Friday, August 17, 2012

The LuLac Edition #2163, August 17th, 2012

Mercedes Leighton (left) at just one of her many appearances when national figures came to town. Included in the photo are the late Christine McLaughlin, then First Lady of Wilkes Barre, Attorney Carl Frank, and then Vice President Walter Mondale stumping for the re-election of President Carter in 1980. Photo: Citizen's Voice.


She was the grand dame of Luzerne County politics. Mercedes Leighton passed away this afternoon at the age of 90. Her death was released by her grandson, Attorney Bill Vinsko. During Vinsko’s recent campaign for Congress, we exchanged many opinions and stories. But we always got around to a story about Mercedes Leighton. And the stories were always entertaining and always a testament to her unofficial role as the political goodwill Ambassador of Wilkes Barre. Leighton was the City Controller for over two decades. She succeeded her husband Carl Leighton as City Controller when he died in office in 1978. That office was previously held by Walter Lisman who became Mayor in 1975. Serving her husband’s unexpired term was a given. During the tumultuous 1979 primary between Tom McLaughlin and Tony Mussari, the Democratic leaders were going to run another candidate for the Controller’s Office. But Mercedes Leighton did her best imitation of former Football coach Lee Corso and proclaimed, “Not so fast my friend”. She campaigned hard in the primary and General Election and stayed in the Controller’s job for the next twenty years. Leighton took her duties seriously and always, and I repeat always was at City Council public meetings. She also relished the political life of the city turning up at events large and small. She charmed the national and statewide media as well as the major candidates coming through Pennsylvania. Our state is now dubbed a “battleground” state but Mrs. Leighton knew that long before the pundits did. The last time I sat down with her for an extended period of time was during the 2002 primary between Bob Casey and Ed Rendell for Governor. (I have a hysterical story that I will not share here, but I’ll be glad to tell anyone I see in person. Writing will not do it justice). Mrs. Leighton’s observations on the race were dead on and she critiqued the room, the program and the decorations with the eagle eye of one politico who saw many a state fair herself. When Rendell entered from the back of the ballroom instead of the front, she leaned toward me and said, “Now that was one smart idea. He’s in a sea of people so it looks like he’s being mobbed. And then when he leaves, he can go out the side door to the bus over there”. She not only knew politics but she knew logistics too. Even though she had been out of office for over a decade, Mrs. Leighton was a presence at various events as her health allowed. As the upcoming Presidential and 2013 local elections heat up, a few of us will be scanning the crowd for the little lady in the business suit to get her take on who’s up and who’s down. At a future political event, when we see an empty chair with pretzels and chips, we’ll realize we will no longer see that conspiratorial leaning forward pose from the demure lady who will ask, “I wonder how this thing is going to turn out?” Our condolences to her entire family. She was a gem in the Diamond City.


At 12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again you prove that you are the best writer in the blog region. Your command of the area's history and the political people who deserve to be remembered is astounding. To the idiot who accuses you occasionally of plagarizing, try your hand at doing what Mr. Yonki does every single day. You will not find this tribute anywhere else, so please shut up already!
My sympathies to the family of Mrs. Leighton, especially her grandson Bill.

At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave, I always enjoyed the company of Mrs. Leighton at these political events. She never, ever missed a trick. My regards for her service and my sympathies to her family.

At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Yonki,
Very nice tribute to the former Controller. I'm an old timer and I remember the shock we all felt when Carl Leighton died so suddenly. Mercedes proved that after such a great loss, she could have an effective Chapter Two in her life.
Thanks again.

At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, my condolences to the Leighton family. Second, where did you get that photo? I have to get a tour of that attic of yours.

At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Professor Milburn Cleaver, OPA said...

Our little circle is getting smaller. I recall meeting Mrs. Leighton on many occasions in the past at social/political events. She was a lady of dignity, warmth, incite and grace.
We came from diffrent ends of the political spectrum, but I always enjoyed our talks and mini-debates because she was a worthy friendly adversary. Something lacking today.
An asset to the Democratic party, sometihing that it lacks today.
My sympaties to her family and friends.
Class Dismissed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At 11:47 AM, Anonymous Bill Vinsko said...

Thank you for the kind words for my grandmother. She was one-of-a-kind. I will always continue to strive to be like her.

At 11:26 PM, Blogger Mike McGinley said...

Mrs. Leighton was a true sweetheart. I was so fortunate to have met her as a high-school student who went to school with her granddaughters. She had a phenomenal spirit and I'll always remember her inviting me down to her "party room" ,aka her basement, in her home for soda and pretzels.


Post a Comment

<< Home