With the primary election less than a month away, Wilkes-Barre Area League of Women Voters representative Christine McLaughlin peppered 12 Luzerne County Council contenders with several rounds of randomly selected questions for 90 minutes Thursday.
Though daunting due to the number of candidates involved, the organization has been holding county council forums since the first 11-member council was elected in 2011 as part of the county’s January 2012 conversion to a customized home rule government structure.
The May 16 primary contest is on the Democratic side because the party’s voters must select five nominees among nine candidates. Only five Republicans are running, which means all would automatically advance to the November general.
Voters will be free to choose five council candidates of any party affiliation in the Nov. 7 general.
Each candidate had an opportunity to offer a “closing statement” on any topic during the forum at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston.
Here’s a snapshot of their responses, starting with the Democrats:
• Anthony Bartoli, of Laflin, who works in management at Enterprise Rent-a-Car, said change starts at the local level, and he became frustrated that the area was losing too many opportunities and people with great potential.
“My plan is to grab those opportunities by the horn and develop this county into what we all know it can be.”
• Wendy Cominsky, of Dallas Township, a hairdresser and owner of Au Salon in Dallas, said she has volunteered as an activist for many years to make the world a better place.
“I hope to get on other side of the desk. I think it might be more effective. I’m definitely the voice of the average person.”
• John Gadomski, of Wyoming, who has worked in the carpentry and contracting field for 44 years, said he wants to provide construction management and business experience and serve with a council that has members from various work backgrounds and walks of life.
“This is what we need in county government — diversity,” he said. “That’s where you’re going to have a stronger government.”
• Philip Gianfarcaro, of Pittston, owner and operator of Phil’s Clip Joint in Pittston, said the election is about the people of the county.
“To paraphrase a great president, it’s not what the county can do for me. It’s what I can do for the county.”
• Linda McClosky Houck, of Kingston, a teacher and county council member since 2012, said she has provided a voice of reason and believes council meetings that are lengthy and sometimes messy are a positive because major decisions that impact lives are too important to be rushed.
“I don’t want a cut-and-dried decision that’s made in public when all the wrangling went on behind the scenes.”
• David Popiak, of Hazleton, owner and operator of Hydrodynamics in Hazle Township, said his neutrality and business experience would be an asset.
“I’d like to give back to the county that gave me the opportunity to succeed in life.”
• Sheila Saidman, of Kingston, a retired lawyer who has worked as a county assistant district attorney, legal counsel for various entities and in private law practice, said she would work with council colleagues to build consensus, do what’s right and make fiscally sound decisions.
“I’d be ready and put my game face on to work as a full-time employee for county council every day and any day.”
• Matthew Vough, of Pittston, marketing manager at Keystone Automotive Operations Inc. in Exeter, said he decided to run because the area is important to him and he he saw the negative effects of corruption and ineffective leadership.
“We’ve come a long way, but it’s time to take us to the next level. We all need to buy in, regardless of party.”
The remaining Democratic candidate, Hanover Township resident James Watkinson Jr., a general manager at Metz Culinary Management in Dallas, did not attend the forum. Also absent was Republican candidate Stephen J. Urban, of Wilkes-Barre, an IT support coordinator and prior county councilman for four years
The closing statements from the four Republican council candidates at the forum:
• Marc Dixon, of Wright Township, business development director for Kodak Alaris in the Americas, said he’s running to continue growth and progress because he chose to settle here and wants others to stick around.
“I think it’s a great opportunity. You can either sit on the sidelines or you can get involved, and I chose to get involved.”
• Harry Haas, of Kingston, a teacher and county council member since 2012, said serving residents has been a joy, and he wants to continue pushing for blight reduction and increased funding for state and federal mandates.
“I think this place is worth fighting for. I think Luzerne County is the best place to live in the United States of America, and I’ve seen a lot of it.”
• Chris Perry, of Fairview Township, a retired Hazleton Area School District athletic director and teacher, said he has the experience and temperament to work with council members and the public and won’t disappoint voters.
“I will make sure that every vote I make is in the best interest of the people of Luzerne County. I’m retired. This will be my full-time job.”
• Gregory Wolovich Jr., of Newport Township, a food selector for Wegmans Food Markets, said he would work with other council members and be accessible to constituents.
“Your voices need to be heard over all others,” he said to the audience.