Conaboy, Nealon Cut From Same Political Cloth
Richard P. Conaboy and William J. Nealon came up together in local Democratic politics dominated by Lackawanna County Commissioner Michael Lawler. That the two senior U.S. district judges died within months of each other carries a certain poetry because of how closely their careers paralleled each other. Two years apart in age — Nealon died Aug. 30 at 95, Conaboy died Friday at 93— they started out practicing in the same law firm, Kennedy, O’Brien & O’Brien. Conaboy, elected to the Scranton School Board in 1953, became its president. In 1955, he became president of the Young Democrats of Lackawanna County. In late 1959, Gov. David Lawrence announced he would nominate Nealon as a county court judge because voters elected Michael J. Eagen to the state Supreme Court that November. That meant Nealon had to give up his chairmanship of the county Democratic Party, a post he had held since May 7, 1956. In late December 1959, the county Democratic committee appointed Conaboy as Nealon’s successor. In late 1962, a federal judgeship opened up. Conaboy seemed a natural fit. After all, he was among the young Democrats Massachusetts U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy’s budding presidential campaign courted three years before Kennedy won the presidency in 1960. In 1958, Conaboy said in a 2013 interview, he traveled to Reno, Nevada, to hear Kennedy speak to the Young Democrats national meeting. He came back convinced Kennedy could win the White House, and he helped organize Kennedy’s raucous campaign visit to Scranton on Oct. 28, 1960. Conaboy didn’t get the federal judgeship. U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy pointed out to Lawrence that Conaboy was only 37, well below the American Bar Association’s age-40 standard for federal judges, and he wasn’t a judge. Nealon, who had tagged along with Conaboy to Harrisburg where Lawrence would tell Conaboy about the age problem, was a judge and would turn 40 in July 1963. Kennedy suggested appointing Nealon to the federal judgeship and letting Conaboy take Nealon’s county judgeship. That’s what happened. Conaboy did eventually follow Nealon to the federal bench, but not until 17 years later. President Jimmy Carter nominated Conaboy, who assumed the post Aug. 6, 1979. It was only a year and a half after county judges named Conaboy their president judge. Like Nealon, Conaboy served as chief judge of federal district court. He succeeded Nealon again on Jan. 1, 1989. Unlike Nealon, Conaboy also chaired the United States Sentencing Commission. They came up in the era of two legendary Democratic leaders. Eagen’s election as district attorney in 1933 broke the Republican stranglehold on county government. Two years later, Lawler and his running mate, William J. Geiger, won majority control of the commissioners’ office. Democrats held the commissioners office majority until January 1970 — more than seven years after Lawler died. That is a political machine of the highest order, and one Nealon and Conaboy kept rolling before their judgeships pushed them out of direct political involvement. Together, Eagen, Lawler, Nealon and Conaboy symbolize an era in local politics that we will never see again. Miscellanea ■Three of the House seats the Democrats flipped nationwide came in Pennsylvania, four if you count Conor Lamb, who originally won his seat in a special election earlier this year and won a newly drawn version Tuesday. ■ State voters elected four women, a record number for the state’s congressional delegation. They all are Democrats — Madeleine Dean Cunnane in the 4th Congressional District, Mary Gay Scanlon in the 5th district, Christina Jampoler Houlahan in the 6th district and Susan Wild in the 7th district. The 4th, 5th and 6th are suburban Philadelphia districts, the 7th includes Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton. ■ Republicans had three congressional candidates across the state who moved into the newly redrawn congressional districts so they could say they lived there, even though residency isn’t required. Two of them won. Guy Reschenthaler, a state senator and rising star in Republican politics, won the 14th District seat after moving from Jefferson Hills in Allegheny County to Peters Twp. in Washington County when the Supreme Court-ordered rewrite change district boundaries in February. Former revenue secretary Dan Meuser won the 9th District after moving from Kingston Twp. to Dallas Borough. Only John Chrin lost. He moved twice to get into the right district and ended up in Barrett Twp., Monroe County. Though residency probably mattered somewhat in his defeat, unlike Meuser and Reschenthaler, Chrin faced a tough incumbent Democrat, Rep. Matt Cartwright, who matched his money in a strongly Democratic district by voter registration. Democrats Denny Wolff, who lost to Meuser, and Bibiana Boerio, who lost to Reschenthaler, were newcomers. ■ U.S. Sen. Bob Casey lost Luzerne County for the first time in his 13 statewide elections, primary and general. He ran and won Luzerne in primary and general elections for auditor general in 1996 and 2000, for state treasurer in 2004 and for U.S. Senate in 2006 and 2012. He also won in the 2018 Democratic primary for Senate and the 2002 primary for governor. He always has won Lackawanna County by wide margins and did again Tuesday. His father, the late Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr., never lost Luzerne in 11 primary and general elections for governor or auditor general. Of course, senior never ran against someone from Luzerne County. His son lost to U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who lives in Hazleton. With the Luzerne loss, the senator really isn’t like his father now. BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune’s politics reporter, writes Random Notes.