Good Times, Speculation Roll At Mardi Gras

March 3, 2018 GMT

Everybody keeps asking if Ron Koldjeski plans to run for Lackawanna County commissioner. Who knows? Koldjeski won’t say, but the former county tax claim bureau director, a Democrat, and incumbent Democratic Commissioner Jerry Notarianni sure stirred the chatter one Friday night last month. It happened at the Blakely Mardi Gras party at Fiorelli Family Catering. Yes, Fiorelli, as in the business that Commissioner Patrick O’Malley’s in-laws own. Never one to avoid a big crowd — only nosy reporters — O’Malley mingled there, too. Though he probably showed up to ensure things went smoothly because it’s the family business, he surely noticed Koldjeski and Notarianni together and maybe wondered if he saw a future Democratic ticket that might knock him off. Remember, O’Malley remains, for now, an incumbent majority Democratic commissioner without a publicly known, surefire, electable running mate for his re-election race next year. Will he or won’t he run with Republican Commissioner Laureen Cummings next year? Will he run as a Democrat? As a Republican? Ever since acrimoniously breaking up with Notarianni over the selection of a chief of staff in January 2016, O’Malley has relied on Cummings to accomplish things Notarianni doesn’t want or shows a reluctance to do. The renovation of the former Globe Store into the Lackawanna County Government Center — where a lot of county offices will unite under one roof by the end of this year — serves as example Numero Uno. Things turned so sour so quickly, Notarianni, believing the O’Malley-Cummings pairing turned him into a minority commissioner who deserves his own lawyer, sued to get one. He lost, but the bitterness remains. Life comes with few certainties, but count on never seeing the names O’Malley and Notarianni on the same political yard signs or billboards again. That is, unless O’Malley finds someone else named Notarianni as a running mate or Notarianni hooks up with another O’Malley. Gosh, what a great idea. Anyway, Notarianni and Koldjeski showed up and hung out together at the Mardi Gras thing, which startled sources, who quickly whipped out cellphones to spread the word. Koldjeski-Notarianni/County Commissioners or Notarianni-Koldjeski/County Commissioners? Either way, with all those letters, they would probably need larger than usual yard signs. The subjects of this speculation say people should calm down. Both knew that if they showed up together, people might talk. They just wanted to go and didn’t mind if they turned heads. Just imagine what O’Malley thought. “No, seriously, no,” Koldjeski said when asked if people should read political motives into their showing up together. Koldjeski refuses to rule out running for commissioner. He insists he would have to talk to his wife and stuff like that. You can bet he’s thinking about it, if maybe only tentatively. He offered only murky reasons for leaving the tax claim job in December — he’s nearing retirement, his wife just retired — but we’re betting he left because he was fed up with the current administration. In 2015, after Commissioner Corey O’Brien resigned, Koldjeski wanted to replace him. The county Democratic Party sent the county judges three alternatives — Koldjeski, former Commissioner Joe Corcoran and former state Rep. Ed Staback. The judges named Staback, who was snubbed himself back in 1999 when Corcoran sought a new running mate. Convinced he had a majority of the judges ready to back him, Koldjeski still thinks someone intervened to block him. Local politicians tend to have long memories. Notarianni, for one, seems ready to run for a second term next year, even though he said one term only when he ran in 2015. He would love nothing better than to make O’Malley disappear. Except that by the time the 2019 commissioner election rolls around, Notarianni will be 66. Bitter as he might be, Koldjeski, a former Newton Twp. supervisor who often has toyed with running for something, turns 68 next year. Let’s just say their possible pairing, though far from assured, points up a problem Democrats have nationwide. So far, the only Democrats anyone has talked about running for commissioner have established names at or near Social Security eligibility age. Nothing against senior citizens, but all you Democrats, this seems the perfect time for a fresh face. How about a woman? No one ever expected that in forever staunchly Democratic Lackawanna County that voters would choose a Republican as the first female commissioner. Sure, Cummings had a somewhat easier path politically, but come on. The county turns 140 years old in August. County Democrats have never even nominated a woman for commissioner, let alone elected one of their own. They had a chance in 2007 and rejected Evie Rafalko McNulty in the primary election. In 2011, O’Brien, a Democrat seeking re-election, tabbed Blakely Mayor Jeanette Acciare-Mariani as his running mate and Liz Randol ran independently. Democrats rejected both in the primary, though Randol finished a strong third. In 2015, four Democratic commissioner candidates, four guys. How about it, ladies? These old guys are getting tired. BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune politics reporter, writes Random Notes.