projects for the future. I fought hard and long to make sure that the coal industry remained viable in western Pennsylvania. I was co-chair of the Marcellus Shale Caucus because I see the economic opportunities there. I wanted to play an active role.”

Critz’s loss means there will not be a Johnstown resident in the House for the first time since Rep. John Saylor took office in 1949.

“I’m not going to tell you that I’m not fearful; I am fearful,” he said. “One reason is having worked for Mr. Murtha. When you get into that Pittsburgh-Allegheny region, you can get sucked in pretty easy because there are so many things going on there that the outer rim gets sort of forgotten. That’s my concern. ... My hope is that the folks from this area – and me working with them in one way, shape or form – can make sure that our needs are met, that we are taken care of, that we’re not forgotten.”

His future plans are uncertain. A continued career in politics remains an option.

“I see the good that can be done through this elected office,” he said. “So, now that I’ve been here, I won’t rule out running again.”

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