Friday, November 02, 2007

The LuLac Edition #337, Nov. 2nd, 2007



During the summer, I'd get these e mails and posts from people asking me my take on the Luzerne County Sheriff's race. Things back then were quiet and I offered a few thoughts but not much. Now, this row office race that in most counties is rarely commented on has become the focal point of Tuesday's General Election. Let's set this up first.

Back in 1967, the incumbent Sheriff, Joseph Mock, a Republican survived a General Election scare from the late Joe Tirpak. Tirpak came within an eyelash of beating Mr. Mock and in 1971 the office was captured by Plains resident Frank "Jago" Jagadinski. The late "Jago" sailed through 7 terms in office, campaigning at church picnics, (sometimes winning the cars they were chancing off) and transporting prisoners back and forth to jail without incident. After he retired, Carl Zawatski was elected in 1995 in the Democratic primary after a bruising battle with the likes of former Wilkes Barre police officer Jerry Cookus, and a few other locally famous lawmen. Zawatski served for one term untl his career was undone by a traffic incident involving his daughter. Fred Willams of WILK Radio made Zawatski a giant target as he ran for re-election and that paved the way for Barry Stankus to become Sheriff in 1999. Stankus won a second term in 2003 and has served ever since.

Fast forward to 2007, Democratic candidate Mike Savokinas beats off a challenge by perennial Sheriff candidate George "Nipper" Nowakowski while Stankus is unopposed in the GOP primary. In the summer, "Nipper" threatens a write in campaign but it turned out he was just huffing and puffing trying to blow Savokinas' brick house down.

So the general election begins quietly enough but then Savokinas accuses someone of stealing his signs. There's a press conference of outrage and tears. Stankus and the GOP deny involvement and it's not hard to believe them. I mean the Luzerne County Republican party can't even get two local Commissioner candidates to run together, how in the world are they going to organize a theft? These aren't your father's Watergate Republicans!

Stankus tries to maintain the status quo and run a campaign touting his record as Sheriff for eight years. Savokinas goes on the attack having people comment on Stankus' part time job at Sunshine Market. At first, this is an undercurrent, a whispering campaign. But Thursday, everything hit the fan when Savokinas accused Stankus of improperly filling out his campaign report not listing the income from the Sunshine Super Store. (By the way, love the Sunshine Deli, the meat is fresh, the prices are the lowest in the Valley but I find it off putting that the workers behind the counter are constantly bitching about the owners. Hey, no one likes everything about their boss but it is bad form to talk about them in front of a bunch of customers who are in earshot). The Sheriff's moonlighting has become a campaign issue mainly because his integrity and honesty are being questioned. It is an interesting issue that needs to be considered. Here's my take on the two sides.


I don't care if the guy has a part time job. My father taught me that any work is honorable and truth be told I was offended by the snickering among the Savokinas supporters. If the Sheriff wants to work in produce part time, fine but don't belittle those who work in that industry. Stankus says he's doing the job to help put his kid through school. Admirable. But doesn't Stankus have a military pension? A pension from his commendable service in the State Police and a salary as Sheriff? That's three paychecks right there. And how about Stankus' assertion that the good folks at Sunshine let him come and go as he pleases when there's an emergency. Who gets a job like that in this day and age? I'd be tempted to say that this is one of those "no show" jobs you see on The Sopranos but people have told me that Stankus really works at this job, as befitting someone of his generation that takes a job seriously. So, we elminate the no show theory. He has been criticized for not knowing he was over that $1300 limit and as a candidate who has run before, he had to know the ramifications of filling out a form the correct way. But with that much money coming in, maybe he stopped counting. I know I would. It's a question about Stankus' character but I feel not a huge issue. Savokinas does though.


Any campaign against an incumbent needs a linchpin and up until the Produce issue, Savokinas had no real issue to run on. Savokinas has less years experience in law enforcement than Stankus and is trying to breakthrough in the heavily layered Democratic party as a young man. The local Dems are notorious for ignoring "new blood" (until they kick their asses at the polls like Todd Vonderheid did) and telling the party regular to wait his turn until he hits 65 and maybe he can run for School Director. So Savokinas figures his time is now and you can't blame him. He's made some smart moves, neutralizing "Nipper" Nowakoski in his silly write in bid and getting Carl Zawatski to campaign by his side. But some say his attacking of Stankus' employment smacks of elitism and the fact that some of his people, intended or unitended laughed at the Sheriff's part time job is hurting him. The sign thefts have been long forgotten and there are some Democrats intimating that this was a "stunt" to get on the news. He did a good job, leading on two TV newscasts. But the biggest stretch is his radio ad that says under Stankus, "crime in Luzerne has risen under Barry Stankus' terms than any other time in the county's history". And then he throws in "keeping the children safe, we love the children, children are our future, we shouldn't eat the children..blah, blah, blah". Stankus or Savokinas have nothing to do with the crime rate rising. The Sheriff's office doesn't sentence the criminals, prosecute them or arrest them. The Sheriff's Department assists in crime prevention (Stankus has had a good education program in the schools) and protection. Savokinas' claim that the rise in crime is the Sheriff's fault is untrue and frankly not real ethical. But hey, this is politics and if he can get away with it, "God speed".


What we have here is this. An incumbent candidate with multiple pensions who just can't get enough of working, whether it be managing the deputies in the office or organizing oranges at the Sunshine. The only question is why didn't he know about the extra income and why didn't he put it on the form?

On the other hand, we have a challenger who has been pretty vocal and has grabbed a lot of attention. So far, no word on the signs but my God that was a great media splash, wasn't it? And we have the same challenger launching an ad campaign blaming Stankus for the high crime rate in ominous sounding ads designed to scare the bejesus out of every one! It's politics and so far Savokinas has the edge in playing the hard nosed game. But Luzerne County voters have to decide what type of man, (and both men have displayed hints of their character in their campaign) they want as the Luzerne County Sheriff. It's a tough call.


What's this with Sheriff's and food products? None other than Mayberry's Andy Taylor did a litttle moonlighting on the side plugging of all things, java. From our friends at YOU TUBE:


At 10:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a big issue for Stankus - it got Cordaro knocked off the ballot in Lackawanna County. As far as arrests, the Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the county - he can make arrests!!!! Savokinas has also raised the issue of the Sheriff audits which were a mess and the backlog of warrants. So Savokinas does have issues. Wouldn't be ironic it the publicity from the campaign report knocked off Stankus just like the publicity hurt Sheriff Zawatski.

At 10:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave, As always, great insights. And your first poster has a point about those audits but I submit people understand the gut issues more than the financial stuff. Loved the Sanka commercial too. Maybe Barry and Mike can have a Starbucks/Curry Donut Coffee debate!!!!

At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sheriff's departmernt has just as much authority as any other municipal police officer in the state. Over the last few years the sheriff's department in Luzerne County as made hundreds of felony and criminal arrest (more than most police departments in Luzerne County), and enforces the PA Vehicle Code on a daily basis. The days of sheriff's being strictly "officers of the court" ended in 1984 when the state granted pennsylvania sheriff's arrest powers under a court rulling titled Commonwealth vs Leet.

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Notice the Lacka County Majority Commissioner TV Ads now feature the Munchak Family. Last time out we saw plenty of the Cordaros and little if any of the Munchaks.

How about the Special Advance look at the $23 or $48 million dollar Lacka County Courthouse Sat and Sun? Interesting opportunity for the citizens just before the election. They should charge admission

Re the Luzerne County Sheriff, at least he works!Cant say the same for all elected officials in the Lu and Lac!

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Gort said...

I was leaning toward Savo before I heard that ad blaming the Sheriff for the rise in crime. Then this financial disclosure issue comes up. Barry has done his job well but you have to fill out the paperwork as any cop knows. I agree that Mike is trying to latch on to any straw that he can but I don't think it will be enough.

At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's what I think, Stankus will win but not by a lot. HIs strength is that he is not part of the Courthouse gang, even though he is an incumbent, there are many Dems and Indies who will vote for him just so that it looks like we have a two party system in the county. Savo is going to need a big majority out of his home turf to win. While Skrep and Mary Ann are popular, it's not like the old days when someone could latch on to someone's coat tails. Every man for himself.

At 5:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give me a break- full-page ads in the T-L and dispatch yesterday for a 36K a year job? I guess the railroad cop is tired of chasing kids off the tracks and wants a desk job.

At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I guess the railway cop kicked some major butt. He knocked off a 2 term office holder. He fought off the political favors that Stankus did. What a huge win for Savokinas


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