A lone pair of low-cut black sneakers hung from the electric wire above my house at the corner of East Gibson and North Irving in the Hill Section of Scranton. Kids had likely tossed them into the air for whatever stupid reason.
But now they were my problem.
While sweeping my corner with a push broom the other day I kept looking at the sneakers. Hanging there like a message of doom from the future, they told me that my clean, comfortable life that I work so hard to live had been threatened – a baby threat but a threat nonetheless.
The used sneaks were not nearly as ominous as a drug buyer or dealer standing on the corner, of course. I’ve dealt with a couple of them in the past and knew I had to deal with this. For me, though, dealing with junkies and dope fiend dealers is easier.
I can personally approach them.
But I couldn’t touch the sneakers.
So I mentioned my dilemma when I spoke with a city cop I know. He laughed and said some people claim that sneakers hanging from a wire indicate a house from which drugs are being sold. Not only did I have to worry about snagging an eyesore from a high wire but had to worry that somebody would accuse me of selling drugs. For the record, the only drugs I deal with include a daily multiple vitamin, a B-Complex and a baby aspirin for my colon health.
I eat right, do yoga four days a week and now that the weather is getting nice practice with my samurai sword in the Zen garden at the back of the house. I stay spiritually fit and expect my neighborhood to do the same. My neighbors know they can count on me and I like knowing that I can count on most of them. I keep my eye on those who seem disinterested in keeping our Hill clean.
I pick up way too much litter on a regular basis. I park legally ever since I recently got a ticket for breaking a law I didn’t know existed – 30 feet from a corner stop sign – and that never got me a ticket in the previous five years I’ve parked there. I respond to noise in the middle of the night and have stepped in the middle of a domestic street fight.
I like my neighborhood and will fight for it whenever necessary.
See, I’m a window fixer.
You should be a window fixer, too.
If you break a window, fix it.
If somebody else breaks a widow, fix it.
Allow birds and bats and bad guys to come and go through your open widow and you’re headed for trouble. Good neighbors like me don’t want trouble and work to prevent it.
The “broken window” theory is effective for police work and community development. The theory is crucial in keeping quality in the quality of life in your neighborhood. The theory provides words to live by.
But how do you snag low-cuts from an electric wire? I wasn’t even sure it was an electric wire. Maybe it was a telephone or a cable television wire. Maybe it wasn’t electric. I know the heartwarming stories about firefighters gently pulling scared kittens from trees but our firefighters have too much to worry about as it is.
So I put out a call for help on “Corbett.” After all we are some kind of help line where challenges are regularly put forward and often resolved. As expected, the cavalry arrived right on time. We were weeding through the suggestions when Jim from Clarks Summit called to say he’d take care of it.
“I’ll be there at 4:30 tomorrow morning,” he said. “I have a big truck. I’ll just jump on the top and take them down.”
Thanks, buddy, I said sincerely, but nobody needs you getting electrocuted in the process of helping what Jim called “a brother.” I must admit that I liked the idea but my concern for safety and liability took over. I discouraged him from getting anywhere near a wire where potentially deadly unknown current might hide.
In bed the next morning I suddenly opened my eyes to the sound of a big truck idling at the corner. My wife made it to the window before I did. I got there just in time to see the truck heading up the street like Zorro riding away into the night when the full moon is bright.
Jim showed up at the house later that morning and we shook hands and talked and laughed on my corner, Corbett’s corner, if you will. We shared stories and talked about living decent lives. He, too, is a good neighbor who works and tries his best to help himself and others.
I asked for help and got it.
The Golden Rule ruled.
The moral to this story is as clear as looking at a clean, beautiful neighborhood through a spotless brand new window.
High above Jimmy Reddington’s grave, a big, fat robin perched in a tree of blossoms, singing its sweet spring song of renewal and life.
With out feet firmly planted on sacred ground, a small group of men and women stood silently with heads bowed to mark the passing of time that ages us all, paying tribute to the other side of nature’s stark balance
Forty-five years ago last Friday an enemy bullet fired in Vietnam killed the 19-year-old from the Weston Field neighborhood of Scranton, the town Jimmy loved so well.
Gazing softly at Jimmy’s headstone, Joe Silvestri, who guided Jimmy in combat, said Scranton meant the world to the kind, tough kid from the coal region. The only time Jimmy ever seemed to put his hometown out of his mind was when duty called – and, in the rice paddies and thick jungle bush, duty called a lot.
When one of men stopped due to heat or exhaustion, Jimmy was there to carry his pack or encourage him, Joe said. When somebody needed help, Jimmy was always there, he said.
So when Jimmy heard that Joe got hit with shrapnel from mortar fire and then took a bullet that tore off his calf, it stands to reason that Jimmy wanted to help. When Jimmy heard that Joe was dead, he took matters into his own hands - and likely died because of the rage and loss he felt upon hearing the news that sent him charging into enemy fire.
But Joe was alive, still breathing with a medic by his side, a wounded corpsman who
had been shot yet kept consoling Joe, telling him he would be all right. Then the medic took another bullet, this time in the neck, and went down. Joe, thinking that the man must have died, only found out years later that the doc had survived that horrible day in Vietnam.
Joe also found out years later that Jimmy died trying to avenge his “death.”
A lot of dying went on that day.
Standing graveside Joe said the sound of men screaming when they got hit still echoes in his ears.
“The noise,” he said.
But one day the noise stopped and the living went home.
Joe wanted desperately to visit Scranton, a “famous” place, according to Jimmy who sometimes talked non-stop about his hometown. But the trip added too much pressure on Joe, a kind, brave man who did his best for his country and his men.
Then one day he mustered the courage and made the trip, making it all the way to Jimmy’s house before he turned around and left. He wanted to see Jimmy’s mother but couldn’t bring himself to knock on the door. He didn’t know that Jimmy’s mother had died some years earlier.
Joe had to try again.
This time he found Jimmy’s greave, covered with brush and left to the ravages of time.
That solitary visit has turned into an annual pilgrimage for Joe and a group of people who knew Jimmy or now know of him and the sacrifice he made for his country and his friend.
Before the trip to the grave, Joe and a small group pulled two tables together at the Glider Diner near Jimmy’s old neighborhood for coffee and eggs. Laughter and jokes and simple camaraderie brought us together. Despite the differences that always exist, Jimmy’s spirit provided solid common ground, bringing us together to live his legacy - a legacy of simple goodness.
As much as anything, goodness is what defined Jimmy Reddington, according to those who knew and loved him. And goodness translates into honor, a shining quality that goes to friendship, loyalty and the vow to always remain faithful – semper fi, as the Marines say – right up until the end.
The end came too soon for Jimmy, of course. Joe wondered aloud last week as he stood in the brilliant sunshine that bathed Cathedral Cemetery, surrounded by like-minded people, what might have been had Jimmy lived.
He knows such speculation is futile. But he also knows that Jimmy exemplified core principles of character that made him the man he was even at 19, principles we all must struggle to maintain in a cruel and changing world where courage is required for countless people to make it through the day.
That day in the cemetery, another man stood in solidarity with Joe and Jimmy and the rest. Tom Dolphin said he played football in high school with Jimmy. What he didn’t say but that we knew is that his son rests just down the hill from Jimmy. Like Jimmy, his boy also was a Marine.
After serving in combat in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Patrick Dolphin, 29, died last year in Afghanistan.
And Tom is slowly but surely working his way through the government system and the sad bureaucracy to get a final accounting of what exactly happened to his son in that terrible time of war.
It took Joe decades to obtain all the facts of what happened on March 23, 1967.
Now Tom struggles with his personal mission.
With Jimmy as guide, it goes without saying that we will all help in whatever way we can.
That’s our resolve to continue to live the legacy of Jimmy Reddington, a young Marine who gave his all, did his best and died trying.
State Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich should have stayed in bed this morning.
We all should have stayed in bed.
We would be far better off looking at the world through blanket lint than through the pathetic political prism of what Kavulich told Sue Henry when he called her show this morning.
I’ve been hounding Kavulich for days to talk with me about his role in the federal investigation that resulted in the recent guilty plea by former state Sen. Bob Mellow, Kavulich’s former Democratic Senate boss, mentor and friend. Kavulich has failed to return my calls and requests for an interview – off the air and on the air.
The rookie lawmaker has responded to my inquiries in the past, emailing, talking with me when we meet by chance in public and otherwise doing what he’s supposed to do as a public servant. But the second a hard question might come his way, Kavulich runs and hides.
What a fearful Kavulich told Henry today was vague, nervous and downright reckless in its disregard for the truth.
“Anything regarding the investigation would have to be directed to the authorities,” he said.
Kavulich spoke not another word about his specific role in the massive federal criminal investigation that charged Mellow and accused unnamed Senate staffers with aiding and abetting Mellow’s political crimes.
Kavulich not only has the right but the responsibility to answer specific questions about what he knew and when he knew it. He admitted talking with authorities and answering their questions. But he offered no specifics to Henry or her listeners – many of whom pay his salary.
What did “they” ask him? Who are they anyway? What did he tell them? Did he see any crimes? Did he sense that crimes were being committed? Did he participate in crimes? Did federal officials offer him immunity in exchange for his testimony in the event the case went to trial? Did he have a lawyer present when they questioned him? Did the feds read him his rights? Did they wire him? Did he help snare Mellow?
Kavulich said he was not the target of an investigation. But did he know about a single one of the abundance of crimes committed in the office when he worked there – crimes federal prosecutors said were aided and abetted by Senate staffers just like Kavulich?
“I answered their questions,” he said.
I was “honest and forthcoming,” he said.
Then Kavulich spun into the protective world of political babble, talking about his duties when he worked as a public servant for the now admitted criminal senator, rehashing the lame statement he issued through a Democratic spokesman last Friday.
Kavulich said he worked for Mellow from September, 2006 until he “left my job in 2010 in the middle of the year when I was running for office.”
That time frame includes the when Mellow was busy sacking the public trust as a politically corrupt criminal. That time frame includes the time Senate staffers aided and abetted, helping Mellow commit his crimes.
When Henry asked if Kavulich felt tied to Mellow, Kavulich babbled again. You do your job, he said. He did what was required of him, he said. Whatever that means, Kavulich didn’t say. He sounded weak, vague and perfectly willing to obstruct the truth. Still, Kavulich said he tries very hard to “tell my kids one of the most important things you have is your integrity.”
Henry asked if Kavulich is disappointed in Mellow as a person. Kavulich took a big, deep, sigh. Then he defended Mellow’s record. Are you disappointed in Mellow as a person, Henry asked again as Kavulich took another big, deep, sigh. Again Kavulich defended Mellow’s record.
“A lot of people feel that they owe a lot to him,” he said.
Kavulich finally told the truth, likely talking about himself, giving thanks to an admitted politically corrupt criminal.
Are you disappointed in (Mellow) as a person?
“As a person, no,” said state lawmaker Kavulich.
That’s really all we need to know.
“I’m moving forward with my office,” he said.
Keep moving, Kavulich – right on out of public office.
You have helped turn the dream into a nightmare.
But you have also helped awaken a sleeping people.
Both Democrats are heavily connected to former state Sen. Bob Mellow, a Democratic political powerhouse for 40 years who signed a federal guilty plea agreement last week admitting to crimes of political corruption.
Mellow will likely go to prison and might have to cooperate with ongoing investigations.
But Blake and Kavulich will simply go back to work – getting paid handsomely to do the people’s business in the Harrisburg Capitol without so much as an explanation about any part they played, either willingly or unwillingly, in Mellow’s abuse of the public trust.
Maybe they played no role. I hope they didn’t. But they have to tell us they had no role. They must reassure the people they serve. As of now, suspicion hangs above their heads like toxic clouds of betrayal.
United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Peter Smith said in a press conference that Mellow was “aided and abetted” in the commission of his crimes by Senate staffers who helped him carry our his dirty deeds. Those deeds included using government time and facilities to campaign – presumably for Mellow and his always successful re-election bids.
We don’t know the identity of those staffers because federal prosecutors won’t tell us. They might never tell us. But we still have a right to know – if, nothing else, that Blake and Kavulicvh were not even peripherally involved in this grave abuse of the public trust.
In a recent email to my colleague Sue Henry, Blake’s chief of staff wrote that four former Mellow staffers now work for Blake. Four people who worked as public servants in Mellow’s snake pit now serve the public trust in Blake’s district offices.
Were they in any way – knowingly or unknowingly – involved in Mellow’s crimes? Did Blake investigate? If so what did he learn? Why won’t he tell us?
But we don’t even know their names because Blake’s chief of staff didn’t name them.
A recent text message to me during my show named one as a high ranking Blake staffer. I called Blake’s office, left a message for the man and he never called me back. Then I called and left a message for Blake. Another staffer returned my call and said Blake would be in touch. Blake never called.
I plan to call Blake’s office today and officially ask for the names.
I’ll ask to talk with Blake, too.
As Mellow’s replacement in the same senatorial district that Mellow controlled for decades, Blake has immense power. Even with Republicans in control of the Senate, Blake carries Mellow’s legacy.
How much of that legacy he claims, however, poses a problem.
The night voters elected Blake, Mellow literally stepped from the shadows and gave his student a big hug, a photo of which appeared on the front page of the morning newspaper.
Now that we know that Mellow is an admitted criminal and has confessed to misusing Senate staffers to work on political campaigns, we must be reassured that none worked on Blake’s campaign.
If he says none did, we need to know how he knows.
We need proof - as prosecutors say, evidence
Kavulich can help.
During his tenure as a Senate staffer he commuted regularly between Harrisburg and Mellow’s Peckville office. He played a crucial role in Mellow’s office and was around other Senate staffers on a daily basis.
Did Kavulich sense any problems? If so did he resist or further them? Did he report wrongdoing to law enforcement officials? Was he so oblivious to the crime and corruption Mellow now admits to perpetrating that he saw nothing? Heard nothing? Did nothing?
I’ll be calling him today, too.
If Blake and Kavulich ignores us or tries to hide, we’ll go to them. I’ll take a videographer with me when I do and will post the video on the WILK News Radio website. I’ll make as many embarrassing videos as I have to in order to get the answers we all deserve. Maybe I’ll make a whole documentary.
The restoration of the public trust is that important and depends mightily on the public right to know.
That’s why Blake and Kavulich must start talking right now.
Tyler the monkey is no longer on the loose in Ashley.
But I’m not so sure that this is a happy ending.
Maybe this is just the beginning. Maybe we’re in for a mass of marauding monkeys messing with our lives. Maybe we’re headed for a barrel of monkeys.
The news this morning that state game commission agents were hunting down a monkey on the lamb came as weird comic relief in the aftermath last week of the federal public corruption guilty plea agreement by former state Sen. Bob Mellow.
More about that big ape later.
For now, though, let us stay focused on the monkey on an ATV. That’s right, kids, a monkey on an all terrain vehicle tooling through Ashley.
OK, the monkey was a passenger.
At least I believe the monkey was a passenger but with the way life careens out of control around here the monkey might have been the driver. The monkey’s owner might have been a passenger.
As I write this my colleague Sue Henry is astutely reporting on the air that the monkey was well-known in the neighborhoods and that the woman who used to own him dressed him like a person.
That’s right, a person.
For all I know Tyler might have voted.
Tyler might have held elected office in the borough.
Tyler might be appointed to the county judicial bench.
Welcome to the jungle.
Sue Henry says that the monkey lived in the Carr’s Patch section of town and used to walk the owner’s small dogs on a leash. Everybody knew, she says sources tell her. And, of course, the ATV was stolen.
Yes, boys and girls, the ATV was stolen.
A source tells me that he once saw Tyler the monkey enter a local neighborhood bar. Thinking that the monkey wasn’t too smart, the bartender charged him ten dollars for his beer, which the monkey glumly drank.
“We don’t get too many monkeys in here,” the bartender said.
“With these prices don’t expect to get too many more,” said Tyler the monkey.
OK, so I made that last one up.
But the point is that we actually had a monkey on the loose, a little monkey described by a game commission officer as a Macaque, the most widely distributed genus of non-human primates.
Macaques are commonly used in research, which makes their contribution to science very serious and important, indeed, and draws attention to how and where they are used. Being used as entertainment in Ashley is cruel as well as illegal. Disease is a concern as is the danger posed to humans whom the monkey might attack in a fit of fear and panic. The monkey’s escort posed a problem as well, according to news reports that say he fled after turning the monkey loose.
Ashley has enough problems with such monkey business.
Police not all that long ago raided the chapter clubhouse for the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, arresting numerous members and associates on cocaine distribution charges. Then there was the former police chief whose problems in a personal relationship made a monkey out of him and destroyed whatever credibility he had left.
Tyler might be a nice monkey. Tyler might make a good mayor. Tyler might never commit a felony or offer a bribe in exchange for a teaching job. Tyler might be a better president at the Luzerne County Community College than the current president.
Poor Tyler is likely more honest than Bob Mellow and all the rest of the more than thirty other gorillas who have pleaded guilty or been convicted in the ongoing federal public corruption investigation.
Despite the best efforts of people who hunt people for a living to locate him, the 77-year-old Wilkes-Barre lawyer and self-proclaimed investment counselor is nowhere to be found.
On “Corbett” yesterday we even offered a free tray of Old Forge pizza to anybody who could track Tony and provide his whereabouts.
No pepperoni, either.
My best tip came from a guy who emailed me an address in Virginia with the cryptic inscription to check an address in horse country near the rolling hills of Vienna.
So as our long walk down the cold trail continues, the lawsuits keep mounting as do the number of people who claim Lupas swindled him in a Ponzi scheme that resulted in “tens of millions of dollars” that Lupas solicited and “invested,” according to a source close to some of the cases. As many as 30 people, mostly elderly, trusted Lupas to hand over life savings, the source said.
A caller yesterday said his aging in-laws cashed in life insurance policies and tapped into retirement accounts to cash in on the sweet deal that their longtime friend offered. A lawyer for one of the alleged victims is quoted in a newspaper article as saying that all the cash is gone.
So where did it go?
Some Lupas cash went into the campaign coffers of his son, Dave, whose political campaign swelled with a loan from dear old dad when the Dave successfully ran for Luzerne County district attorney.
Now junior’s a Luzerne County judge.
And he don’t know nothing about nothing.
His honor recently released a particularly weird statement saying that after his father fell and injured himself, dad closed his law office and all but retired – including from his job as solicitor for the Greater Wilkes-Barre Area School District where he pulled down $328,000 last year for 10 months work.
Yes, you heard the astonishing amount correctly and that’s another entire bizarre story.
Young Dave, for whatever the reason, while cleaning out daddy’s law office said he came across information that concerned him enough to contact law enforcement officials and ask for an investigation of dear old dad.
To hear him tell he, he turned in his father. What a guy. After all the criticism Dave received for his dull performance as district attorney during the time gangster judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were running a “kids-for-cash” child slave trade out of the Luzerne County courthouse, Dave now looks like some kind of hero.
Let’s hold the applause. Dave issued his statement and ran. But at least we know his location. Still, he refuses to answer specific questions that could help clear up this matter.
He called the cops on pop? Ok. Whom exactly did he call? When did he call? To whom did he speak? What exactly did he say? Did he call local, state or federal agents before or after an alleged victim spoke with him about concerns that daddy was up to no good?
Two very solid sources close to the case say that an alleged victim spoke with Dave about his father before any police investigation began. Is that true? Dave isn’t saying.
So what else is new?
When lawyers complained that Dave was regularly late for court and costing the county big money, he refused to answer my questions. When he agreed to allow an admitted drug felon to go to Mexico on vacation while still serving her non-prison sentence, he refused to answer my questions. And now, while getting paid to uphold the law, he’s refusing to provide details about an alleged scheme that gutted savings accounts and ruined lives.
One of the lawyers in the case is asking that any money that Tony paid to anybody in any way be returned to alleged victims. That means money paid to and spent on Dave’s political campaign.
On a scale of one to 10 on the Irish-American “amadon” meter, the four lads I met at Saturday’s Scranton St. Patrick’s Day parade were an eleven. Amadon is Gaelic for lout, a blessed but blighted “eejit,” as they say in the old country, who shows up particularly around Paddy’s Day to howl, moan and ultimately self-destruct.
Anger management classes, DUI pleas and divorce courts are loaded with them.
Those of us who care about all things Irish do our best to counsel them. But some failures from the ancient gene pool have simply mutated into another species that is simply beyond repair.
Unfortunately we at WILK News Radio encountered these sad lads before I even had a chance to cruise the route waving my shillelagh at the crowd. Worse yet, because of their “uniform” of tweed caps, ill-fitting sport coats and ties, we have reason to believe that this pale little gang might have been part of the official parade committee marshals charged with keeping civil order as ambassadors of the county and the culture.
If that is the case, they should be banished from all future parade duty, although I wouldn’t go so far as to ship them to Australia the way the English cast out our political prisoners in times gone by. No, even the outback deserves better.
The supposed leader of this Gaelic brat pack - baby-faced all and sucking on cigarettes they didn’t even know how to smoke – began his Mayo melt-down by stepping to us in some official capacity to determine when we would step off.
In the spirit of the good-natured banter that flew everywhere Saturday and was well received in most quarters, I quipped to the young man that we were marching in Division Eight, the Oscar Wilde Division. Oscar Wilde, I said, was Ireland’s most notorious homosexual writer. This is progress for the parade, I said. And, indeed it is, since neither the Irish, most parade officials nor Scranton is known for any grand acceptance of tolerance and diversity.
Only later did it dawn on me that the kid likely had no idea who Wilde was, and that he must have taken my comments as some kind of insult to his manhood, his nationality and his role as an aspiring Quiet Man upon whose shoulders the future of his Minooka neighborhood and his tiny part in shaping civilization depend.
Yes, the kid said he was from Minooka, the Irish section of the city where my grandfather landed in 1904 in search of the American Dream, a dream that took him deep into the coal mines where he contracted the black lung disease that eventually killed him.
The lad sneered and said that maybe I was a “homo,” too.
Stunned, I laughed and said we all need to check our family trees.
Again he spit his slur as his buddies chimed in with their own dull brand of challenge, buzzing like little Celtic bugs at a Galway picnic.
Only later did it dawn on me that all four likely had been drinking, a comment made by one of several witnesses to the incident. We later observed them at the back of a white van parked in an adjacent lot tipping some kind of beverage into their young yaps before heading off to shake hands and slap bagpipers on their backs in the overly friendly manner of youngsters in their cups and playing grown-up.
Trying to temper the conflict, I asked the lads if they knew who I was. Maybe they didn’t know my deep Minooka connections that might quell the brewing storm. One lad said my radio show “sucked” but the leader seemed ignorant about me or the proud and troubled culture that brought us there.
The leader also was just getting wound up.
“You’re an a-hole,” he hissed, like one of the little rattlers hiding in the bog that dear St. Patrick missed. “You’re a f-ing a-hole.”
Now his volume rose, easily heard by a truck load of small children who waited patiently for their start in the parade. WILK News Radio program director Nancy Kman, concerned for the kids, asked the hooligans to please watch their language. Kman later reported being accosted again by this same gang when the loud-mouth apologized "only" to her. But one of them had to be pulled away as he shouted that a man he named would be coming either for her or for me, a comment that another witness perceived as a clear threat.
I asked the leader for his name. For some bizarre reason he tore the cap from his head and identified himself. I mentioned that I might know his grandfather. Again he erupted. I told him that I intended to call the president of the parade committee whom I named. Call him, the loud lad shouted. When I quietly said I might also call the police, the pathetic band retreated.
I’ve seen similar performances over too many years in Minooka and elsewhere. I’ve also come to detest this loutish behavior that often results in punches flying, injury and shame brought to decent families that deserve better.
Scranton deserves better. I deserve better. The whole Irish race deserves better.
But on this fine bright afternoon, we got something worse. We got a new generation that lacks the simple respect for themselves and others. We got a sad look into the future through the eyes of the young. We got what we never bargained for - immature Irish eyes as foggy as the dew in which “a risen people” once took immense pride, dew that held the promise of a better future for us all, including people like poor Oscar Wilde.
I’ve met the wife so you can say that I know her, too.
The guy is young and driven and politically savvy in the ways and means of home-style politics, which means he can hustle and finagle and connive for votes. He’s a likable guy who’s supposed to be good with his hands as well. That’s what the old-timers used to say in the old neighborhood when they meant you could fight – both in the ring and out.
“Is he good with his hands?” somebody like my Uncle Jake would ask.
Fighting defined many men in the old neighborhood, including my father, Shamus, and me.
We’re Irish, you know and value that fighting spirit that is both blessing and curse. Our roots run deep in the old neighborhood since many of our ancestors, including my grandfather, Big Jim, showed up there from Ireland at the turn of the last century to stake a claim in the American Dream of liberty and justice for all.
So the lad decides to run for public office. And, after fundraisers and campaign events at his family’s neighborhood saloon – a magic place where my grandfather, father and I all drank and laughed over the decades - the lad wins a seat on the Scranton school board.
My support came wrapped in pride.
Then the lad pulled a stunt that troubled me. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt and swallowed my instinct to maintain my support for his public service.
Upholding the public trust honorably matters immensely to me. Serving the public trust honorably as an honest public servant is non-negotiable. Standing honorably with the people, at risk to your own self-interest and even your own safety comprises an Irish-American badge of courage.
Such simple bravery is more important than being good with your hands.
Far more is at stake.
Then the lad pulled another stunt. This time he violated the very ethics code for which his school board colleagues voted. He accepted campaign contributions in his re-election campaign that the code prohibited. He was in good company, though, because every current school board director also accepted money by taking campaign cash from school district vendors who do business with the district.
Board president Bob Lesh wrote off the controversy. That’s Scranton politics, he said.
Then the lad went too far.
The other night his colleagues voted to appoint his wife to a $65,000 a year job. The lad abstained but will obviously benefit from his wife’s position. She came highly recommended with an endorsement from the school district superintendant, whose own career achievement is in the hands of school board members, including the lad whose wife now has a grand job – actually a sixty-five grand job.
Cheers went up in the old neighborhood.
It was a great day for the Irish.
The lad’s wife’s mother even called into the radio to defend her daughter and claim that calling what happened “nepotism” wasn’t fair. She said her daughter is qualified and that she worked at the school district even before the lad got elected to represent all the people of this hard-pressed city.
Maybe she’s qualified. Maybe she’s not. But somebody ought to check.
Board president Lesh made another dull appearance in the paper when he described the hiring as a promotion and not nepotism. The board has a policy against nepotism, by the way. But the last two sections of the policy cancel out the first two sections of the policy, thereby making the policy moot.
That’s Scranton politics, too – always hard to believe.
Truth be told, it’s not such a great day for the Irish. Credibility has suffered greatly in the old neighborhood. After this Saturday’s Paddy’s Day parade, I’ll be heading back there for a drink as I always do. But I won’t be stopping at the lad’s family’s saloon, as I have always done.
I’ll go somewhere else, where I’ll stand at the bar in silence, raising my pint of Guinness and toasting honor on this fine and glorious day.
So each day I try to learn from my words and the words of others. I try each day to better use words to communicate what I want people to know about me. Each day I succeed and each day I fail. Each day somebody misunderstands or misrepresents my words.
Sometimes people try to turn my words against me. Sometimes people call or write my superiors to complain that I said something I didn’t say. Sometimes they complain that they know what I meant even though I never said what they claim.
Words sometimes trouble me and you.
Above all, though, words matter.
When the Penn State child sex assault investigation broke, a caller asked me what congressmen Lou Barletta, Tom Mario and then Penn State football coach Joe Paterno had in common.
I answered pretty quickly that they were all Republicans.
Good answer, I thought, because it was true.
But the caller was headed elsewhere.
“They’re all Italian,” he said.
I felt sucker-punched because I didn’t see it coming. I should have, though, because over the years some people have tried to smear my name and harm my credibility by trying to paint me as being anti-Italian. The campaign started during my criticism of local business hero Louis DeNaples who, at the time, was under arrest for perjury on charges prosecutors later dropped. I had based my criticism on facts, not ethnicity, the same way I shape my criticism of Barletta, Marino and the late Paterno.
But some people refused to back off.
One guy in particular attacks against me on his Facebook page, accusing me of slurring Italian-Americans. I left three unreturned messages on his home phone. Then I approached him respectfully at the Columbus Day flag-raising on Courthouse Square in Scranton and asked him to call me.
But he never called.
Then one day I had a chance to hurt or help this man.
All I asked in return was that he knew what I had done for him. Maybe he would understand that I would not have helped him if I was the bigot he had unjustly accused me of being. The man finally called my home and left a message. But I did not return his call. He had tried to hurt me because of words I never said. I chose not to hurt him in return because that would have been dishonorable. I did not, however, have to call him back.
Hopefully he learned something from the experience. I know I did. And I know how angry and hurt I felt when my character was impugned. So you see how complicated words can be.
I have over the years misspoken on the air. I have erred. I have made mistakes and I have apologized. But I have never put myself in the position that Rush Limbaugh put himself when he last week singled out a young woman and called her a slut and a prostitute simply because she believes that birth control should be a fair part of health insurance coverage.
My most powerful personal challenges are directed at elected public officials who betray the public trust. They and their powerful business accomplices commit crimes and ethics breeches with impunity and immunity.
Such privilege must be aggressively challenged.
That’s what I do.
That’s what all good citizens must do to fight political and business corruption.
Words are weapons. Words are societal building blocks. Words are sacred. Words convey wisdom and woe. And, woe, not wisdom, awaits those who use their words unwisely.
Instead of hiring political cronies and arguing unconvincingly that such patronage saves taxpayers’ money, the new majority Democrat Lackawanna County commissioners should speak out about developing County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) recklessness that might one day cost taxpayers far more money than the commissioners claim to save.
COLTS is the government-supported public bus service run by a board of directors whose members are appointed by the elected county commissioners. COLTS has decreed that they will determine what ideas they approve and what ideas they reject for advertising on the sides of the public transportation.
As soon as I heard the news, First Amendment violation alarms immediately went off in my head. But Commissioners Jim Wansacz and Corey O’Brien hit the snooze buttons on their brains.
When that happens, taxpayers pay. As if a 38 percent county tax increase isn’t bad enough, legal fees alone if this issue goes to court could break the public bank. If the county loses, which ACLU super lawyer Mary Catherine Roper is convinced they will, yet more public funds will be squandered by this new and vapid duo that promises to lead us to prosperity.
The matter at hand is relatively simple: A young local atheist who in the past raised hell about Christmas displays on government property has asked to pay for a bus ad that simply says “atheism” and provides a telephone number and website address for people who might want to make contact.
The COLTS board, however, set a policy in June that gives them the power to decide content in messages. Such content cannot provoke a public forum or discussion, particularly about matters of controversy, according to Gretchen Wintermantel, the COLTS spokeswoman with whom I spoke yesterday.
So COLTS rejected the young atheist’s bus ad.
Board members set the policy and the COLTS managers make the decision, Wintermantel said.
By the end of yesterday’s show, she had not responded to my email asking the names of the authority public servants who make these arbitrary and highly subjective political decisions. These decisions are, indeed, political, as are any and all decisions made by any and all government authorities that receive any and all funding from federal, state and county coffers – as does COLTS.
I asked spokeswoman Wintermantel if I could pay for a bus ad that displays my face and the name of my radio station. She said I could, even though I am more controversial than anybody in local media or politics, for that matter.
But she said COLTS would draw the free speech line if I expressed an opinion in the ad such as “I like guns” (which, of course I would never say, instead preferring something like “Impeach O’Brien and Wansacz.”
That’s where government censorship comes into play. That’s where the bills start to mount as visions of punitive damages dance in my head. That’s where First Amendment infringement rears its ugly head.
Witermantel said that she and one of two COLTS lawyers – more government political appointments, of course, who are called solicitors in the world of local government - put the policy together. When she reminded me that she once worked in journalism I fought the impulse to remind her that she must have forgotten everything she should have learned in the process.
I take my First Amendment rights as seriously as anybody. As a veteran journalist who once got arrested for my service to the First Amendment, a Lackawanna County taxpayer and good government advocate, I also take seriously bureaucratic ignorance that risks public money we don’t have to begin with.
Wansacz and O’Brien posture and preen and essentially do nothing to protect taxpayers or good government from abuse and waste. Neither commissioner has commented public on this dangerous hazard for county taxpayers. Expect more of the same.
So while the atheists and the ACLU decide how to play this one – after the ACLU won large legal fees in a recent similar case in Alleghany County – COLTS has another problem.
The vice president of the COLTS drivers’ union called “Corbett” yesterday to announce the COLTS management decision to order a driver to remove what the union official called a “public relations” message from the top front of his bus.
The message reads in lights, “God Bless America.”
The VP said he could not comment on the hypothetical of a driver posting a PR message that read, “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is the greatest” to those of the Muslim faith. But the union officials said he was concerned that the drive’s free speech might also be undermined by the forced removal of this patriotic and religious motto that the driver takes to heart.
Oh, we definitely got trouble, right here in the Electric City.
Like prophet Ken Kesey said, “Either you’re on the bus or you’re off the bus.”