Commissioner Races Top Lackawanna County Primary Election Ballot
Hotly contested races for Lackawanna County commissioner highlight the primary election ballot Tuesday as Democrats and Republicans choose their candidates for the November municipal election.
Democrats also have a choice for county controller as voters across the region and state choose nominees for state Superior Court, county row offices, school director, township boards of supervisors and borough and city councils.
In a special election to represent the 12th Congressional District, which includes Susquehanna and Wyoming counties, voters of all parties in the district can go to the polls to choose a replacement for U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, who resigned in January.
In the Republican county commissioners race, Laureen Cummings, elected the county’s first female commissioner in 2015, must win renomination without her party’s endorsement. The county Republican executive committee unexpectedly snubbed Cummings last month and endorsed Scott Twp. Supervisor Michael Giannetta and his running mate, heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician Chris Chermak of Dalton, for the party’s two commissioner nominations.
Cummings, an Old Forge resident, campaigned on a track record that includes the county’s lack of tax hikes during her tenure; her opposition to a reassessment of real estate values used to calculate property taxes; her opposition to 4 percent raises for county row officers; and her support for consolidation of numerous county offices in downtown Scranton at the former Globe store, now the Lackawanna County Government Center.
A key question Republican voters will answer is whether they minded Cummings teaming up with Democratic Commissioner Patrick O’Malley in an unusual majority the last four years. One political action committee that supports Chermak and Giannetta portrayed Cummings as O’Malley’s lapdog in a television commercial.
Giannetta and Chermak ran a campaign that advocates public hiring of county employees, fiscal conservatism, working with business leaders to encourage economic growth and opposition to reassessment. Republicans will decide if Giannetta’s 10 party switches over decades matters.
Democrats will weigh in on O’Malley’s loyalties, too. He switched from Republican to Democrat in 2015, to run for commissioner. After he and his 2015 Democratic running mate, Commissioner Jerry Notarianni, won election four years ago, Notarianni thought he and O’Malley agreed to hire county Recorder of Deeds Evie Rafalko McNulty, a supporter of Notarianni’s, as chief of staff. At the last minute, O’Malley, fearing McNulty would not treat the three commissioners equally and viewing Republican Andrew Wallace as more qualified anyway, convinced Cummings to hire Wallace.
That set off a bitter feud between O’Malley and Notarianni and forged the novel majority in the commissioner’s office that Cummings and O’Malley formed. Notarianni’s campaign began airing a commercial last week reminding Democrats of the issue.
Wallace later stepped down amid charges he solicited an 18-year-old man for oral sex and tried to grab his genitals. He pleaded guilty to attempted indecent assault and was sentenced to three months house arrest.
For this election, O’Malley, a former Scranton school director and now Blakely resident, and Notarianni, a Scranton resident, picked new running mates. O’Malley tabbed attorney Debi Domenick, a political newcomer and part-time county assistant public defender from Dunmore, and the county Democratic Party endorsed them. Notarianni chose George Kelly of Dunmore, the county’s director of planning and economic development for six years that ended with his resignation in February to run for commissioner.
Notarianni and Kelly urged caution and further study on reassessment, though Notarianni once proposed it. They criticize O’Malley for a Globe store renovation that overran its expected construction costs, driving away multiple department heads, unfairly taking credit for a budget surplus and failing to properly screen prospective county employees.
They promise a more professional administration.
O’Malley and Domenick touted their opposition to reassessment, promised to continue O’Malley’s record of never voting for a tax hike and praised the consolidation of county offices at the Globe. O’Malley says he has done what’s right for the county without regard to party politics.
Commissioners serve four-year terms. Their salary of $76,017 is scheduled to rise 4% a year the next four years.
In the county controller’s race, incumbent Democrat Gary DiBileo seeks a third four-year term in a post that pays $66,174 this year but is due the same percentage pay hikes as commissioners. Bob Casey, a former Scranton school director like DiBileo, is his opponent.
Casey charged that DiBileo’s outside business interests prevent him from working full time as controller. He promises to work full time and use his experience as a state equipment and supply procurement director to taxpayers’ advantage. He says he will publish all county contracts online, screen vendors to ensure they do not owe the county money or taxes, develop a list of county-owned property and equipment to ensure against theft and seek bids for any contract of more than $10,000.
DiBileo said he works full time and warns voters against thinking Casey is U.S. Sen. Bob Casey. Under his leadership, the controller’s office found the county paying for more than 100 unused cellphones, boosted hotel tax revenues by $300,000 a year by ensuring all hotels pay, collected more than $470,000 in back hotel taxes, tracked bidding procedures more closely and kept close tabs on legal fees related to a state attorney general’s office investigation of Lackawanna County Prison.
The winner likely will face Mary Noldy of Dunmore, who is unopposed for the Republican nomination.
Three incumbent Democratic county row officers are unopposed for renomination. They are Clerk of Judicial Records Mauri Kelly, Treasurer Edward Karpovich and Coroner Timothy Rowland. No Republicans are on the ballot for these offices.
The highest-profile municipal and school board races are in Scranton.
In the Democratic race for two nominations for four-year council seats, incumbent Tim Perry faces Scranton School Director Mark McAndrew and council-race newcomers Andy Chomko and Jessica Rothchild. No Republicans are on the ballot.
The school board race has five nominations available in each party for four-year seats and one each for a two-year seat.
The Democratic candidates for the four-year seat nominations are incumbent directors Tom Schuster, Greg Popil and Tom Borthwick and newcomers Tara Yanni, Ro Hume, Catherine Fox and Sarah E. Cruz. Only Cruz, Yanni and Schuster seek Republican nominations.
Schuster and Borthwick also seek the Democratic nomination to the two-year seat. Only Borthwick seeks the Republican two-year seat nomination.
Democratic city controller candidate John J. Murray is unopposed in his bid to replace retiring controller Roseann Novembrino. No Republican is on the ballot.
Elsewhere in the county, Archbald, Clarks Green, Dickson City, Dunmore, Fell Twp., Jessup, Old Forge, Olyphant, Scott Twp. and Spring Brook Twp. also have contested municipal races. The Dunmore, Mid Valley, North Pocono and Old Forge school districts all have contested school director races.
In the congressional race special election, state Rep. Fred Keller of Snyder County, a Republican, faces Penn State University professor Marc Friedenberg, of Centre County, a Democrat. The winner will serve the rest of Marino’s term, which expires Jan. 3, 2021. Congressmen earn $174,000 a year.
The state Superior Court has two openings with three candidates on each side.
The Republican candidates are Rebecca Warren of Luzerne County, Megan McCarthy King of Chester County, and Christylee Peck of Cumberland County. The Democrats are Beth Tarasi and Amanda Green-Hawkins, both of Allegheny County, and Daniel D. McCaffery of Philadelphia.
The winners Tuesday will face each other in the election Nov. 5. The salary of a state Superior Court judge is $199,114 this year.
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What you need to know
Polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters who have problems voting or see questionable practices can call:
570-278-4600, ext. 4090 or 570-278-6697
570-996-2224 or 2226