RODERICK RANDOM: Lackawanna County Politics Seems Impervious To Change

February 9, 2019 GMT

Pitchers and catchers report to Major League Baseball camps next week, but more important, the day candidates can start circulating nominating petitions is only 10 days away as of today.

OK, maybe the pitching and catching tops petitions and circulating, but basically both raise hopes.

For the current writer of Random Notes, baseball spring training could be step one in the New York Mets’ successful quest for a third World Series championship.

For local voters, maybe this time they will elect candidates who drag Northeast Pennsylvania out of the economic backwaters.

■ National unemployment rate in December: 3.9 percent.


■ Pennsylvania unemployment rate in December: 4.2 percent.

■Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton metro area unemployment rate in December: 5.1 percent.

Eight metro areas across the state set new records for jobs in December. Not this one.

The prospects for economic progress spurred by Lackawanna County government will depend on mostly the same people. So far, the field for Lackawanna County commissioner has attracted people past or approaching retirement age or veteran politicians.

Democratic Commissioner Jerry Notarianni is 65; his newly named running mate, George Kelly, is 60. Democratic Commissioner Patrick O’Malley, now in politics about 25 years and a commissioner since 2012, turns 50 soon. Republican Commissioner Laureen Cummings, a first-term commissioner but with a decade in active politics, turns 55 later this year.

Kelly, who resigned as county community development director Tuesday, has that job experience going for him and he’s new to electoral politics.

His debut as a commissioner candidate Wednesday featured an audience of mostly men with plenty of gray or silver hair, a few of them part of former Commissioner Joe Corcoran’s crew. No surprise there because Notarianni and Corcoran are tight, but veterans pols ruled the room. Convicted former state Sen. Robert J. Mellow was there, too.

One senior citizen, former county tax claim bureau director Ron Koldjeski, 67, decided this week to sit out the commissioner election.

“After much deliberation and consideration, it has been decided that I will not be a candidate for Lackawanna County commissioner,” Koldjeski said in a text message. “I will remain retired and spending time in Pennsylvania and Florida.”

Don’t think we’re trying to imply older people can’t change things, but youth brings energy and real change more often.


Age and economic progress aren’t really what the Democratic commissioner primary is about anyway.

As much as Kelly, Notarianni and county Recorder of Deeds Evie Rafalko McNulty tried to steer the Notarianni-Kelly ticket’s kickoff rally toward producing jobs, the election remains heavily about what happened in the early days of the O’Malley-Cummings administration.

In January 2016, O’Malley and Cummings formed an unusual Democratic/Republican majority on the board of commissioners that has survived for more than three years. They hired a Republican, Andy Wallace, instead of McNulty as chief of staff. Notarianni thought he and O’Malley had agreed on McNulty, but O’Malley said that was never true. Notarianni calls it “a backroom deal,” forgetting to mention no one told Cummings that McNulty was supposed to get the job until after he and O’Malley supposedly decided.

“For over three years, we’ve been silenced,” Notarianni said before he introduced Kelly. “Three years ago, I was the top vote-getter for commissioner. They voted for open and transparent government. The backroom deal stole the will of Lackawanna County voters and silenced me.”

Undoubtedly the feud underlies the primary.

Scott Twp. Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Giannetta, a Republican, sees this and thinks he might join the Republican primary.

“I’m seriously thinking about it,” Giannetta said. “I think there’s too much dysfunction within county government.”

He’s 57, and he has been around local politics for almost three decades, but he has promoted major change. He sat on the county government study commission that wanted to dump the full-time three-commissioner form of government in favor of a part-time seven-member county council balanced by a full-time county executive. The effort failed in the May 2014 primary election.

Notarianni also sat on that commission and voted for the switch, and he voted for reassessment.

Giannetta, a former state deputy attorney general, points out voters have elected him a supervisor when he ran as a Democrat, as a Republican and, in 2017, as an independent.

This looks like another perfect election for a woman candidate, someone like Liz Randol, who ran for commissioner in 2011 and almost won a Democratic nomination; former Scranton School Director Paige Gebhardt Cognetti, who went to work for the state auditor general’s office; or former county deputy controller Mary Jo Sheridan, who went to work for the auditor general in 2015.

Randol, who lost a primary bid for mayor to Mayor Bill Courtright in 2013, moved away and serves as legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Cognetti just started her job and ruled out running for commissioner. Sheridan, also a government study commission member, always has shied away from politics.

O’Malley knows the landscape; we’ve heard nothing but the names of women as his potential running mate.

This week, the name of attorney Debra Domenick surfaced again as a possible running mate for O’Malley, but efforts to reach her were again unsuccessful.

BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune politics reporter, writes Random Notes.