They’re Off! Councilmen Jockeying For Mayor

January 13, 2018 GMT

In two elections last year, Scranton Councilman Bill Gaughan got more votes than Mayor Bill Courtright, a fact already stirring up future city politics. In the May primary, the mayor had 4,864 votes running unopposed for the Democratic nomination for his job. Gaughan had 4,940, far more than five others seeking three Democratic council nominations. In November, Courtright got 7,470 votes against a single opponent, Republican lawyer Jim Mulligan, as Gaughan finished first with 10,494, way ahead of three opponents. You can easily see Gaughan as Courtright’s likeliest challenger when the next mayoral election rolls around in 2021, assuming the mayor seeks a third term, but by then Councilman Pat Rogan could run, too. Jockeying among the potential challengers/successors to Courtright has kicked off, with vote totals last November an early factor. When the council reorganized New Year’s Day, Rogan won the council presidency on a 3-2 vote. Gaughan and newly elected Councilman Kyle Donahue voted against Rogan. Rogan voted for himself as did Councilman Tim Perry. The swing voter and only Republican among them was Councilman Wayne Evans. You could have seen this coming. Gaughan long has served as the council’s chief critic of Courtright while Rogan more frequently has sided with and more gently criticized the mayor. Rogan has served two terms to Gaughan’s one, but Rogan finished third (3,367 votes), far behind Gaughan in the primary, and second (9,030 votes) behind Gaughan in November. Some people think the high vote-getter should get the presidency, some think the more veteran guy. Usually, boards favor veteran members but, hey, the Scranton School Board just picked a rookie director, Barbara Dixon, as its leader. Evans said Rogan asked for his support not long after the primary and again before the fall election. He agreed to support Rogan, so when Gaughan asked after the election, he just couldn’t renege on his promise, he said. Gaughan wondered how Evans could commit so early. “I sought it out and I just didn’t get the votes,” he said. “I thought we needed more of an independent-minded person in the position, but it didn’t work out and we move on.” Donahue, a sometime political consultant, said he wanted Gaughan, whose top election finishes show the public wanted him as president. Like Gaughan, he thinks the council needs a more independent leader. “We all need to work together, but that’s going to require talking to one another instead of talking at one another,” Donahue said. He thinks Gaughan should actually start talking to the mayor more, too. Rogan has promised to do exactly that, following former council President Bob McGoff’s practice of meeting weekly with the mayor. That kind of relationship might take Rogan out of the running if Courtright runs for a third term. Rogan and Gaughan downplay the possibility they run for mayor in 2021. If you think conspiratorially, you might think Courtright intervened in the council’s choice. The way this line of thinking goes, he didn’t want Gaughan in the presidency’s weekly bully pulpit whacking him week after week on television. If you doubt the presidency’s power, recall the way former Council President Janet Evans and former Council President Gary DiBileo regularly knocked around Mayor Chris Doherty not that long ago. Courtright, certainly no fan of Gaughan’s, denies asking anyone to vote for Rogan or anyone else. “He’s going to rip me anyway so what’s the difference?” Courtright said of Gaughan. “You don’t have to be council president to do that.” It’s easier to believe Courtright doesn’t really care now because the council’s leader the next two years (the standard council president term) matters less than who will lead the council in the two years after that. Two years from now, when the council reorganizes again, the mayor might wish the council had picked Gaughan now. In two years, Gaughan will have a stronger argument to take over the presidency if simply taking turns matters. If appointed then, Gaughan would head the council in the two years leading up to the 2021 mayoral election. Just ask DiBileo and Doherty what you can do when you have that power. Maybe Courtright doesn’t think the presidency affects the ability to criticize, but maybe he forgot his days as a councilman in 2005. Back then, DiBileo, running against Doherty for mayor, basically let Doherty’s critics run wild at council meetings before the mayoral election. Courtright was front and center ripping Doherty at one meeting right before that election. For his part, Rogan points out he had the most votes in the 2013 council race and the council didn’t name him the president. “Mr. Gaughan didn’t seem to have a problem with it then,” he said. True, but back then, the council still had the veteran, venerable and well-respected McGoff, who didn’t run in that election. Choosing McGoff president was obvious. Rogan has put in two terms, but he still has some work to do to gain the respect McGoff had. “The council president has to get the most votes of the members of council and I got that,” Rogan said. He took issue with Gaughan’s claim that he’s less independent. “If you look at my record, I’ve been supportive of the mayor, but I’ve also gone against the mayor, too,” Rogan said, noting his vote to ask for an outside investigation of Courtright’s Scranton Sewer Authority deal, a move the mayor opposed. “I look at each issue individually but overall I think he’s doing a good job.” In the last election, voters felt the same way about Courtright, but the race for next time is on. BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune’s politics reporter, writes Random Notes.