One after another, car after car pulled into the snowy parking lot last night at the Blakely Borough building.
The people came to speak.
And the power of the people prevailed.
In a unanimous vote, all seven council members voted to strip the name of their longtime patron and, in some cases, friend, from the public park that honors him. For months they hesitated, even after former state senator and Democratic political warlord Bob Mellow pleaded guilty to crimes of political corruption.
Blakely’s elected officials stood by their man after he used his disabled daughter in court in a disgraceful ploy to escape prison. They even defended their boy after he went to federal prison, where he remains serving a 16-month sentence, whining about all the “good” he did.
But Mellow’s bad far outweighed his good.
That didn’t stop two council members from coming on the air with me and making fools of themselves. Council chairman Joe Quinn even hung up on me when I called to ask about his duty to uphold the public trust. Needless to say, Quinn did not appear on the radio. The mayor never returned my calls.
But last night council members saw the light. For whatever their reasons, they did what was right. Even if they acted for all the wrong reasons, they did what was right. In the political wasteland that is the Lackawanna County Mid-Valley, that is asking a lot.
Mellow’s name will go from the sign and the big rock that essentially announces that Mellow built the park. Mellow this and Mellow that adorns building after building through Scranton and the spreading hills and valleys that surround this politically septic town. Good people will target them next.
I joked this morning that council members also voted to hire Mellow to remove his name from the park and send letters to prison officials asking that he be work-released back to his home in the Peckville section of the borough. A clambake is planned for Saturday to welcome him home and tickets are available simply by calling area state lawmakers, I said.
Yes, I was kidding – I think.
Mellow continues to not only hold sway through fear in this community – founded or otherwise - but throughout the state as well. Since his recent indictment on state political corruption charges for turning the Turnpike Commission into a “cash cow” loaded with contracts and jobs in exchange for political contributions, Mellow’s future looks far bleaker than it already is.
Mellow, 70, if convicted, could spend the rest of his life cowering in the exercise yard, trying to hold onto his commissary potato chips and hiding Chips Ahoy bags under his bunk so the other inmates don’t take them. Mellow was always the guy who stole the poor kids’ lunch money. Now he’s on the other end of the baloney sandwich.
For that reason, people are understandably worried that he’ll turn into one of the biggest rats in state history.
No matter what his lackeys tell you in Peckville, Mellow is not a stand-up guy. Pampered and privileged, he got where he was through intimidation and the raw exercise of power. Although his biggest flaw was himself, too many people saw him as a holy benefactor when, in fact, he was a backroom godfather who used ballots the way hit men use bullets.
Mellow regularly opened fire, severely wounding honor, dignity, faith and trust in the system, doing his best to kill the public trust to benefit himself. And when the war got too big, he folded, caught in a trap he set for himself, sniveling in court and losing whatever was left of his good-guy image.
But last night in his hometown, the public trust found its second wind. In a standing-room-only meeting room, good people, law-abiding, decent, hard-working people came together to make clear their power. Timid council members saw it coming because for weeks the airways and newspapers teemed with promises of action against this pack of excuse-makers if they dared act incorrectly.
Good people everywhere finally had enough of Mellow’s bad behavior.
And we are on the move.
Sometimes simple victories are the most significant victories. The symbolic power of such a win carries with it energy that cannot be matched. The life or death of a community is often measured by such success or failure.
Peckville took a deep breath last night.
Life began again.
But the fight is not over.
A heavy metal plaque remains bolted to an outside wall of the borough building. The plaque honors Mellow. We don’t need to know who put up the plaque or how it came to be. All we need to know is that the plaque, like the name on the park, will disappear.