George: ‘I’m Happy With The Way The City’s Moving’

May 3, 2019

WILKES-BARRE — Mayor Tony George is seeking reelection because he still has things to accomplish over the next four years, but he vowed not to seek a third term.

George, a retired city police chief and one-term council member, met with members of The Citizens’ Voice Editorial Board on Thursday to explain his campaign platform and answer questions about his record and future plans for the city.

George is facing a challenge in the May 21 primary election from George Brown, a businessman and former council member. George defeated Brown in a four-way Democratic primary in 2015, receiving 2,095 votes to Brown’s 1,944.

“When I first ran in 2015, I said if I wasn’t moving the city forward, I wouldn’t run again, George said. “I’m happy with the way the city’s moving, and I’m running.”

George said his top accomplishments include raising taxes only once in four years; refinancing city debt in a way that allows for consistent annual payments rather than fluctuating amounts; and acquiring funding for the Solomon Creek Flood Protection Project.

George admitted that his administration missed a public comment advertising requirement for the flood wall project, which delayed it three to four weeks.

But he said the delay is short compared to those in major city projects of prior administrations such as Coal Street Park, construction of the downtown movie theater and intermodal transportation center, and demolition of the Hotel Sterling.

George also noted that reconstruction of the North Washington Street Bridge wasn’t even on the state’s 12-year list for bridge project funding when he took office, and “we got it on the four-year list.” The bridge has been closed since 2012.

Asked if he thought in retrospect that hiring then Lt. Marcella Lendacky as police chief after taking office was a mistake, George said only she and then chief Robert Hughes applied for the job.

“Lt. Lendacky was a better candidate,” George said. “I’ll be honest with you, Chief Hughes is a distant cousin, but I went by what people did and what they could do. Chief Lendacky ran the night shift and that was one of the best platoons in the city because they were disciplined.”

George said he initially thought friction between the police union and Lendacky would dissipate, but it didn’t, and she resigned in 2018 in the wake of a report that questioned her leadership.

Regarding his seeking to increase the $50 annual recycling fee $10 when there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in delinquent bills, George said most of the past-due bills went unpaid during prior administrations. He said the current collection rate is 95% and he’s reviewing whether the city should change collection agencies.

On police and fire staffing, George said the city is at “affordable numbers” of officers and firefighters. He said the current staffing of 54 to 56 firefighters is “way above normal for this area.”

As for what differentiates him from Brown, George noted his experience as a mayor, police chief and council member. “I know the streets, I know what people want.”

George said Brown tells people he wants to hire more police and firefighters and pave more streets, “but who’s going to pay for it? Are you going to triple the taxes?”

And, George said, the idea that parts of the city are unsafe is a false perception. “People aren’t afraid to come downtown,” as evidenced by packed evening shows at the Kirby Center and crowded downtown restaurants after those shows.

His major goal in a second term is to create “sustainable budgets” and alleviate the need to sell off city assets.

Contact the writer: smocarsky@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2110, @MocarskyCV

Editor’s Note: A story about George Brown’s interview with members of The Citizens’ Voice Editorial Board, as well as more in-depth coverage of the issues in the Wilkes-Barre mayoral race, will be published in the near future.