PITTSTON — Upon first glance, Jason Klush doesn’t look like a city mayor.
The 41-year-old is often seen in jeans, sandals, and t-shirts that show off his tattoos. And, if you‘re to ask him, that’s the way he prefers to be.
“I think I’m just a regular person,” Klush said. “I have a background in construction, I have a background with criminal justice, I’m dealing with people everyday — I think it’s better to be like that. I don’t think I should be a stuffy guy in a suit all the time. I think you get more out of people when you’re just in your work clothes talking to them and they don’t know who you are.”
After two years at the the helm of Pittston City, Klush is preparing for life as “just a regular person,” having elected not to run for a third term.
With only a few days left before his term’s conclusion, he finds it emotional to think about not being in office anymore.
“It’s hard to talk about because, right now, I have mixed emotions,” he said. “I’m still going to be involved (with the city), but I still have mixed emotions leaving.”
Klush is a 1995 graduate of Pittston Area High School and earned a degree in Criminal Justice Sociology from East Stroudsburg University.
He almost joined the Border Patrol, but was told to get his eyes fixed, and he elected not to.
“I didn’t get my eyes fixed, so I stayed here and kept on working construction,” he said.
He started working with Hadley Construction in Pittston, with whom he still works with today.
Klush was elected mayor of Pittston at the age of 33 in 2010, making him the youngest mayor in the history of the city.
“I’ve always lived here,” he said of Pittston. “I’m not political, but I’m more of a people person and I wanted to make changes. There were people who entertained the idea to me about it, if I would like to run. I thought about it and I said I’d like to do it.”
During his tenure, Klush worked hard to organize a team of professionals to run the city and he feels he put together the best team ever.
“You have to bring in the right people and people who know what they’re doing,” he said. “In the past, a lot of people who were running towns and boroughs weren’t qualified. But, we brought in actual professionals. Our code enforcement has become one of the biggest parts of the city and one of the biggest parts of cleaning up the neighborhoods.”
Klush and his team tackled several projects during his tenure whether it was constructing buildings or demolishing them to make way for new ones.
He also ensured that parks were cleaned and renovated, such as Jefferson Park and Sullivan Park, which is currently undergoing renovations.
“It’s a prime example of our code enforcement cleaning the neighborhoods up and us actually caring about what goes on in the neighborhoods.”
The city’s revitalization began during Mike Lombardo’s tenure as mayor in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Klush kept the revitalization going with the help of Lombardo, former Main Street Manager Rose Randazzo and other faces in the city.
“I leaned on Mike a lot,” Klush said. “He led me in the right direction and he helped me a lot. There was a learning curve.”
With so much happening over the years, Klush said it’s hard to pinpoint one specific thing of which he is most proud
“A lot has happened,” he said. “I can’t focus on one thing because there’s been so much that’s happened over the years. It’s been a team effort and a great team effort.”
In addition to cleaning up parks and neighborhoods, Klush works closely with the city’s police department.
He said he brought in police chief Robert Powers and works closely with him on many issues, but has complete trust in Powers.
“I elected (Powers) to become chief and, whenever I need anything, he’s right there and whenever something is going on, he’ll always contact me,” Klush said. “That was his department. If I thought something was going wrong and should be changed, I’d give him info from the people around town. As far as putting my hands in there, that’s not me; that’s his job. If there’s something important, then I’ll intervene. I think he’s done a wonderful job.”
Klush’s tenure wasn’t all smooth, as difficult decisions, such as raising wage taxes on more than one occasion, had to be made.
“Nobody wants to raise taxes,” he said. “I never wanted to raise taxes where the elderly are affected and we haven’t done that. We pretty much raised the wage taxes because we figured people who are working, like myself, can spare a couple bucks. We have a pension problem in the city and we have to fix it. It’s not going to go away. It’s here to stay and we have to fix it.”
With much to be proud of, Klush’s decision to not resume his role as mayor was a difficult one, but one he had to make for his family.
He has two young children — daughter Avrie, 9, and son Jaxson, 2 — and his wife, Dana, with whom he wants to spend time.
Klush said he’ll take a role on the Redevelopment Authority and will remain with the North East Land Bank Authority and the Greater Pittston Compost Facility.
He also said no one should be surprised if he’s in attendance at the first city council meeting in January.
“I may come to the first couple,” he said with laugh. “I don’t know.”
If there’s a way to describe his tenure as mayor, Klush said it’s been a “roller coaster.”
“It was a very eye-opening experience,” he said. “You learn a lot when you’re just coming into it. I knew the workings, but it was a very special experience. I met a lot of people and we got a lot done. It was amazing.”
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher