Monday, December 28, 2015

The LuLac Edition #3106, December 28th, 2015

(in countdown form)


Former Scranton Mayor Jim McNulty had a big birthday party in February at the House that Jim built, the Lackawanna County Railroad station. At least 1500 people showed up to greet the former Mayor and wish him well as he faced cancer. The place was a who’s who of politicos and even former World Heavyweight Champ Larry Holmes showed up. At the end of the year, the mayor’s wife Evie resigned her position as Recorder of Deeds in the Lac to become Chief of Staff for the Notarianni and O’Malley team. She was also named to Governor Wolf’s Commission on Women.
The power couple of The Lac later in the year had a Cancer Awareness event at the Mohegan Sun Convention Center.


Tony Brooks did something no Republican has done in the City of Wilkes-Barre since the 1980s. He won an election as a REPUBLICAN. The last two Republican Council members elected were Jack Jones in the 80s and Frank Trinisewski in 1975. The last time Wilkes-Barre had a Mayor was 1960 under the strong Mayor form of Government and later John Morris under the City Manager Form of Government. The Republicans are vastly outnumbered in Wilkes-Barre and the win by Brooks is historic. It also should give people who are thinking of running against an establishment candidate encouragement that maybe it might not be an impossible task. Brooks’ win along with Tom Shubilla’s victory in Plains, Beth Gilbert’s win in District C in Wilkes-Barre and the emergence of Scott Cahalane in Hazleton give us proof that change can come if you work smart and hard.


The Steamtown Mall, once a bright spot in downtown Scranton had turned into an albatross that only Al Boscov seemed to want. 2015 saw Boscov being outbid for the property by local business man John Basalyga The new owner is a businessman who also owns a roofing company and a popular restaurant.
The local guy had the winning bid of $5.25 million when the Mall at Steamtown went up for auction. Basalyga was not able to go public because the sale was not final and during that time period there was much speculation as to who actually bought the Mall. There were rumors about Commonwealth Health, Geisinger or even the University of Scranton buying the place. Basalyga recently has made a name for himself by renovating old industrial buildings throughout the county and making them into apartments.


The tenure of County Manager Bob Lawton came to an end. Lawton hired in 2012 lasted for three years which was more than most people expected. Politically right from the start his career was tenuous because he had a faction against him. But through his time Lawton put a framework in place that hopefully his successor can build on. Lawton was an avuncular presence who maybe did not play as nice as he could have with the Council. It was said that after the loan debacle there were votes to fire him but that did not transpire at the meeting. Lawton resigned the next day and is leaving as this is being published. His legacy will be that he did more good than harm and will be admired by future employers for lasting as long as did here in Luzerne County.


The Pennsylvania budget affected the funding in Luzerne County. Councilman Harry Haas voted no on taking out a loan to get the county through the year. The state had the money but didn’t release it. After a few days, the Council voted again and the County ran well through the year and even passed a budget of their own on time. Haas said he voted no to send a message to the State Capitol, a better message was the Council passing a budget on time.


A controversial power plant will be built in the Lackawanna County community of Jessup. This year Jessup council approved a request to amend a zoning ordinance so plans can move forward.
In the summer at Valley View High School there were boos and cheers as the vote took place to pave the way. The decision by borough council came down to a vote of 6-1 with council agreeing with Chicago-based energy company, Invenergy. By changing the zoning, the Chicago based company .will be able to set up shop in Jessup, which some say is the Capitol of The Mid Valley.


Okay, a short synopsis of the Lackawanna County Commissioners race. At the start of the year the Commissioners were Corey O’Brian, Jim Wansacz and Pat O’Malley. O’Brien, a Democrat resigned to take a job in health care. Wansacz decided to pair himself up with GOP Minority Commissioner Pat O’Malley, a former Democrat. They decided to run as a team. Enter Jerry Notarianni who ran for Mayor in 1989. O’Malley and Notarianni win leaving Wansacz in the dust. (Don’t worry, he’ll have a state job by February).
On the GOP side Laureen Cummings (one of last year’s Women We love and Bill Jones who ran with O’Malley in 2011 teamed up. Enter Charlie Spano who runs too. Jones’ people send out a mailer, Spano loses and blames Jones. In the General Jones and Cummings say they are a team but there are doubts about that. Spano runs a write in again with the help of the wily Bob Harper. There are 5 people running five separate campaigns. At least that’s what I saw. The winners were the Democrats, Notarianni and O’Malley and Cummings and Jones battled with Cumming winning by less than 90 votes. Whew!
Bottom line here is that Notarianni and O’Malley will have their hands full with Cummings as a Minority Commissioner, Bill Jones will run again and Charlie Spano rides off into the political sunset with one hell of an effort.
Politics in The Lac; now “That’s Entertainment”.


The Huggo Selenski was sentenced Friday to life in prison for the gruesome strangulation murders of pharmacist Michael Kerkowski and his girlfriend Tammy Fassett in May 2002 and 20 1/2 to 41 months in prison for escaping the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in 2003. Luzerne County Judge Fred A. Pierantoni sentenced Selenski to consecutive sentences of life in prison on two counts of first-degree murder for killing pharmacist Michael Kerkowski and his girlfriend Tammy Fassett, who were strangled in May 2002. Following Selenski's conviction last month, a jury opted to give Selenski life in prison rather than the death penalty.
Family members of the victims gave statements prior to the sentencing, including Kerkowski's mother Geraldine Kerkowski.
Hugo will appeal but hopefully this will be the last we hear of him.


Crime still reared its ugly head in Wilkes Barre and Hazleton. The bad news is that there was still crime but the very faint good news was that the violence seemed to be lower at least in numbers compared to 2013. But there were still problems.
BIG PROBLEMS! And those problems were troubling because it indicated that Wilkes Barre residents were easy prey for predator, repeat criminals. There were 5 criminal homicides, three of them that took place in the homes of the victims. That is troubling especially the case of Donald Bachman who was a person who actively looked after his neighborhood and reported suspicious activity to police. Bachman was coming home from work when he was shot to death. This has residents uneasy, angry and scared.
An aggressive police presence in both cities is being developed further and you can bet there will be concentrations on problem areas as well as problem people. There is hope that the many unsolved crimes in this area will be solved and the criminals who seem to feed off the hard working people of this region are brought to justice.


Elections are big deals in LuLac land and this being an off year election made it all the more fascinating. In both Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton there were bitter fights for the nomination for both parties to be the new Mayor. With Wilkes-Barre’s Tom Leighton stepping down after 12 years, the Democrats had a five person race featuring Councilmen Tony George and George Brown, author and former Congressional candidate Brian Kelly and activist Darlene Duggins Magdalinski. Both George and Brown ran a fierce campaign and in the end it was Tony George who prevailed by less than 200 votes. The primary between George and Brown was not delicate and even as the summer dragged on there were issues with George’s campaign reports that were leaked to the Election Board by anonymous sources. Frank Sorick who ran on the GOP side thought he had a fighting chance but the strong registration of the Democratic party prevailed in November.
In Hazleton incumbent Joe Yannuzzi faced off against Jeff Cusat in the primary. Cusat won big over the Mayor. The Democratic primary featured incumbent Councilman Jack Mundy against Grace Cuzo who ran against Yannuzzi in 2011. The General election brought Cusat, Mundy and Independent Scott Cahalane together for various debates about town but in the end it was Cusat who prevailed. Cusat won the sign war in the city, and hired media genius Bob Harper to help out with his effort.
Both George and Cusat face similar problems like crime, where to find more revenue and how to improve safety in the neighborhoods. The problems might be the same but the faces will change.
Sources: LuLac archives, Scranton Times, Citizen's Voice, WNEP, Pa Homepage.


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