(Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in a recent issue of the Sunday Dispatch.)
PITTSTON — It was in 1997 that Michael Lombardo was first elected city mayor. Twenty years later, he is returning to that office.
Lombardo was recently elected new city mayor, winning 918 votes to his opponent Charles Bufalino’s 298 during the general election on Nov. 7.
He ran with Councilmen Ken Bangs and his cousin Michael Lombardo, Esq.
“At the end of the day, we were happy,” Lombardo said of his victory. “We got together a little bit that night and celebrated. I said on election night I had a coach that used to say ‘When you get in the endzone, act like you’ve been there before.’ We’ve all been here before and we know the reality that Tuesday night was fun, and Wednesday morning we start thinking about work.”
Lombardo’s first term was from 1998 to 2005. He elected not to run for a third term because he wanted to spend more time with his family, particularly his two daughters who both recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame.
He said he has no regrets about stepping away when he did.
“That was really the main reason,” he said of not running for a third term. “My daughters were coming into their teenage years and were involved in sports, and I really didn’t want to have to make hard choices. I’m glad I made that choice. It was the right choice, and now here we are 12 years later and they’re done with college and moving onward in their adult lives. I have more time and I’m ready to give my full energy again.”
Lombardo said he never thought he would return to office after 20 years and didn’t have an exact reason for wanting to run as mayor again.
“I liked being mayor because I cared about it, and I think we got things done,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about coming back; in fact, it was the farthest thing from my mind. But, after sitting down and talking to (current mayor) Jason (Klush) and talking to my cousin a little bit, and looking at the lay of the land, I thought it would be a good opportunity to transition into where we go the next four years from now.”
When not in office, Lombardo remained involved with the city as a member of the Housing Authority and the Redevelopment Authority.
He has to relinquish his seat on those boards, but intends to remain involved with both of them.
Because of his continued involvement with the city, Lombardo believes his transition back into the mayoral spot will be easier this time around.
“There’s no learning curve now,” he said. “The good news is that, 20 years later, I come into this job with a ton of experience, and also sort of the road map of where we need to go and where we need help with things. I’ve built relationships, not just for myself, but for the city.”
Lombardo has also overseen projects such as the recent Luzerne County Community College Satellite Campus coming to Main Street.
“The implications of a couple hundred students downtown for our food places and our little shops is critical,” he said. “We’re going to continue to try and build critical mass with people downtown, and focus on residential downtown and the neighborhoods that back up into our downtown.”
Another project Lombardo tackled both during and after his first run as mayor was the revitalization of downtown Pittston that included renovating buildings that house businesses such as Napoli’s Pizza and art projects such as the Inspiration Mural.
He also spearheaded getting the Pittston Memorial Library its own building, as it was previously located in the basement of City Hall.
With the downtown revitalization a success, Lombardo said he’s ready to emulate that success with a new initiative that tackles the upper part of Pittston.
“We’re jumping north on the next Streetscape Project to the last city street and we’re going to start working backwards in the junction section,” he said. “I’ve always believed that we need to connect the junction section to the downtown, and we started to actively do that, now. We’ve got some projects lined up in that area.”
Art projects will also be included in the uptown revitalization, such as the Pittston Mural that was completed in September.
Lombardo said the biggest thing he wants to do is continue to work on surrounding neighborhoods and parks in the city, and not worry too much about the downtown area.
“What I don’t personally want to do as much anymore is focus the vast majority of my energy on downtown,” he said. “I think there are enough other stewards within city administration and within city council that can do that. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot that I don’t want to continue to do. I think we’ve got a clear understanding of what are the neat things we have to do in the neighborhoods in terms of the parks.”
Lombardo won’t be sworn in as mayor until January, but said he’s doing everything he can to prepare himself for his new term.
“I want to get my feet back on the ground in terms of interacting with some of the other elects and get the ground work stuff out of the way,” he said. “I want to enjoy the rest of this year and enjoy the holidays with my family, and then just be ready to work.”
With Lombardo set to hold office for the next four years, he said he’s not sure if it will be a one-and-done term as he plans to take things one step at a time.
“I think that’ll be a decision three years from now, whenever we make that decision, I want to see where I am in my life,” he said. “I want to see what my cousin is thinking, what the rest of this council is thinking, and I want to make sure we do a good job. If I don’t do a good job, I don’t deserve to run again. It’ll figure itself out, but I’m never saying never.”
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Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher