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Chris Kelly: The New Year Offers Voters A Chance To Strike Back

December 30, 2018

Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” proved that events need not actually happen to be historic.

The broadcast — presented as a news report — inspired mass hysteria. People panicked. A few committed suicide rather than test the mercy of Martian hordes they believed were invading America.

The 80th anniversary of Welles’ broadcast was observed on Oct. 30. On Thursday, New Yorkers freaked over a mysterious light that illuminated half the skyline.

Twitter and Facebook throbbed with the breathless testimony of panicked people who somehow feared not another terrorist attack, but an alien invasion. Con Edison — the primary power provider for New York City — said the strange glow was caused by an “electrical arc flash” at a major substation. No alien invasion. No terrorist attack. No cause for alarm.

These assurances came quickly because New Yorkers take everything personally. They looked up and around and demanded answers. If only it worked that way here in Our Stiff Neck of the Woods.

As we embark on 2019, Northeast Pennsylvania remains mired in the tired cycle of supply-side politics. Those who control the supply prosper and take care of players who take their sides. The rest of us pay the bills and toil to dead ends.

We haven’t been invaded by remorseless Martian hordes, but infiltrated by neighbors who grin when they stick the knife in. This Christmas, the former Globe store shimmered with spirit. The Wyoming Avenue side presented an ornate homage to the Globe as the epicenter of the city’s holiday retail district.

The Globe closed in 1994. Lackawanna County commissioners who spent $18 million (so far) on transforming the property into the Lackawanna County Government Center at the Globe apparently hope taxpayers focus on yesterday.

The Other Side of the former Globe looks like a slaughterhouse in 1980s Warsaw — a brick-and-mortar middle finger to businesses on the 100 block of Penn Avenue. Prospective tenants of the reinvented Samter’s building aren’t seeking Soviet-style living, but that’s what commissioners are selling on this side of the street.

The commissioners refuse to authorize the first countywide property assessment in 50 years, but agreed last week to give 4 percent raises to commissioners and other county officials who start a new term in 2020. The current base salary for county commissioners is $76,017 a year.

“Up Da Line” in Jessup, families huddle in the hulking shadow of a natural gas power plant that was proposed as a benevolent, unobtrusive neighbor to all good Jessupians. Over the past month, the plant has treated its neighbors to noise pollution and an hourlong discharge of natural gas into the air they breathe.

Citizens for a Healthy Jessup failed to block the plant’s construction, but the tight group of Jessupians remains dedicated to holding the Lackawanna Energy Center’s owners — Chicago-based Invenergy LLC — accountable.

Friends of Lackawanna — another nonprofit citizen advocacy group — is still fighting the indefensible half-century expansion planned for Keystone Sanitary Landfill in Dunmore and Throop. Northampton County Senior Judge Leonard Zito ruled in October that Keystone’s proposed “Mount Trashmore” doesn’t qualify as a “structure.”

As I reported in this space in May 2017, Judge Zito once represented a landfill seeking expansion over the objections of its neighbors. Pennsylvania keeps a stable of 124 “senior judges” ready to step in when native jurists are unavailable or unwilling to preside over local disputes.

All 12 Lackawanna County judges recused themselves from the Keystone case. What are the odds that a judge who once earned a living advocating for a landfill’s controversial expansion would get the call? Pretty good, if you pay attention. Friends of Lackawanna filed an appeal of Zito’s ruling. Stay tuned.

Same goes for the Scranton School District, the subject of a seemingly endless corruption investigation by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Last week, the board appointed Gopal Patel to replace Paige Gebhardt Cognetti, an incovenient reformer who resigned to take a job with state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, the board’s most strident critic.

I spoke with Patel on Thursday night. He said he had “no idea” the board majority planned to pick him. If true, he’s one of the few who didn’t see it coming.

But it did come, and more of the same is on the way. We are locked in a very real War of Worlds — between those who hold power and those left holding the bag. It’s way past time to start taking it personally. Look up and around and demand answers.

Decide for yourselves whether 2019 will be a year of reckoning, or just another hard slog to the same old dead end.

CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, takes everything personally. Contact the writer: kellysworld@timesshamrock.com, @cjkink on Twitter. Read his award-winning blog at timestribuneblogs.com/kelly.

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