Experts say outcome of race between Bill Courtright and Jim Mulligan will affect whole region

Last updated: October 26. 2013 10:30PM - 4041 Views
By JOE HEALEY jhealey@psdispatch.com

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SCRANTON — All eyes are looking north.

The Scranton mayoral contest on Nov. 5 pits Scranton Tax Collector Bill Courtright, a Democrat, against lawyer Jim Mulligan, a Republican.

And while it may seem simply like a race to occupy the mayor’s office of this distressed city for the next four year, the new mayor will have a much larger reach and is expected to set the tone for much of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Kingston political operative Ed Mitchell said Scranton is a major hub in Pennsylvania, both economically and culturally.

“It’s the largest city in NEPA and the mayor is traditionally a powerful and influential figure in the region and the state,” Mitchell said.

For the past 24 years, only two men have held the title of Scranton mayor, incumbent Chris Doherty and Jimmy Connors.

Mitchell said Doherty ran for governor, considered running for lieutenant governor, ran for state senate and was often mentioned as a congressional candidate. Connors ran for Congress and ended up as a key figure in Gov. Ed Rendell’s Northeast Office.

Connors said residents of Luzerne and Lackawanna counties look to the mayors of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre as de facto leaders.

“We have to keep thinking regionally,” he said. “It’s not just Scranton. It’s not just Wilkes-Barre. It’s the Pocono/Northeast. And working together we can get a lot more done.”

The City of Scranton has about 75,000 residents, significantly more than Wilkes-Barre’s 41,000. But Wilkes-Barre and a host of other municipalities in Northeastern Pennsylvania have a stake in Scranton mayor’s race.

Courtright and Mulligan both said measures need to be taken to unite the region.

Courtright said big regional issues are jobs and crime and his administration will be ready to tackle both. He spoke of his plan to lure businesses back to the region that may have left. “We need to do everything we can to fill up the empty stores and shops,” he said.

He also said crime doesn’t have borders. “Our police departments need to work together to help bring down crime. Sharing information and data is vital.”

Mulligan said the region has one identity through things like the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport and the baseball team Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders and hockey team Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, but more can be done.

“We need to open up the lines of communication,” he said. “In these economic times, there are a host of direct and indirect benefits of working together.”

Courtright, 56, of West Scranton, the Scranton tax collector, is a 1975 graduate of West Scranton High School. He served on council from 2004 to 2010 and has worked at Trane Corp. for 18 years. He is also employed by Allied Medicare supply and owns Summit Karate Club. He is member of the Scranton Civil Service Commission and the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission.

He said he plans to send an olive branch to city council to work on the city’s problems, which include digging out of a massive financial distress. He plans to reduce debt, hire a qualified business administrator, and work to keep property taxes fair and neighborhoods safe. Regionally, he plans to aggressively pursue economic and employment opportunities related to all industries, including medical infrastructure.

Mulligan, also 56, of Green Ridge, is a practicing lawyer at the Mulligan Law Firm and teaches criminal justice part time at Marywood University. He is a 1975 graduate of Riverside High and received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Penn State, a master’s degree in public administration from Villanova and a law degree from Antioch School of Law in 1987. He is a former assistant district attorney, city solicitor, Riverside School District solicitor and had owned several small businesses.

Mulligan’s platform focus on economic development and strengthening Scranton’s neighborhoods. Mulligan plans to create economic development zones, reduce the real estate transfer tax, reduce red tape at City Hall, explore ways to reduce the Mercantile/Business Privilege Tax and focus on Scranton’s infrastructure. Regionally, he said he will look into cooperative buying to save money and hopes to direct resources to fight crime.

Jeff Brauer of Dalton, a political science professor at Keystone College in Lackawanna County, said from a regional standpoint, the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre mayors should work closely together, but cooperation isn’t the rule, its the exception.

For a time, he said, there was a regional spirit in the area, but that changed when Luzerne County changed to the home rule form of government.

“You used to have three commissioners working directly with three commissioner,” he said. “Now there’s the council and manger in Luzerne County and the Commissioners in Lackawanna County.”

Brauer said the regional cooperation dried up.

“Luzerne County has taken a more parochial approach, rather than a regional one,” he said. “There’s a disconnect. But a strong (Scranton) mayor could help bridge the gap.”

Mitchell said a long tenure as mayor, citing the three terms of Doherty, is a double-edged sword.

“The longer you’re in office, the more you can get done for the city,” he said. “But, on the other side, the longer you’re there, you tend to use up political capital. The longer you’re there, you tend to burn bridges and lose your effectiveness.”

Brauer said there isn’t a major difference between Courtright and Mulligan. Both candidates are in favor of economic development, pulling the city out of financial distress and cooperation with council.

“Scranton is the center of business, social and cultural activities,” he said. “Everyone in the region should be interested in the Scranton mayoral race.”

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