The LuLac Edition #1003, Nov. 11th, 2009
PHOTO INDEX: DR. JOE LEONARDI: NOW AND THEN.
STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA
STATE OF FITNESS
Thursday night at 7PM, TV 44, WVIA TV will present a program on Childhood Obesity. One of the guests will be a frequent poster to this site and fellow guest on WYOU TV Dr. Joe Leonardi. Dr. Joe has been on an incredible fitness journey that has taken him from Fat to Thin. But more than that, he also was a candidate for Congress in 2006 (getting no help from the National GOP) and political observer. We sat down with him a few weeks ago and did this interview:
1. You are pretty well known for your run for Congress, your practice and your latest project, Fat Then Thin now. Do you consider yourself a local celebrity?
Don't forget I am also an adjunct faculty member at LCCC. But with all that on my plate, thankfully, no, I do not consider myself a local celebrity. Some people still recognize me from my run for office which is always nice, but I actually get more people who recognize my name from when I used to work, very briefly, at WARD 1550 as a polka weekend host.
2. Let's start with a few angles first. Politics. Why did you run for Congress in 2006 when there were plenty of fat and easy targets on the state level after the 2005 pay raise by the State Legislature?
I ran for Congress because I had a patient in my office telling me about how her children had all left the area because there were no opportunities here. She had heard me talk to local politicos in my office and suggested that I do more than talk, that I actually do something about the area. She was emphatic that I run for office to try and do something. I spoke with several political people and together we decided that I could best effect change in the U.S. House. My interest had always been national politics and I had a much better grasp of national/international issues and how national politics effect our local region. I had really considered running in the 10th, but I was loyal to my party and opted to run in the 11th. I briefly considered running for state office, but dismissed that as an option because at the time I was not that well versed in state issues or state politics.
3. You recently changed from the GOP to the Democrats. It kind of reminds me of John Connolly changing from a D to an R in the midst of Watergate. Why?
My change of parties was a personal and I thought private decision. I really was surprised anyone learned of it or actually cared about it. Then you mentioned it during a lunch and the next day I received a call from Coulter Jones of the C.V. for an interview. I am humbled that people are interested. I had been considering the change for the better part of a year. I was extremely disillusioned with the national party after my run. As I stated earlier I had considered running in the 10th but my belief in party loyalty prevented me from doing so. My loyalty was rewarded with a complete lack of assistance in my run. I had several republican party awards over the years and had worked on some other campaigns, so I was surprised at the total lack of assistance. Locally the grassroots people, the committee people and those that volunteered on my campaign were incredibly helpful. Within the hierarchy of the local party and the state party support was surface level at best. Again, there were plenty of good people, but I don't believe I was taken seriously. Looking back I was glad I didn't quit on the election, considering pre-election predictions had me getting about 15% of the vote I was pretty happy with th 27% we received with such limited resources. After the election I heard from and had several meetings with quite a few democrats. I had only heard from one republican. It seemed the democratic party was more interested in me than the republicans. After much deliberation I decided to make the change.
4. Let's talk about the local GOP. It seems like they are making strides, what are your thoughts?
They will make some gains due to the corruption scandals, but I don't believe it will be long term. Renita Fennick is a person for whom I have a great deal of respect. Her dedication to the cause is unmatched. However, this area has a democratic party history and I don't see it changing for the long term. I could be wrong, but I just don't see it. The republicans made temporary inroads in Lackawanna County that did not sustain. In the 80's we even elected a republican to congress, but it was only for one term. If they didn't take Scranton City out of the 10th it would have gone Dem. before it did. Even a republican stronghold on the west side went to Phyllis Mundy and stayed that way ever since.
5. Do you think and buy into the notion that there are two wings of the GOP?
Yes. The wing that controls the party, the moderates and the people in the trenches, the conservatives. The simple fact is that there has only been one conservative republican elected to the White House and that was Ronald Reagan. Nixon was from the moderate wing, Bush Sr. was a Rockefeller Republican and George W. Bush a neo-conservative, whose fiscal irresponsibility and spending ran amok. I still am shocked when anyone considers W. a conservative. He was the most internationalist of all republicans and really harmed the party and the country.
6. Can you see yourself running for any office in the future?
7. You also, like me were in local radio and were, like me a frequent guest on the late and great WYOU TV News. Where do you think the local broadcast media is headed?
I think that the FCC needs to squash the WBRE/WYOU shared service agreement. We have two stations controlling our news content. While they do an admirable job, it is too much media control of stories in a large geographic market. A network, full time, over the air affiliate, should and must have an independent news department. I miss the interactive format. It was unique and it opened up the news to a different viewership. I believe both Eric and Lyndall juggled the duties of host/news anchor with true professionalism and were able to keep there own viewpoint out of the mix. WVIA does incredible work with great in depth documentaries, political and social coverage. Bill Kelly at the helm has done a great job with our local Public Broadcasting Station. He is to be commended. Concerning our former medium radio, WILK is out in front as far as news and politics. Nancy Kman has not only put together a ratings winner, she has developed and manages a staff of people who love this community and it shows everyday.Steve Corbett's tenacity and energy took an already superior group of talk show hosts and pushed them into a new strata. Sue and Nancy were very good to me and their respect is something I will never forget. Sue Henry not only talks the talk, she walks the walk, always lending her time and name, among others she hosted one of your forums and was recently active at a tax reform forum. In addition to leadership and the steadying hand she provides on the air, Nancy Kman's public battle with breast cancer has increased awareness and educated many. They are all good people. I would love to hear more local programming on the weekends. I actually thought of you and I doing a team show on the weekends there. It might be worth a shot.
8. Yeah that'll happen when pigs fly. Certainly cost has a lot to do with it but does quality have to suffer?
Your right, cost is the overriding factor, but quality does not have to suffer. There will always be plenty of dedicated folks out there doing the job no matter what the pay scale is.
9. The local newspapers have done in my opinion a great job on reporting the corruption scandals. Do you think there is something more they could've done?
This is easy. No. They have done a superb job. I can't think of anything else they could have done.
10. You've tried to get work as an opinion columnist. Why do you think a newspaper will hire someone from out of the area rather than a local person to do it?
I don't know. You and others, many in the media and many more in politics have told me that I have a very insightful political mind, I was even asked to develop and teach a political honors class one semester. However, that is a decision that is out of my hands and I don't lose any sleep over it. If someone wants me to write I will, if someone approached me to again guest host a radio show I would, if a television stations asks for my insight I will give it, if not; what can I do? Life is too precious to worry about what you can't do. I only focus on what I can do, then --- I go out and do it.
11. Why did you become a doctor?
To help people. Growing up my dad had several injuries that required hospitalizations and eventually led to permanent disability. I was not very happy with not only the quality of care, but the lack of concern, he received from those who treated him. I wanted to maybe stop that from happening to others. I went back to school later in life. I chose the Chiropractic profession because as a former bodybuilder/power lifter when I was stationed in Hawaii I had frequently used Chiropractic care to assist in my recovery and performance.
12. Least rewarding thing about the profession, most rewarding.
Most rewarding? Getting people out of pain when they tell me I am their last hope. Least rewarding --- nothing, it is a great profession.
13. How would you fix health care?
What I am about to propose may sound simple, but it is not. Health care is one of the major reasons I left the republican party. The constant NO really became old. The simple fact is, from a conservative point of view, we need some type of national health care plan. I don't know how our large companies and corporations are supposed to continue to compete in the global market when so many of their competitors have a national health care plan. From a humanistic stand point --- come on already! I can't think of a better way to promote the general welfare than to take care of the health of the populace. My plan would be to extend Medicare to the entire population. There would still be a need for secondary insurance so there would still be competition in the private sector. I would maintain current Medicare taxes and additionally impose a 15 - 20% tax on junk foods, alcohol and tobacco. Probably video and computer games too. Tax the activities that make us an unhealthy, slothful nation that stresses our health care system disproportionately. Then take that money and put it in a dedicated fund solely for the new Medicare. In addition to water the foods that would remain tax free are basically what you find along the perimeter of the supermarket: fruits, veggies, certain dairy, beef, seafood, poultry, eggs etc... This is a one paragraph answer to a solution that requires much more detail.
14. You have transformed yourself with your program Fat then/Thin now. Prior to this effort, you were a thin man, I even remember some newspaper ads with you in them, then you gained weight and now you're back to an incredible body type. It's not an easy thing is it?
I changed the program from Fat Then/Fit Now to YourNewPhysique.com. I went through a lot of stuff. In 2005 just prior to gearing up for the 2006 election cycle I ended up pretty ill. I was misdiagnosed twice keeping me out of the office off and on for six months. I had a surgery and then a post-op infection that was misdiagnosed that potentially could have resulted in my death. I ended up draining all of my savings accounts, IRA's and other investments just to keep my practice afloat and my employees working and paid. In the midst of that mess my dad passed away. I continued on with the election juggling my grief, business and campaign. Then shortly after the election my Mom unexpectedly passed away and shortly after that my wife and I separated. As I tell people, we turn to many things for comfort. I am not a drug user nor much of a drinker so I turned to food and insulated myself from the world via a wall of fat and flesh. I ballooned up to 340 pounds. I finally woke up and realized this was no way to live. I designed a new way of eating, an exercise program and several tips to stay on track, then I set a goal, went to work and achieved results. I have been asked how much I sacrificed to get fit; I tell everyone the same thing. I didn't sacrifice anything. I sacrificed living weighing 340 pounds. Being obese and unfit is no way to go through life, I don't know if I have added years to my life, but I am living better.
15. Tell me about the program. Who is it available to?
Much of the information is available on my web site www.YourNewPhysique.com. It is not about weight loss it is about developing a fit lifestyle. It is open to anyone interested in taking control of their health and becoming more fit. Being obese is not the only criteria and losing weight is simply a side effect of becoming fit. I am trying to get people to realize that when it comes to health care we have "care" and we have "health" it is time to start placing as much focus on "health" as we do on "care."
16. Do people, especially in this food oriented area take your plan seriously?
Yes they do. Some only have a few pounds they want to shed some have much, much more. But when I sit them down and tell them it is NOT just about weight they embrace the plan. When I share my story and how much better I live now; they are impatient to get started. It isn't the food that is the main obstacle, it is the excuses. One of the reasons I place my going to workout on face book is so people can see that I am getting out there and doing what I tell them to do. The early hours of 4:30am on Mon. and Wed. don't stop me, the rain doesn't stop me, the cold doesn't, etc... There are many excuses not to do it, there are few legitimate reasons. When you overcome the excuses --- success follows.
17. Have any of the local health care institutions bought into your effort? I know I made a contact on the program's behalf from a former employer I was associated with and there was no response.
Not at this time, but I haven't really put a lot of effort into contacting any yet. That is the next step. I was gearing up for a move to Santa Monica, California, but I have opted to stay put so I will be putting my full efforts into yournewphysique.com. Also, since I am not moving to Cali I am going to let the blond grow out of my hair.
18. Yeah, you had that surfer Italian boy look there going on for a while. Childhood obesity. Do you attribute that to too much affluence on the part of parents?
No! If anything, less affluence contributes more to obesity overall. Junk food is cheap and inactivity even cheaper. Childhood obesity is not complex but it is a multi-focal problem. It is part at home, part at school and part politics. That ridiculous food pyramid is making a mess of our young. While there is some improvement in school meals, there is a long way to go. I saw a a menu last year listing a cinnamon bun was a breakfast option. The loss of an emphasis on physical education is atrocious. As much emphasis needs to be placed on the physical as well as the cerebral. Phys. Ed. should be a 5 day a week class. I am looking into starting some type of foundation to combat obesity related Type II diabetes in children. That is something that used to be rare, so rare type II was referred to as Adult Onset Diabetes, but no more, too many kids are being diagnosed and starting insulin treatment. We have to stop this!Obesity is grossly misunderstood and there is much misinformation out there. I am willing to discuss it with anyone at any time.
19. Where do you see you, yourself and your business in 3 years? I sound like a personnel director don't I?
I wrote a book entitled YourNewPhysique.com --- Life Beyond Weight Loss. I expect YourNewPhysique.com to be the preeminent fitness site on the web. I will be speaking extensively all over the country. I want my foundation to be raising money and awareness about type II diabetes/childhood obesity. Of course I will remain in my practice in one way or another. I want to be helping as many people as I can. Also in 3 years I will have competed in my 2nd Wilkes-Barre Triathlon and Steamtown Marathon. I have set a goal to compete in my first ones in 2010. I am also going to start competing in some strongman contests. I am going to continue to challenge myself any and every way I can think of. I wasted too many years being overweight, obese and inactive. Life is finite and I am not going to waste any more of mine.
20. How do you change the culture of this area? I'm not only talking politics here, I'm, talking about the way we live, the way we treat each other, the land, everything. Where do we start?
21. Any closing thoughts?
Sure. I would like to thank you for your support and your friendship. I would like to thank all that helped me in my run for office. I had a small, dedicated group of volunteers who not only put effort into my campaign, but reinforced my belief in the good people of Northeastern Pennsylvania. It is my desire that I can reach those that are obese and/or so far out of shape that they feel they have no where to turn and convince them that all hope is not lost. That I did it and they can turn to me --- I will show them how to do it. No one who has never been obese can ever understand what it is to be morbidly obese. To have such a self imposed limit on life is suffocating and I will show them how to break the fat bonds and live again. And most importantly, as I stated earlier, to get as many people as I can to focus equally if not more on "health" as we do on "care."I wrote two columns for the Sunday Dispatch concerning obesity, the links are:http://www.timesleader.com/pittstondispatch/opinion/Obesity__Complex_problem__I_don_rsquo_t_think_so__08-23-2009.htmlhttp://www.timesleader.com/pittstondispatch/opinion/My_battle_with_obesity_08-30-2009.html