The LuLac Edition #331, Oct. 24th, 2007
PHOTO INDEX: THE FLAG.
Going to the candidate's debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you've got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.
The King’s College Politics and Media Class, along with the League of Women Voters hosted a debate for City Council candidates on a rainy Wednesday night. Moderator Sue Henry used a baseball analogy to introduce the candidates. She noted that the front runners, the establishment candidates were no shows while the insurgents, those aching for a chance to lead actually showed up. Only five council candidates made an appearance, they were Democrat Mike Merrit, running in District E, Republicans Walter Griffith in District A, Linda Stets in District D, Vince Guarneri in District B and Peter Gagliardi in District C. No one else showed and despite the gracious comments by Dr. Jayne Moore of King’s College saying some had previous commitments, let’s be real here, Five candidates came to meet the voters, the rest hid. Let’s break it down.
Merritt: Running because he’s concerned about the neighborhoods and wants to get more people involved in the community. Touted his business experience and volunteerism.
Griffith: Spoke of his past run at Council, losing by less than 1% of the vote city wide, talked about the Council as Legislators who must deal with the city administration in solving problems, not acting as a rubber stamp.
Stets: Said she was running because the seat needed o be filled by the GOP. Also a candidate for Mayor, Stets told the group that democracy and involvement is needed in keeping the neighborhoods safe.
Guarneri: Told the group he was running because he felt there needed to be more employment opportunity. In describing his background, he mentioned his Accounting degree but told the group he also worked in a warehouse because he couldn’t get a job pumping gas. That drew a laughs from the crowd but it underscored a very good point about the city’s economics and demographics. His other two election foes, incumbent Tony Thomas and Tony George did not attend.
Gagliardi: Perhaps the most eloquent statement came from the former King’s grad who said that his 4 years At King’s was the very embodiement of why he runs for public office. He said it is important to serve the citizens by getting involved and making a change.
Griffith: Said it could be done cheaper pointing to the County’s involvement in buying the rail station. Is for it but it is in the wrong place.
Stets: Told the group the transportation unit was a good idea if only there were more businesses in the downtown. Pointed to the lack of business growth and reported high rents for the shiny new buildings.
Guarneri: Said it would aid the downtown in terms of development.
Gagliardi: Supports the idea and said he’d like Wilkes Barre to return to its former glory of hustle and bustle when public transportation was the norm rather than the exception.
Merritt: Thinks it’s a good idea and a building block for stronger economic development.
Griffith: Told the group he’d put the position of Police Chief out to bid. Said Wilkes Barre needs more police efficiency and that the city needs to work smarter not harder. Proposed more foot patrols and neighborhood involvement.
Stets: Pledged to get rid of absentee landlords, real estate home flipping and a more vigilant neighborhood presence.
Guarneri: Said that clutter clean up is important when it comes to crime. He said people need to take care of their properties first and restore pride. In protecting their properties, crime would have a tough foe to fight. Get rid of the junk and you’ll get rid of a crime presence.
Gagliardi: Remembered a more peaceful Wilkes Barre when he as a youth delivered the Wilkes Barre Record at 4AM with no fear. Said that drug dealers have to be told Wilkes Barre is not the place for them. Mentioned his “Knock” plan where if neighbors see drug activity or anything suspicious, a police presence reveals itself right in their face.
Merritt: Neighborhood and crime watch involvement units are the key. Noted that more police need to be in neighborhoods.
Stets: Said if she were Mayor, Solid Cactus would have had more communication before it left. Mentioned it was disgraceful that a free standing tax based business left because of a breakdown in communications with the administration.
Guarneri: Said he won’t criticize the Mayor because it was already a done deal.
Gagliardi: The candidate said that lessons can be learned from the Solid Cactus debacle. He said this is what happens when a government is not accommodating and accessible but aloof and unavailable to its tax paying entities.
Merritt: Was not going to criticize the Mayor because he did not know what the Mayor did and did not do.
Griffith: Communications was not stellar. Used it as an example of a rubber stamp council that never questions the administration on important issues or just something as basic as asking what’s going on with an issue.
MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE
Guarneri: Provide a sense of pride and purpose in the city. Noted we are the most entertained and bored people on the earth. Said each resident must take ownership of a better city. Noted if theatre closed downtown, people wouldn’t be coming for the three restauraunts in town.
Gagliardi: Said the city has to rid itself of the negative attitude. Mentioned the Council needs new blood and new enthusiasm to take a more active approach in government. He also said the city should make it very uncomfortable for drug pushers to do business in the city.
Merritt: Crime reduction. Get the drug element off the street, and let the good hard working people feel safe.
Griffith: Clean up the neighborhoods, get rid of the apathy and let people know things won’t be business as usual.
Stets: Jobs, quality high paying jobs to stop the brain drain in the city. And cleaning up the parks and streets where children play.
Gagliardi: Told the crowd he wasn’t in it for the money but to serve. Said the Mayor’s salary in comparison to a County Commissioners is out of line and screams for an adjustment saying it didn’t make sense. Said the GOP will earn its salary, no matter what it is as opposed to the current crop just taking it.
Merritt: Defended the Mayor’s salary, said the job is a difficult one and the Mayor would get more in the private sector. Said he would not change the Council salary one bit.
Giffith: Recounted how he tried to pass a petition outlawing the perks and high salaries and was taken to court by the council and administration. Said that in some cases when you break down the meetings vs council salaries, members are getting paid $3000.00 an hour.
Stets: With neighborhoods going downhill and getting filthy, and parks unattended, the Mayor and Council are not earning their salary. Said there is a projection that at the age of 75, Mayor Leighton will have earned 1 million dollars in perks and pensions and said he just isn’t worth that.
Guarneri: Rejected perks, said people make less than that in full times jobs but conceded the Mayor had a “good gig”.
Griffith: Said students pay $30,000 a year to go to school in Wilkes Barre and said there should be a way to have free parking for students.
Stets: Said maybe commuters could have a common parking ground with a shuttle system.
Guarneri: Work with the 10 colleges to solve problems including potholes and parking.
Gagliardi: Mentioned that it was all for students to do to try and earn a degree and work hard in school and not have to worry if they get a ticket. Agreed with Griffith that something workable could be done.
Merritt: Approached it as a neighbor and not a council candidate. Said students park in North Wilkes Barre on residential streets and parking is at a premium during lunchtime and on weekends when students have parties and residents can’t find a place to park. Suggested colleges handle it themselves.
Stets: To prevent it from happening again, take an audit of equipment and supplies on hand so the city won’t be caught short.
Guarneri: Called for an up to date assessment of city equipment.
Gagliardi: Said it illustrated what is wrong in the city. Said hearings should have been held to find out why things went wrong and prevent it from happening again. Commented this is what happens when you have one party government.
Merritt: Said there were a lot of retirees and budget constraints. Reminded those assembled that Wilkes Barre s still paying off a debt.
Griffith: Said there has to be a union negotiation that will allow the city to hire other people to help on a non union basis in an emergency.
Gagliardi: Says the job of government is to make its people safe. The closing of the Firehouse in the Heights did not make that happen. Said he could not understand why there was no money for a firehouse in the heights yet city leaders were willing to spend 1 million dollars in Kirby Park for a 911 monument.
Merritt: Told the group it was due to budget constraints, said there was no danger in the Heights with no firehouse because the response time was very good from other areas.
Griffith: Said that this was a classic case of the city not taking care of what it has and building things that are not needed. He intimated that someone’s friend must have gotten the contract for the new building efforts.
Stets: Talked about response time. Said people were in danger because fires in the Heights with the houses 3 inches apart in some cases was dangerous.
Guarneri: Worried about response time in bad weather.
FIRST THING THEY’D DO
Stets: Meet with the out of town landlords and tell them if they bring drug dealers in for cash, she’d personally escort both out of town in a cruiser.
Guarneri: Clutter clean up, neighborhood revitalization.
Gagliardi: Find out who got elected and begin the process of governing with those people and sharing a common ground and understanding.
Merritt: Meet with the police chief to see how crime can be reduced and how he can help the city achieve that goal.
Griffith: Meet with the Mayor and remind that office that Council is a legislative body and one that needs to be listened to and respected.
Gagliardi: Says Kathy Kane is a remarkable public servant and educator who has served the people the best way she knows how. But told the group a bi partisan government is needed. One party rule does not work in Cuba, Russia or Wilkes Barre. Said there was need for new blood.
Merritt: Said he wishes his foe John Yencha well in his electoral efforts.
Griffith: Told the crowd that his opponent Rick Cronauer is just that. He criticized his opposition as not wanting to meet the public and says his comments were not directed at him personally.
Stets: Said Bill Barrett lives up the street from her and walks through their neighborhood looking straight ahead and not seeing the terrible problems Wilkes Barre is facing. Mentioned that not showing up for meetings and treating people at Council meetings badly is a sure sign of arrogance.
Guaneri: Told the group his opponents are Tony Thomas and Tony George. Said it was impolite and improper to speak of them when they were not at the forum.
Mike Merritt showed up ready to work, white dress shirt, tie undone. No suit coat, you got the impression he was ready to roll and as the only Democrat who bothered to show up, he made an impression with more than his appearance….Walter Griffith had a burgundy dress shirt and matching die, very un-GOP….Linda Stets was resplendent in Nancy Reagan red…Vince Guarneri opted for the casual look in a slate blue pull over and Pete Gagliardi wore a dark suit and red tie. Pete did an Urban like entrance at 7:10PM because of traffic problems getting to the event… Sue Henry had a smart brown ensemble with moderate colored flats while Dr. Jayne Moore was sporting what looked like to be a brown and white saddle shoe sneaker combination.
Merritt got points for showing up and taking on the issues, not playing to the crowd and defending to a degree the current administration…Griffith showed what a well versed passionate public service he could be if given the chance…Stets showed great enthusiasm and vision for her role in the city....Guarneri added humor and common wisdom to his discourse but it was perhaps Gagliardi who nailed it when he said Wilkes Barre needs to be represented by new blood. He mentioned how the good people of Wilkes Barre only want a fair shake, saying those making $8.00 an hour and raising a family on that are courageous. Said the least we could do was to put new blood in the city to serve those people and return Wilkes Barre to its thriving self.