Michael Giamber said he and three other Democratic Luzerne County Council candidates have forged a “circle of trust” strong enough to appear as a team on billboards.
The eight billboards in the process of installation throughout the county unveil the team of Giamber, Renee Ciaruffoli-Taffera, Eileen Sorokas and Richard “Kick” Heffron. The billboards feature a portrait of the four and only their last names with a request to vote for them.
The emergence of a team brings back memories of past county commissioner candidates who formed voting-bloc majorities to force through their agendas, but Giamber said this slate is solely a group of independent thinkers who can work together and will vote their consciences if elected.
The mechanics of county council campaigns are still in their infancy because this is only the second county council race since the switch to home-rule government, which swapped three, full-time elected commissioners for 11 part-time council members and an appointed county manager two years ago.
Saving money was one of the main drivers behind the billboard campaign, Giamber said. The billboards will cost a combined $4,000 to appear until the Nov. 5 election.
“You have to think outside the box on ways you can reach voters. We wanted to pull our resources together,” Ciaruffoli-Taffera said. “The four of us share information and work well together.”
Heffron said council candidates must still campaign countywide without the stuffed campaign war chests of some prior commissioner contenders, and joint billboards help achieve name recognition.
“It also shows the unity of Democrats running for this seat,” Heffron said.
Sorokas, who also put her own individual campaign ad on buses, said $1,000 for weeks of billboard exposure is reasonable.
“It’s hard to get your name out in a countywide race,” Sorokas said.
Current campaign finance spending won’t be publicly reported until Oct. 25. The 11 candidates elected to the first council under home rule in 2011 spent a collective $148,300 in their campaigns for the $8,000-a-year-council posts.
In comparison, Democrats Todd Vonderheid and Greg Skrepenak spent a combined $700,000-plus in their successful 2003 race for commissioner seats paying $42,000.
Giamber said the four candidates on the Democratic team have regularly discussed their views on the home rule government and potential improvements to make it stronger since they were nominated in the May primary.
“The four of us can debate in an honest and open manner. We feel we would have a good working relationship on council. Even though we don’t always agree on every issue, we can reach a consensus,” Giamber said.
Seven other candidates also are competing for the five vacant council seats: Democrat Linda McClosky Houck; Republicans Harry Haas, Sue Rossi, Eugene Kelleher, Kathy Dobash and Paul M. DeFabo; and Independent Rick Williams. McClosky Houck, Haas, Kelleher and Williams are incumbents.
The billboard team candidates urged McClosky Houck — the remaining Democratic nominee — to get involved in their joint advertisement, but she declined.
“We all had to make a decision about what to spend our campaign money on, and I chose not to spend it on billboards,” McClosky Houck said.
McClosky Houck also said political party affiliation has no bearing on decisions before council.
“Whoever is elected has to be able to work with everyone else on council,” she said.
She had been in a union-endorsed “Working Families for Luzerne County” slate in the first county council race, and that effort did not yield successful results at the polls. Unions from throughout the county backed 11 Democrats. Four survived the primary, and McClosky Houck was the only one elected in November.
Williams, an incumbent who entered the council race after the May primary as an Independent, said he is still debating how to allocate his limited campaign funds to “get the message out.”
“I’m glad that other people are campaigning hard. It’s interesting to see how everybody else does it,” Williams said.
Billboards and other advertisements may motivate more of the county’s 195,450 voters to cast ballots Nov. 5, he said.
Voter turnout in the county’s Democratic and Republican primaries was 19.79 percent — a record low, according to several past and present county officials.
“I hope voters become aware of all candidates and find out where they stand on the issues,” Williams said.
The five council members elected in November will serve with six council members in seats that don’t expire until the end of 2015: Edward Brominski, Jim Bobeck, Rick Morelli, Tim McGinley, Stephen J. Urban and Stephen A. Urban.
Council approves the budget and larger contracts, appoints members to outside county boards and revises the county’s ethics, personnel and administrative codes in addition to hiring and evaluating the manager.