Lackawanna County: Fear Strikes Out

May 22, 2019 GMT

Patrick O’Malley and Laureen Cummings strutted into the oddest majority partnership in Lackawanna County government history nearly four years ago, but Democratic and Republican primary voters ensured Tuesday that both will limp away as lame ducks.

O’Malley, a political chameleon who has been a commissioner as a Democrat and a Republican, flipped to Democrat four years ago and won a majority seat with his running mate, Jerry Notarianni, who was by far the top vote-getter in the 2015 election. Once in office, however, O’Malley teamed with Cummings, a Republican who won fewer than half as many votes as Notarianni, and named a longtime Republican functionary as chief of staff. Nearly 3½ years of divided, tempestuous governance ensued.


In office, O’Malley and Cummings worked diligently to keep Lackawanna County rooted in the past century. It is to their discredit that their principal achievement was maintaining manifestly unfair taxation. They evaded their responsibility to decide whether to conduct the first property reassessment in 50 years, putting the matter to a nonbinding referendum and then concocting a ballot question that ensured a “no” vote.

During the primary campaign, O’Malley employed the same fearmongering techniques that worked so well for him on the assessment dodge. But in the primary, O’Malley’s assessment-based attacks on Notarianni, coupled with his allegiance with Cummings at Notarianni’s expense, appeared to be more than many Democratic voters could tolerate.

As if to put an exclamation point on the fractured state of the party, Notarianni won the nomination but his running mate, former county economic development Director George Kelly, lost. O’Malley’s running mate, Dunmore lawyer and political newcomer Debi Domenick, won the second nomination. Whether Notarianni and Domenick can form a majority ticket will be a major factor in the general election.

On the Republican side, it was clear that Cummings — a tea party devotee, conspiracy theorist and consistent opponent of any government initiative pointing to governance, infrastructure or social progress — had alienated her own party. She ran alone, whereas Scott Twp. Supervisor Michael Giannetta and Clarks Summit businessman Chris Chermak ran together and easily won both nominations.

The next six months will determine whether O’Malley and Cummings can redeem some of the missteps that brought them to defeat.

Progress in Scranton

Scranton voters made it clear Tuesday that they want change in the city government and, especially, the financially distressed Scranton School District.


Five of nine seats were on the ballot. Democrats ousted appointed incumbents Greg Popil and Tom Borthwick, in effect electing an entire new majority in Catherine Fox, Tara Yanni, Tom Schuster, Ro Hume and Sarah E. Cruz. Yanni, Cruz and Schuster also won on the Republican side. Schuster also won nominations on both ballots to fill a vacant seat for two years. That seat again will be subject to appointment.

Because there were no Republican candidates, Democrats elected two new city council members Tuesday. Mark McAndrew, a school director, will move to council in January. And Jessica Rothchild, Ph.D., will become the first openly gay council member in city history. Incumbent Tim Perry lost his bid for re-election.

Apparently, primaries significant

Tuesday’s results should put to rest the notion that primary elections don’t mean much. In cities and counties where one party holds a substantial registration advantage, like Scranton and Lackawanna County, primaries often are, in effect, the last word.

Even though the general election lies ahead, voters already have ensured more orderly governance for Lackawanna County, and substantially greater transparency in the Scranton school district and municipal government.