Republicans and Democrats will each select five Luzerne County Council nominees on May 16

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | May 6th, 2017 9:01 am

Luzerne County voters will select five county council members this year.

The winners will start serving on the 11-member body in January, when the county’s customized home rule government structure begins its seventh year.

The May 16 primary is the first step in the selection process. Democrats will pick five of nine candidates seeking the party’s nomination. There is no primary contest on the Republican side because only five are running.

The selection opens up to all voters in the Nov. 7 general, when they are free to choose five contenders from any political party. Independent and third-party candidates also may enter the race after the primary.

Some background on the Democrats seeking the seat, based on their submissions and/or statements made during a recent candidate forum:

Anthony Bartoli, 24, of Laflin, is a manager at Enterprise Rent-a-Car and volunteers with Zebra Communications, the student-run public relations agency at Wilkes University.

A graduate of Coughlin High School in Wilkes-Barre, he has a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from Wilkes.

Bartoli expressed concern with the economic and social state of the county and said he supports conservative spending and treating everyone with “respect, dignity and equality.” Keeping college graduates here is a goal he wants to tackle by pushing for more downtown revitalization, biking/hiking trails and recreational opportunities on and along the Susquehanna River, he said.

“I love this county, the place we all call home,” he said. “I’ve always had an innate need to help people and be there for people.”

Wendy Cominsky, 45, of Dallas Township, owns and operates Au Salon in Dallas and previously owned Country Scissors from 1995 to 2002.

Cominsky said she grasped the importance of communication working as a stylist for 27 years, understands the difference between wants and needs as the mother of a 15-year-old daughter and has proven financial responsibility as a small business owner for 12 years.

She said she also acted with integrity during years of volunteering as an activist to protect the environment and property values and improve child safety and education.

“I think all these lessons have prepared me to be a beneficial member of county council,” she said, listing crime reduction, increased rehabilitation for prison inmates and county debt reduction among her goals.

John Gadomski, 63, of Wyoming, has worked as a carpenter, foreman and superintendent for more than 44 years.

A 1971 Wyoming Area High School graduate, Gadomski attended union apprenticeship carpenter training and studied at Penn State University.

He currently serves as council representative for the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters and vice president of Carpenters Local 445 NEPA. He also served as trustee on the health and welfare, pension, and savings and annuity funds for the carpenters’ union.

Gadomski said he makes many decisions involving union members in these posts and can apply that experience to county council. His goals include restoring county financial stability and boosting the tax base by attracting new business and industry to the area.

He also wants to encourage council members to “come together” for a common cause.

“It took us years to get in this hole and will take years to get out of it,” he said.

Philip Gianfarcaro, 65, of Pittston, has owned and operated two businesses, Bottom of the Ninth Sports Cards in Duryea and currently Phil’s Clip Joint in Pittston for the last 15 years.

A 1970 Pittston High School graduate, Gianfarcaro served in the Army Reserves for eight years and worked for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission for 33 years.

A Pittston Democratic committee member for 12 years and currently the party’s city chairman, Gianfarcaro also helped run the Third District Democratic Committee and has been serving on the county party organization’s executive board for eight years.

Gianfarcaro said he will try to streamline spending and identify new revenue to balance the county budget and avoid tax hikes. He also said he will abide by the spirit of the home rule charter.

“I will be a voice for county residents,” he said. “It’s time to give back to Luzerne County residents.”

Linda McClosky Houck, 58, of Kingston, teaches at Wyoming Valley West’s Dana Elementary Center and has served on county council since home rule’s 2012 implementation, currently in her third year as council chair and previously acting as vice chair for two years.

A graduate of Wyoming Valley West High School and Ithaca College, she has master’s degrees from Misericordia University and King’s College. She also has been the organist, choir director and worship director at Holy Family Parish in Luzerne for more than 45 years, serves as the parish business manager and is a member of the Parish Pastoral Council and Activities Committee.

McClosky Houck said she chose to return to the area after college and is committed to its improvement. She said she wrote and helped implement many codes and policies that made the new government get “off to a great start” and increase transparency.

“I’d like to continue to do the same for four years,” she said, noting it would be her final term. “I was very honored to be elected to council.”

David Popiak, 44, of Hazleton, has owned and operated Hydrodynamics in Hazle Township for 23 years and is city Democratic chairman.

He also has worked as a plumbing and heating adult education instructor at the Hazleton Area Career Center, is a state-licensed sewage enforcement officer and has worked as a code and zoning officer in four municipalities.

Popiak has said he would apply his business development, fiscal and project management experience to his council work and decided to seek the council post to give back and show appreciation for his business success.

He touted his neutrality and interest in other viewpoints.

“If you listen more than you spoke, you would get further,” he said. “The ability to have an open mind or open heart, I believe that’s the key point, and I have that.”

Sheila Saidman, 67, of Kingston, is a retired lawyer who has worked as a county assistant district attorney, legal counsel for various entities and in private law practice

A Wyoming Valley West graduate, she has a bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degree in education from Temple University and received her law degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

Saidman was elected the first female president of the Luzerne County Bar Association in 2008 and has volunteered for numerous community boards and organizations, including the Victims Resource Center and United Way Board of Directors.

Her experience in business, negotiation and interacting with people of diverse backgrounds would be beneficial on council, she said, noting she would treat the council post as a full-time job.

“We all have to work together to build consensus and do what’s right and fiscally sound for the county,” Saidman said.

Matthew Vough, 24, of Pittston, is marketing manager at Keystone Automotive Operations Inc. in Exeter.

He graduated from the Scranton Preparatory School in 2010 and obtained a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Scranton in 2014. He has volunteered as a youth basketball instructor at the Pittston YMCA.

Vough said he is vested in improving the county because he chose to remain here after college and recently purchased a home with the goal of raising a family in the area.

His primary focus would be bringing young adults back to the area, saying too much potential has been lost due to people leaving for better employment.

“I will bring a high level of energy and creativity to this council. We made great progress, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

James Watkinson Jr., 34, of Hanover Township, is general manager at Metz Culinary Management in Dallas.

He attended Meyers High School in Wilkes-Barre before leaving at the age of 17 for Richmond, Virginia, where he lived until 2010. He has held other managerial positions in the hospitality industry, including work as an executive chef at a country club, and moved back to this area to get married and “try and give back to the community I loved.”

Watkinson said he wants to provide a fresh perspective and rethink how problems are addressed with the goals of reducing unemployment and drug addiction and welcoming new businesses.

Problems at all government levels will fester without new faces in politics, he said.

“We won’t get anywhere if we don’t start thinking outside the box a little and, unfortunately, I don’t see that happening,” he said.

The candidates on the uncontested primary Republican council ballot:

Marc Dixon, 47, of Wright Township, is a business development director for Kodak Alaris, where he is responsible for more than 50 accounts in the United States, Canada and South America.

Identifying job creation and quality of life improvements as priorities, Dixon said his unique work experience will prove invaluable when working with other council members to address some of the challenges facing the county. He relocated to Northeastern Pennsylvania in 2005 to be closer to family and said he sees potential in the area that may not be as recognizable to residents who have lived here all their lives.

“I see progress county council is making and want to continue that,” he said.

Harry Haas, 41, of Kingston, teaches history at the Dallas Middle School and has served on county council since its 2012 implementation.

He has a bachelor’s degree in history and master’s degree in education from The George Washington University and said he helped as a council member to oversee a successful transition to home rule, pay down 25 percent of the county’s debt, cut the county workforce and implement a blight-targeting initiative.

His goals for a third and final council term would include lobbying against locally-funded state mandates, searching for cost savings, challenging unjustified new positions and continuing to “bring decency and respect to county government.” He said he votes his conscience and makes tough decisions.

“I’ve taken licks, made people upset, lost friends and received hate mail, but it’s crucial to get government back on track,” he said.

Chris Perry, 67, of Fairview Township, is retired after a 36-year tenure in the Hazleton Area School District as a teacher, coach and athletic director. He managed a $1 million budget as athletic director for 25 years and also retired from the National Guard after 25 years of service.

He majored in biology at Bloomsburg University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education in 1971.

Promising to make council work a full-time focus, Perry cited paying down debt and watching spending to improve the county’s fiscal standing as a main priority. He said he has the experience and temperament to work with council members and the public.

“I feel I have the ability to talk to people and communicate and actually get something done,” he said.

Stephen J. Urban, 43, of Wilkes-Barre, is an IT support coordinator with a major food distributor and served on council from 2012 through 2015.

He said he was an asset on council because he asks tough questions, pushes for answers and attempts to apply efficiencies he’s picked up in the corporate sector to county finances.

His main goals are continuing to manage debt and hold the administration accountable to prevent real estate tax increases. He said he believes there is room for cuts in staffing and other areas.

“I still think they could do more with less,” Urban said.

Gregory Wolovich Jr., 24, of Newport Township, is a product selector for Wegmans Food Markets.

A graduate of GAR Memorial High School in Wilkes-Barre, Wolovich obtained a bachelor’s degree in accounting from King’s College. He said he understands the value of hard working and struggling to live paycheck to paycheck.

Wolovich said his accounting degree would be an asset on council in analyzing the county budget, monitoring cash flow and identifying savings. He also said he can relate to the challenges of living paycheck to paycheck.

“What better way to run a great county than by understanding the struggles and needs of its residents?” he said. “We have to make sure we’re living within our means.”

The county controller seat also is up this year, but there is no primary contest because only one contender is on the ballot in each party — incumbent Democrat Michelle Bednar and Republican Walter Griffith, who previously held the post.

The controller is paid $64,999 annually through a four-year term and is the “independent watchdog over county fiscal and management activities,” according to the home rule charter.

For more local election stories, click here.

McClosky Houck Houck

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Council description

Luzerne County Council members receive $8,000 annually and serve for four years. Their duties include approving the budget and larger contracts, appointing members to outside county boards, enacting codes and ordinances, confirming nominations to eight division head positions and hiring and evaluating the manager.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Council description

Luzerne County Council members receive $8,000 annually and serve for four years. Their duties include approving the budget and larger contracts, appointing members to outside county boards, enacting codes and ordinances, confirming nominations to eight division head positions and hiring and evaluating the manager.