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RODERICK RANDOM: Sprint To Finish Detours Through Mud Fight

May 18, 2019

The bitter divide goes before Democratic voters Tuesday.

If Lackawanna County Commissioner Jerry Notarianni and his running mate, George Kelly, win the Democratic nominations for commissioner in the primary election or Commissioner Patrick O’Malley and his running mate, Debi Domenick, win them, the long-running feud between O’Malley and Notarianni will head toward an ending next January — at least as far as governing goes.

If, as many purveyors of conventional wisdom expect, Notarianni and O’Malley win, their rift surely will continue next year, assuming both win in November.

Of course, if Notarianni and O’Malley win Tuesday, the two Republican nominees surely will feel better about their party’s chances of gaining a majority in the commissioners office come January for the first time in 12 years.

This seems especially true if Scott Twp. Supervisor Michael Giannetta and his running mate, Chris Chermak, win the Republican nominations, somewhat less true if Commissioner Laureen Cummings wins and either Giannetta or Chermak does.

Last June 26, long before Notarianni chose Kelly as his running mate, Giannetta praised Notarianni on Notarianni’s Facebook page.

“Keep up the good work,” Giannetta wrote. “Once we get rid of crazy Laureen things will get better.”

Imagine if Giannetta and Cummings win Tuesday. A Cummings-Chermak pairing might mesh more easily.

If the Notarianni-Kelly team or the O’Malley-Domenick team wins Tuesday, it’s harder to see Republicans winning the majority because county Democratic voters still outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.

In any case, don’t assume Cummings is done before they count the votes Tuesday.

After the county Republican Party endorsed Giannetta and Chermak, plenty of politicos predicted Cummings’ demise, but she has a devoted following, an opposition to reassessment and a no-tax-hike record going for her.

People fear that reassessment would raise property taxes. They like the county tax staying the same since 2013.

The same issues work for O’Malley as for Cummings, his surprise partner in the unusual bipartisan majority that’s governed the county since January 2016.

O’Malley and Domenick have campaigned hard opposing reassessment in television commercials because they think that works.

If you don’t, remember Notarianni and Kelly haven’t freely pushed reassessment the way Notarianni did when he proposed it in June 2016.

O’Malley and Domenick winning seems likelier than Notarianni and Kelly winning. You wouldn’t have seen a Notarianni-Kelly TV commercial this week focused largely on Kelly if his winning looked likely.

Don’t discount that Domenick is a woman, either. As we’ve said before, O’Malley consciously sought a female running mate because he knows the political success of women candidates lately. Being a woman could help Cummings, too, though Democratic women seem more motivated toward political action these days.

Heck, if voters really want change they would skip the candidates with no bachelor’s degrees — O’Malley, Notarianni, Chermak and Cummings — in favor of the college graduates, Domenick, Kelly and Giannetta.

No, we’re not saying you’re dumb or can’t be a commissioner because you didn’t go to college.

The best we can tell you is the polling rumors. Be suspicious because no one has released any poll. One poll supposedly had Notarianni way up with O’Malley and Domenick duking it out for second. Recently, an O’Malley-Domenick backer told us the campaign’s poll had O’Malley and Domenick one-two because the reassessment attack worked well. We haven’t heard of a Republican poll.

This week, the Notarianni-Kelly campaign fired at O’Malley with a new television commercial that reminds voters that he teamed up with a Republican, (Cummings, though the ad doesn’t name her), to hire Republicans (Andy Wallace as chief of staff topped the list).

“In 2015, Patrick O’Malley took away our voice,” says Sharon Quinn, the woman in the commercial. “We elected a Democratic majority, but O’Malley made backroom deals with Republicans to hire Republicans and silence Democrats. Now the sometimes Republican isn’t telling the truth. He gave no-bid contracts to his biggest donors. He’s lying about reassessment. On Tuesday, take back our voice. Throw out the cheese.”

O’Malley hates the nickname “Cheese.”

This ad arrived after two 15-second, O’Malley-Domenick TV ads directly attacked Notarianni for supporting reassessment and his auto parts store earning more than $100,000 over the years in “no bid contracts” from Scranton, its sewer authority and the city school district.

The “sometimes Republican” refers to O’Malley’s years as a Republican, election to commissioner as a Republican in 2011 and switching to the Democrats for his re-election in 2015.

In an interview last week, O’Malley reminded that Notarianni was willing to team up with Cummings, too. He points to Notarianni testimony during the 2016 lawsuit that Notarianni filed to try to get his own solicitor.

The suit failed, but a hearing transcript shows Notarianni called Cummings to see if she would back county Recorder of Deeds Evie Rafalko McNulty for chief of staff.

Remember, Notarianni thought he had a deal with O’Malley to appoint McNulty to the job, but at the last minute O’Malley, who denies any firm deal, teamed up with Cummings to appoint Wallace. Notarianni tried to reverse the Wallace appointment by offering Cummings a chance to serve as commissioners chairwoman.

Notarianni denies offering Cummings the chairmanship. This was his testimony:

“I said to her, I said, ‘Would you like to do it?’” Notarianni testified under questioning by attorney John Cerra, Cummings’ solicitor.

“You even offered to make me solicitor, didn’t you in that conversation?” Cerra asked.

“I do not recall that,” Notarianni replied.

Cummings testified O’Malley asked her to vote for him as chairman. That eventually happened, but she rejected him at first.

“And I told him, at that point, I wasn’t voting for either one of them (O’Malley or Notarianni) because they’re both crazy,” she testified.

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