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FBI Might Deal Wild Card Into Campaign Hands

January 12, 2019
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FBI Might Deal Wild Card Into Campaign Hands

Boy, it’s tempting. Here at Random Notes, we love starting early speculation about future elections while the one right ahead of us remains unresolved, but we will refrain today from talking about who might serve as Scranton’s next mayor. Yes, everyone was talking about Mayor Bill Courtright’s future Friday after news broke that the FBI didn’t just raid City Hall on Wednesday, but also the mayor’s home. It just feels wrong to write someone off and talk replacements before an actual public accusation of wrongdoing. It is fair to say that having the feds search his home looks bad for the mayor, especially when he refuses to talk about what’s going on, but we’ll stop there — for now. You might wonder how this raid affects the Lackawanna County commissioners race. You might wonder that because speculation here often has centered on Scranton City Councilman Bill Gaughan, a rumored commissioner candidate, running for mayor someday. “I haven’t even thought about that,” Gaughan said Friday of a mayoral run. He remains focused on whether to run for commissioner. “I’m still weighing my options,” the councilman said. He did point out an eerie coincidence and irony. The FBI raids went down two days after the city council proposed a new, stiffer city ethics code, which includes limits on campaign finance contributions to city elected officials, and a new board to oversee the rules. They proposed the new rules after a controversy involving city licensing, inspections and permits chief Pat Hinton’s plans to convert a vacant Nay Aug Park building to a coffee shop. As of today, we’re a bit more than five weeks to the first day for circulating nominating petitions for local elected offices, including commissioner. From what we heard Friday, Commissioner Jerry Notarianni is really, really close to naming a running mate, with strong rumors out there that he will team up with a county official, whose identity will become publicly known shortly. If true, it will definitely shake up county government. Notarianni’s choice could also influence what Gaughan decides to do. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened. In 1999, county tax claim bureau director Thomas Harrison switched from Democrat to Republican to join Bob Cordaro on the Republican commissioner ticket. Commissioners Joe Corcoran and Ray Alberigi fired Harrison not long after that. Notarianni having a running mate could cause a lot of consternation for Commissioner Patrick O’Malley, whose own search for a running mate remains a closely held secret. “Pat doesn’t have any idea who his running mate is,” one O’Malley critic said. It’s far from clear that’s true. Two sources, who spoke only if they weren’t identified, floated a story about O’Malley and his close friend, county solicitor John Brazil, sitting down with former Dunmore Councilman Paul Nardozzi to ask him to team up with O’Malley for a commissioner run. “That’s absolutely untrue,” Nardozzi said, attributing the rumor to someone interested in busting his chops. This much we know for sure: Democrats will pick two nominees for commissioner in the May 21 primary election. We know that O’Malley and Notarianni will do everything they can to avoid the possibility that both of them win the primary. They dislike each other because of the feud that began when O’Malley decided against hiring Notarianni’s choice, county Recorder of Deeds Evie Rafalko McNulty, as chief of staff as their terms began in January 2016. O’Malley, who Notarianni thought had signed off on McNulty, joined Republican Commissioner Laureen Cummings to hire Andy Wallace, a Republican. All this palace intrigue contrasts sharply with what happened Wednesday night in Dickson City, hours after the FBI raids. Democratic committee members who represent voting precincts in the 114th state House District, gathered at Nosh and opened their meeting to everyone. We mean everyone. They even allowed the presence of James May, a Republican who thought about running for the seat but decided against it Friday. (Yes he’s the state Department of Transportation spokesman and he’s staying there.) In the old days, we regularly waited outside as candidates made their pitch for party endorsements and parties endorsed behind closed doors. Gary Smedley, the 114th Democratic chairman, said he and county chairman Chris Patrick decided on an open meeting. Patrick has come under fire from some Democrats in the past for less than optimal transparency. “New leadership for a new direction,” Smedley said. “By any means, we weren’t excluding anybody.” He likes doing it that way as president of the Carbondale Area School Board, he said. “So we don’t get stuck in any of the problems down in (the) Scranton (School District),” Smedley said. “That’s kind of my outlook. Whatever Scranton does, we do the opposite.” BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune’s politics reporter, writes Random Notes, which has been published every Saturday since Nov. 9, 1895.

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