4 set sights on city council
An incumbent, a former councilman, an independent and a political newcomer intend to run for two council seats in Hazleton.
At least four people so far have expressed interest in running for seats that are held by President Robert Gavio and two-term Councilwoman Jean Mope.
Gavio, a Democrat who’s approaching the conclusion of his first term on council, said Thursday he is not seeking re-election.
Incumbent Democrat Mope said she intends to seek a third term. The field of candidates also includes Democrat and former council president Jack Mundie; Scott Cahalane, who ran in 2015 for mayor and plans to run for council as a nonaffiliated/independent candidate; and political newcomer and Republican Lauren Sacco.
The candidates said they plan to run just a few days before the Luzerne County election bureau will make nominating petition packets available. Candidates can begin circulating the petitions on Feb. 19 and continue working through March 12 to collect the 100 signatures they need to ensure themselves a spot on the ballot.
As a nonaffiliated candidate, Cahalane will not appear on the ballot for the primary. He can secure a spot on the ballot for the general election.
The two-term incumbent said that if she’s re-elected, she’ll continue working in the best interest of the city and its taxpayers.
“The safety and welfare of Hazleton residents are my utmost concern,” she said. “I always tried to be fair with the workers and employees of the city.”
Mope said the city must “stick to the laws … and follow them more closely than what has been done in the past.”
As a member of council, Mope said she supported applications for gaming grants that paid for improvements at the highway garage, worked to keep tax rates as low as possible and promoted Community Development programs that paid for home and boiler repairs for eligible residents.
She opposes the sale of the water system, which is overseen by Hazleton City Authority. Its sale has been floated in the past by some administrators as a way to generate revenue.
“My main concern has always been for keeping our authorities in the city’s hands,” she said. “I don’t want to see the rates increase.”
Mope said she also opposes a fee that administrators are considering for maintaining the storm water system.
Mundie, who served as a councilman for 16 years before he fell short in a reelection bid in 2017, said he disagrees with tax increases that a new slate of council members implemented as soon as it took office.
“When the new council got in, the first thing they did, they raised taxes 30 percent,” he said. “I don’t think the answer to everything is to keep raising taxes on everybody. You’ll chase everyone out of Hazleton when you have taxes that just keep going up and up. There’s other solutions.”
The double-digit tax hike followed a four-year period where taxes did not increase — and differences that a former council majority had with the administration over money from land sales and other short-term fixes that did not materialize.
Mundie contends that the city could’ve avoided the Act 47 program had the administration followed budgets that were presented during his tenure on council.
He believes tax increases hit property owners in Hazleton harder, since homes have been selling below assessed value. Wage taxes have also increased under the recovery plan, he said.
As a member of council, Mundie said he worked to eliminate a maintenance fee for the stormwater system a few years ago — and remains opposed to the fee. He said state legislators should be working to change mandates that are required of Pennsylvania municipalities.
“It was ridiculous when it was first implemented,” he said. “I’m totally against that and would fight that with everything I have.”
Mundie also served nine years on the board of directors for Hazleton City Authority. During his tenure, the authority built its filtration plant, worked to save the Markle building from the wrecking ball and built a pipeline to the Lehigh River.
Sacco said her experience with various volunteer organizations and her support for revitalization projects helped shape her vision and hone leadership skills for serving in city government.
“For years I have been at the forefront helping improve and return our city to its former glory,” Sacco said in a statement released Saturday. “As a lifelong resident I have always tried to be hands on in the revitalization of Hazleton. My family roots are planted in this town for generations. With the opportunity to become your councilwoman, I will put my hard work ethics and devotion back into our community.”
Sacco believes the city is heading in the right direction but needs “the right pieces” in place to allow for further growth and development.
The Harrison Street resident is involved in numerous local business ventures, including Vito’s Lawn Care & Landscaping, Frankie’s Pizzeria & Restaurant and Sacco Chiropractic.
Cahalane said he plans to run on views and a platform similar to when he ran as an independent candidate for mayor in 2015 — and introduce new ideas that will help the city transition out of Act 47.
“If elected, I’m going to bring to city council a fresh face, positive attitude, new ideas and most importantly a real desire to help the citizens and the city move forward into 2020 and beyond,” Cahalane said. “No matter who wins or what happens we all must work as one.”
Gavio, who finished as top vote-getter when he ran for a council seat in 2015, said he’ll serve the remaining few months of his term and step away to devote more time to his family.
“I’m going on four years (on council),” he said. “I want to spend more time with my grandchildren.”
Gavio called his time as a councilman “interesting,” saying the governing body was continuously faced with difficult choices in the years leading to — and after — Hazleton was declared a distressed community under state Act 47.
“There were times tough decisions had to be made,” he said. “The hardest thing is I don’t want to take money out of people’s pockets when they are struggling to pay for things themselves.”
Gavio believes those difficult decisions have put the city on a path to financial recovery.
“We’re on the upswing,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get out (of Act 47) as soon as possible.”
Gavio said that while he did not always agree with the views of his fellow council members, he worked well with all of them.
“I get along with them all,” he said. “The previous council — we disagreed on a lot of things but sometimes you’ve got to agree to disagree. You get to vote and then you move on. You never make it personal.”