Familiar Foes Set To Face Off Again For Wilkes-Barre Mayor
WILKES-BARRE — Less than 48 hours remain until city residents learn who will most likely lead their local government for the next four years.
Either Tony George, the incumbent, or George Brown, the challenger, will win the Democratic nomination for city mayor in Tuesday’s primary election.
With no Republican or third-party candidates on the ballot, one of the two men likely will have clear sailing in the general election come November.
Of course, a narrow-enough win for the victor in Tuesday’s election could prompt a call for a recount of votes or help persuade the defeated candidate to give a write-in effort a shot in the fall, despite the rarity of a successful write-in campaign.
And the last time the two men faced off, George’s win was pretty narrow.
In the 2015 primary, when they were both city council members, George defeated Brown by only 151 votes in the four-way race, claiming 2,098 to Brown’s 1,947. Brian W. Kelly collected 242 votes and Darlene Duggins Magdalinski took 186.
George trounced Republican Frank Sorick in the general election that fall, with 3,337 votes to Sorick’s 1,597.
George, a retired city police officer and former city police chief, served one term on city council from 2012 to 2016. He touts his experience in those roles as well as his experience as mayor and progress he said the city has seen over the last three and a half years.
Brown boasts his business acumen, having earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources management and a master’s in organizational management, and using that education during a 38-year business career before retiring. He also served one term on city council.
George ran his campaign with the slogan “progress as promised,” pointing to his:
• Instituting progressive police sweeps and saturation patrols, and increasing community policing efforts.
• Fighting blight through his “Taking It to the Streets” neighborhood inspections, reactivating a Neighborhood Impact Team, demolishing 37 units of blighted properties, and offering curbside white-goods and large-item collections.
• Securing funding for and overseeing the Solomon Creek flood wall project and working to have two bridges repaired and reopened.
• Having city hall and police software upgraded and the city website redesigned; keeping residents up-to-date via the city’s Facebook page; and initiating a multicultural parade and festival.
• Presenting 2018 and 2019 budgets with no tax increases; securing more payments in lieu of taxes from nonprofits; and seeing over 120 new businesses open here since taking office in 2016.
George criticized Brown for voting for refinancing packages during his term on council that he said only paid interest and saddled future administrations with more debt. He said a refinancing package he secured in 2017 will benefit the city in the long run.
Brown defended his votes on council, saying he did what he believed would best benefit the city.
Brown said George failed to live up to his 2015 “law and order” campaign platform, saying crime in the city is high and that violent crime has increased. He also criticized George’s appointment of a former police chief he said was found to be unqualified.
Brown criticized George’s appointment of an “inexperienced” community development director, which he said led to a delay in the Solomon Creek project because she overlooked federal advertising and public comment requirements.
Brown pointed out that George’s last two budgets doubled parking meter rates, hiked garbage bag fees and would increase the annual recycling fee by $10. He also noted that the city went from having an A- bond rating in 2015 to the mayor unsuccessfully seeking financially distressed status for the city last year.
Brown promised to attend council meetings, which George has rarely done, and regularly meet with citizens, business owners and others in his office.
He also vowed to save the city $200,000 by slashing the mayor’s salary from $82,000 to $60,000 and foregoing city-paid health insurance, which he said is currently costing the city $30,000 annually.
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