Scranton City Council and the next four years. Election Day – May 16th 2023
A lot is on the table this year for Scranton’s City Council. With three seats open it’s an unusual year.
This election has a unique election run as the former Council President, Kyle Donahue resigned early and took up the position of District 113 representative in Pennsylvania in 2022, leaving his remaining years of the City Council position open. Gerald Smurl was appointed temporarily to the remaining year, until an election would be held for the entire remaining time in Mr Donahue’s position.
First we look at Gerald Smurl, seeking continuation after appointment.
Mr Smurl was one of five applicants for the council position, of the five, one failed to appear for review / questioning before council and one was disqualified by former legal convictions. Mr Smurl was known for working on the Nay Aug Park as part of the Recreational Board. As a Member of the board he was the city’s contact to shut down the leaking two swimming pools and in the end, allow or fail to challenge the removal of the sliding board.
Mr Smurl during his bid for the remaining year on the City Council open seat, assured the council, he would stop any city contracts he had, to prevent conflicts of interests, though it has been noted during his term, the City Hall air conditioning system has been and is being improved by the ARPA relief funds and Smurl’s contractor truck has been observed outside the building.
Mr Smurl has been seen as a champion for the mayor, and has stood firm in supporting Geisenger/CMC to allow 100 foot buildings in a targeted residential zone, and ignore over a year of political complaint and an outcry, not only from the directly impacted Hill Section residents group, but also supported by both Green Ridge and South Scranton Neighborhood Groups.
Part of this disconnect from the peoples vision and bowing to mayoral vision, is shown by failure to challenge the unlawful removal of the pool slide in the dead of the night under his watch, it is amplified by the down to the last minute change, in voting for the zoning amendments, as it had become a lost cause. While in favor of giving Geisenger everything it wanted, ignoring the populous, the week prior to the final vote… Smurl decided on his own, to take an agreement that was in place to lower a targeted zoning from 100 feet height cap to 45 foot one. (already noted that Geisenger can apply for a variance later) and create a new idea after a year.
On his own he decided to submit a “split the child” 70 foot height cap change. All four other Council members, 3 who were up for re-election had already under growing protest, adjusted the vote to a 45 foot per the negotiated terms. Smurl was angry that council would not consider his mediation, so he voted out of spite “no” to the community’s needs and lost four to one.
With the vote and his objection already lost, the following week he decided to change his position for the final vote, the week before election.
Jessica Rothchild is the next member up for election.
Jessica has had a hard time as she ran under, and is very visible in the LGBTQ+ community in a conservative area. Scranton, like a lot of communities, has a lot of younger and new outside populations moving in, who are more comfortable and more verbal with a push for not only inclusion, but moreover a push for shifting the view to be more directed to the LGBTQ+ community and less from other groups.
Some hardliners have attacked her for her positions and for her constant voting and being complicit as a rubber stamp for the first female mayor. Some of this is unwarranted.
Dr. Rothchild has been called out, even as she denies it, on the constant speeches on gun violence and horrific acts, and we all agree with this, but she been caught selectively and specifically speaking out on these acts when it involves a bar or establishment or group under the LGBTQ+ community and hate crimes banner. The community member who spoke was a conservative tilting person, but has a point, that Dr. Rothchild is a member elected to represent the entire community…
“If she wants to call out acts of gun violence, she needs to do it across the board, as gun violence is not restricted to one group”, we all suffer and to constantly select one group to speak out and not addressing it for others, when others are impacted, is discomforting.
A lot of the real political issues stem less out of diversity, but her being seen as a “Yes” vote for the mayor, This was expressed in a vote to approve a board seat that the mayor let lapse. The mayor has 30 days to fill an open spot, after that 30 days it returns to City Council and both bodies work in Tandem selecting a candidate. Dr. Rothchild verbalized her supporting both sides of the position in saying that “it was the mayors pick, and she was happy to allow her to choose” (though inaccurate after 30 days) and she would defer, and then saying she was not a puppet and vetted each candidate, though no one believes that, as the second statement is in direct conflict of the first.
It also has to be noted, that during the Geisenger zoning issue, she attended many neighborhood community meetings with Geisenger and even as part of that community, continued to vote in opposition to the community she lives in, to support the mayors and the corporate agenda. After a year of support of Geisenger and voting No to any community change request, she changed her vote and agreed with the amendment she voted down multiple times, three weeks before the election.
Mark McAndrew the last current member of council looking to retain his seat.
Mr McAndrew has been noted by some of the community as an obstructionist. he is one of the first to step up and complain on procedural issues and some grants and funding.
Mr McAndrew has been vocal about positions that have been filled by the administration, Less on who needed to fill the spot… but how it’s filled. When the person who held the spot resigned. His “no” vote was often done due to filling the position and the long procedural delay (sometimes accompanied by a “Mea Culpa” document) in reporting for approval and pre-filling under the constant emergency use.
Some of the candidates have been the most qualified, a good fit and as the spot was empty and was a critical steering position, and the urgency was possibly true… procedures may have been less important, than the need to fill it on a timely basis, but the procedures are not just for convenience and he is right in pointing that out.
McAndrew has been open to community needs, has been responsive with the community, but he has been at odds with the administration. He has been willing to call out issues and vote them down, but has been unwilling to follow through and spearhead any action to prevent these activities from continuing.
Part of the disfavor is lack of follow through of the objections, as he is constantly struck down by a partisan loss by a 3 to 2 vote. He produces a verbal complaint and states, we can’t let this happen again, completes no follow up and it repeats itself.
Wrapping it up, all of council, including those not up for election, share a spotlight on a stain of lack of resolve in position. We have seen a lack of council leadership, as they are the legislative body, but they have never produced a single legislative action, we see they serve as a pass-through for grants and will approve almost anything, because the city gets 1% of any grant as a “servicing kickback”. We have seen outright breaking of the city code as the Mayors office not only removed the Nay Aug slide without the recreational authority’s approval but completely sidestepped City Council… and in this, we have seen Council abdicate it’s authority in health and safety to the mayors office, hiding during the pandemic and allowing a private hospital to provide a City Health Coordinator (when the city has no health department) and handing the purview of it to the mayor.
(for those not aware, under the City Charter – all public health concerns are the purview of City Council, all regulations and all actions. the mayors office is granted executive power to carry out the directives of City Council in all health matters. The mayor in making emergency COVID orders, shutdowns and suspension of rules, emergency appointments, were all done improperly as City Council was the legal body.)
This election has the potential of changing the course of the city, of making City Council once again an independent body, or it has the potential to turn it into a rubber stamp, politics as usual providing automatic approval and not the “separate but equal position” it was designed to be. This election will lock in a path, for good or bad, for the next four years.