Civil War For Democrats; Mostly Talk For GOP

February 16, 2019

Back in 2015, Lackawanna County Commissioner Jerry Notarianni finished with the most votes in the Democratic primary and general elections. General election voters chose Notarianni and his running mate, Patrick O’Malley, to head a new Democratic majority on the board of commissioners. As everyone knows, it didn’t work out that way, with O’Malley teaming up with Republican Laureen Cummings to form a historic cross-party majority that infuriated many Democrats and delighted Republicans. “I think I was a little too, maybe too trusting,” Mr. Notarianni said on April Fool’s Day in 2016. “The answer is I was outflanked by the Brazils. I just really, really never saw it coming.” In case you don’t know, the Brazil brothers advise — some say pull the strings of — O’Malley, whose choice of a new running mate this week may mean he outflanked Notarianni again. Notariann tabbed George Kelly as his running mate, the day after Kelly’s resignation as county economic development director took effect. If you believe in the old saw that local voters still vote based on ethnicity, you have a Notarianni-Kelly ticket — one candidate with an Italian background and the other an Irish heritage, at least in part. On Wednesday, O’Malley chose attorney Debi Domenick as his running mate. Yes, that’s another Irish-Italian ticket, but her gender may mean O’Malley outmaneuvered Notarianni again. In this era of increased political involvement by women, O’Malley’s choice of Domenick may matter. O’Malley had no trouble aligning himself with Cummings, and now he picked another woman as his running mate. The cynical (and not-so-cynical) might say he did both for his own political survival, but he did it. Notarianni didn’t. He talked to potential women candidates, he said, but it didn’t work out. Four years ago, he wanted county Recorder of Deeds Evie Rafalko McNulty to run with him, but she couldn’t because her late husband, the ex-Scranton mayor James McNulty, was terminally ill. Notarianni and McNulty don’t think that O’Malley choosing Domenick will prove decisive. Notarianni’s introduction of Kelly as his running mate featured McNulty as emcee. She was snubbed for the county chief of staff job in O’Malley’s allegiance with Cummings. The Notarianni-Kelly kickoff — 30 to 50 depending on who counted — consisted mostly of aging white men. They hope to do better at an official kickoff Wednesday, but contrast the Kelly intro with O’Malley’s crowd for Domenick’s introduction at Fiorelli Catering. Times-Tribune reporter Jeff Horvath pegged it at more than 375. County Democratic Party chairman Chris Patrick said it was more than 500. Regardless, O’Malley had a lot more people and plenty of women at his event. He also has a lot more money, $254,000 to Notarianni’s $6,401, at the end of 2018. Kelly and Notarianni say they’ll have enough money to compete and won’t need as much because of Democratic displeasure with O’Malley, but O’Malley’s money means he can spend early in the campaign introducing Domenick. Democratic voters know a little more about Kelly than Domenick because he got his name in the newspaper over the years,. Most know virtually nothing about Domenick, a single mother and part-time county public defender who has her own law firm. Notarianni and O’Malley start out as far better known than their running mates and we’ve seen what happens before when that’s true. In 2011, Democratic Commissioner Corey O’Brien picked a woman running mate, Blakely Mayor Jeanette Acciare-Mariani, while former state Rep. Jim Wansacz ran with Scranton School Director Brian Jeffers. (O’Malley ran as a Republican then.) O’Brien and Wansacz, better known countywide after years in the spotlight, won, though O’Brien only narrowly over Elizabeth Randol. It isn’t hard to imagine Notarianni and O’Malley winning their primary again, which could lead to four more years of this unusually divided government. Of course, that assumes Cummings will win but it might apply if she doesn’t. We keep hearing Chris Chermak is getting around and meeting voters. Add Scott Twp. Supervisor Michael Giannetta to the Republican race and things could get really interesting. Giannetta, a lawyer, will have some money, and he and Notarianni share a past. Both served on the county government study commission and voted for its recommendation for a county council/county executive form of government, which voters roundly rejected in 2014. If voters elect Notarianni, O’Malley and Giannetta, that would set up the possibility that Notarianni and Giannetta will team up in a new mixed majority. Never happen, right? Notarianni declined to comment on the possibility. Giannetta beating Cummings is no gimme, though she had a struggle lately as chairwoman of the party’s 114th House District committee. Her committee narrowly recommended Old Forge School Director Frank Scavo as its candidate for the 114th special election March 12, and Scavo barely survived the executive committee, winning by a single vote over attorney Stephen Semenza. That could mean an opening for Giannetta or Chermak, but Cummings opposes reassessment, which voters overwhelmingly rejected. Plus, she and O’Malley haven’t raised property taxes and Cummings voted against row officers’ 4 percent pay raise for the next four years. Chuck Volpe, the insurance executive who led the government study commission and considers himself a conservative Democrat, worked hard for Semenza. Volpe already is backing Notarianni and said he undoubtedly will back Giannetta if he runs. Giannetta was part of Volpe’s “Fix-It” ticket of study commission candidates. Back in the day, they sat in the same University of Scranton political science class, Volpe said. “We need more leaders that are intelligent, are educated and, most of all, have integrity. Unfortunately, that’s in short supply in our area,” Volpe said. “Mike Giannetta is clearly the most qualified candidate (in the Republican race).” This election looks more intriguing every week. BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune politics reporter, writes Random Notes.