So Mike Marsicano re-emerges as candidate for public office, Rasputin-style – you believed him politically dead three-times over, only to see the former mayor of Hazleton proudly announce “I’m baaack!”
Well, Marsicano and I are like binary stars in local politics. If he runs for office, I am compelled to remind the too-young and too-absent-minded of his past.
Yes, he deserves a shot at redemption if he earnestly admits, repents and atones – he did none of that in his announcement Sunday to run for Lou Barletta’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He took no questions from the news media, rejected the notion of negative campaigning and declared “it’s time for a new direction.”
Well, sorry, but here are some facts from his “old direction.”
Marsicano became Hazleton mayor in January 1996. The city council immediately rejected his appointment of campaign aide Lou Rossi as fire chief, possibly because Rossi was on full disability as a fire truck driver and involved in a lawsuit with the city regarding that status. Marsicano hired Rossi anyway, saying: “I’m the mayor. I can do that.”
Marsicano spent some $25,000 renovating a City Hall room to be the new mayor’s office, all no-bid, with custom carpentry work given to a friend.
Marsicano appointed another friend, as Department of Public Works head, who then punched a councilman in the face. A jury decided it was self-defense.
Marsicano’s first nominee as city administrator was on probation for a DUI and apparently had been driving without a license.
Marsicano increased police pension payouts without council approval, a move later deemed illegal by the state auditor general, creating a fiscal mess for his successors.
Marsicano appointed Robert Macuch as police chief, despite the fact that Macuch also had been on disability. Full disclosure: Macuch was the arresting officer when I was nabbed for DUI that I believe was set up by Marsicano as payback for reporting the truth. I fought it unsuccessfully through Superior Court.
Marsicano launched a protracted fight with the city council, hiring a new solicitor: Robert Powell. That’s the Robert Powell, later convicted in Luzerne County’s notorious kids-for-cash scandal. Solicitor Powell announced a partial city shutdown, claiming the council’s budget illegal because it relied on money that didn’t exist. He failed to mention Marsicano’s own budget relied on the same trick.
Marsicano lost his re-election bid after four years. Having entered office with a small surplus, he left the city $1.4 million in debt.
He returned in 2007 to run for mayor anew. Unopposed in the Democratic primary, Marsicano lost. I’m not kidding. Incumbent Mayor Lou Barletta mounted a write-in campaign for himself as Democratic nominee and beat Marsicano.
Through all this, Marsicano repeatedly pushed for a freight-only airport outside Hazleton that several experts said was unneeded. At one point he joined Gladstone Partners, with Powell and Greg Zappala, to push the idea. Powell and Zappala were co-owners of the PA Child Care juvenile facilities at the heart of “kids for cash.”
In 2014, as part of a civil suit between Zappala and Powell, Marsicano signed a statement admitting a few things: He met Powell through then-judge Michael Conahan – arguably the ringleader in the kids-for-cash tragedy. In one conversation heard by Marsicano, Powell admitted he had called Court Administrator William Sharkey (now a convicted felon) and asked him to assign the case to specific judges, one of whom, Michael Toole, is also now a convicted felon; in exchange, Powell promised Sharkey a ghost job at PA Child Care and to give a cleaning business run by Sharkey’s son a contract there.
Marsicano, 67, can rightly say he has never been charged with a crime. But if he wants voters to elect him to lead us in a “new direction,” he needs to fess up to the direction from whence he came.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish