3-14-2004 The time is now

There isn't a bone in your body that isn't Republican. Only the bone that is attached to Tom Leighton's ass.--Ethel Hozniak, from the Wilkes-Barre Now II forum

Let us follow this completely illogical position. If I dare to wholeheartedly criticize a Democrat, John Kerry, I'm obviously one of those no good Republicans. And yet, If I unequivocally support a Democrat, Tom Leighton, I'm a no good Log Cabin Republican. What's a hatemongering, right-winger to do?

I see the "Muni," the Wilkes-Barre Golf Club made the front page of the Leader again. Christine Katsock, president of the four strong Wilkes-Barre Taxpayers Association has proposed selling the course to lower the city's outstanding debts. Our former mayor brought this up quite a few times whenever he also needed some quick press. Once again, this is much to do about nothing. This is about a candidate for elected office continuing to build some name recognition. Vote for me, I raise hell.

The Wilkes-Barre Taxpayers Association has estimated the city's outstanding debts to be in excess of $51 million and I'm not contesting that figure. If we sold off our single biggest asset for $4 million, that money would barely make a dent in the outstanding debt. That's short-sighted thinking and quite frankly, it's very close to being knuckleheaded. If there's one criticism of the muni that sticks, it's that it's under-ultilized and most probably being mismanaged. It's bucolic, it's picturesque, it's expansive and it should be attracting larger crowds and producing revenue for the city.

If there's an adult in Luzerne County that does not own a set of golf clubs, I have yet to meet them. Golf is wildly popular in these parts. Does this not also suggest that the muni has yet untapped potential? And then there's the idea to build a banquet facility on that property. Just imagine having your daughters wedding reception at such a beautiful locale. We could also attract untold numbers of folks looking to stage a seminar when they're not playing golf. Are we seeing dollar signs yet?

Selling the muni at this time sounds suspiciously similar to the idea of removing the canopy in our downtown. None of us seem quite sure what needs to be done, but we ought to do something and do it now. That's the type of thinking that could compound our previous big mistakes with even more big mistakes. According to Mayor Leighton, 2004 was supposed to be the year where we would take baby steps while we get our financial house back in order. Let's stick to the tiny steps and ignore the folks crying out for some wild leaps until we know what's what and what we're going to be financially capable of. Let's give it some time.

Yeah, I know, Scranton sold their golf course for a couple of million and Scranton has made an almost unbelievable turnaround during the past few years. But I've seen Scranton's golf course and it was feeble at best when compared to the Wilkes-Barre course. We don't need to mimic what our neighbors have done. Our former mayor tried to copy nearly everything Williamsport did and we already know where that got us. Tom Leighton, with the help of council, has already done everything possible to increase revenues to the city. Are we to believe that he's not going to demand that the muni needs to start generating some income?

And we also need to seriously consider the usual sources of all of this limitless wisdom whereas the city's future is concerned. Christine Katsock has run for city council, the school board, the mayoralship, and now she's after Kevin Blaum's comfy perch. Her claim to fame is having attended meetings faithfully for quite some time. The fact of the matter is, I rarely attend any politico meetings and she ain't got nothing on me other than getting her name in the paper on a frequent basis. There's that name recognition factor again. When she targets another elected office she wants, people read about it and recognize her name. Hmmm. If you or I ran for elected office, the hoi polloi would go, "Who?" Her opinion of where we're at, or where we're going should count for no more than mine. Actually, her opinion should count for less. I've been employed full-time since I was 15 years-old and I have years worth of management experience.

If I remember correctly, we elected Leighton as our new mayor and not Katsock. Why don't we just give him a chance to work his magic and ignore her until she runs for congress. Or the senate. Or president.

So. One of our larger rowhomes went Poof! last night. At 6:28 pm, headquarters was toned, cleared house, and was sent to 217 N. Main street for a report of a "fire in the apartment." After the hose dudes arrived on scene, they had nothing but questions fo the 911 dispatcher. Basically, they wanted to know if 911 had dispatched this call to the correct community. "My call taker is on the phone. I can't access her tapes," was the response.

Then, after a frightfully long eleven minutes came the call from 911, "217 E. Northampton street. Confirmed structure fire." If that's not bad enough, the initial report was that there was a possible entrapment of two individuals. Within minutes, the second alarm was sounded, everyone in the structure was accounted for, and off-duty fire fighters were being called in. Being that we had two of the grankids here, I resisted the urge for a spell, but eventually suited up and headed to the scene of the fire.

Go Lar!

That block is wasted. As soon as the fire was extinguished at one spot, it flared up somewhere else. And then somewhere else. And so it went. Somehow, I was surrounded by some folks who peppered me with question after question about what the fire fighters were doing and why. They heard the scanner chirping away on my bike and I think they figured I was somehow connected to fire fighting. I get that a lot. One of our hose dudes came out of the structure, sat close to me, hung his head while sweating profusely, and collected his breath. After a brief respite, he got a fresh air tank, looked at me, and said, "Go on home, Mark. It's gonna be a long night." And a long night it was. This operation was not 10-24ed until 1:08 am.

There was a fairly large crowd on hand as well as plenty of members of the media. I was planted on one side of Truck 6 and found out when I got home that my daughter Ebon was on the opposite side of Truck 6 next to the Red Cross snack truck. She saw the flames from K-Mart and wandered down for a look.

How did all of our apparatus get dispatched to the wrong address? How did that come about? If you resided at 12 Jones street and your house suddenly filled with flames, would you panic, call 911, and then tell them your address was 12 Smith street? I guess anything is possible, but that scenario seems highly unlikely to this critic of the entire 911 program.

35 people are homeless, but the good news is that no one was hurt, or killed. When you give a structure fire a fifteen minute head start, injured and, or killed are a distinct possibility. On a much, much sadder note, 2 fire fighters were killed and 29 were injured in the Pittsburgh area after a burning church collapsed on top of them yesterday, which once again proves that no structure fire is ever routine. We were very fortunate last night.

11:12 pm. Tom Makar: "Command to all fire fighters inside. Come on out, you're going home."

The dudes in Pittsburgh never received that call.

Well? Was that a kick-ass parade, or what? It might not rival Scranton's St. Patty's Day Parade just yet, but Tom Leighton's decision to move the parade from Saturday to Sunday was obviously a winner. The crowd on hand today dwarfed the crowd I saw at both the Veteran's Day and Christmas Parades. Gage and I took a slow cruise on the Rock Stomper along the entire parade route and the assembled crowd was enormous.

I also noticed that the police horses did not lead the parade for the first time in recent memory. Instead, police motorcycles led the entourage. No horse poop this time around. I found the Thompson Street crew selling Wilkes-Barre T-shirts from a folding table on the edge of the Square and the Stomper was parked. Gage was uninterested and a pain in the arse until the folks in the parade started tossing handfuls of Tootsie Roll Fruities and bubble gum. He was a bit slow to catch on to the program, but he got lots of help from a friendly teen-aged girl and my neighbor Rose. His mom will never suspect how many pounds of Fruities he consumed before we headed back to the adobe and I need to keep things that way.

Curb Dwellar

The weather was decent at first, but as the parade passed by it got colder and colder and the wind started growing in strength. The Dunkin' Donuts on the Square was mobbed from begining to end by folks seeking hot coffees. At one point, I joined them. If we were lacking for anything, it was food vendors. During what could be a cold weather parade every time out, why not sell some hot and tasty morsels?

I spied the bandshell for a while, and I gotta tell you, this was a scene I have never seen before at any Wilkes-Barre parade. Rather than having a grouping of stoic looking politicos reviewing the passing troops, the folks on that stage were hooting and hollerin' with the best of them. I've never seen so much interaction with the parade goers from the folks occupying the bandshell. I also think Tom Leighton took a picture of every single person that marched or rode in that parade.

Poor, poor Kevin Lynn. The talk jock from WILK has made no bones about his complete loathing of Wilkes-Barre, but Entercom sent the chicks to Scranton, while poor Kev had to endure an hour and a half ride through the city he so often makes fun of. I can't wait to hear his accounts of this experience tomorrow morning. My goll danged ping pong ball gun jammed on me, so he escaped this parade unscathed. Larry Newman got lucky too. Had I known he was going to be on hand...


The best musical performance obviously came from the band on the Franchelli float. My neighbor works for this outfit and he took this pic just as I returned from Dunkin' Donuts with javas in hand. I'm no Irish music expert, but these boys were jammin' away and having some fun while doing so.


If I was Tom Leighton tonight, I'd be a happy camper. This was the very first time he got to do something other than fixing something, or trying to figure how to pay for fixing something. He finally got to do something and it was well done. I'm happy for him, but I'm much more happy for Wilkes-Barre and it's chances at a bright future.

Putting on a really decent parade may not seem like much, but it's much more than we're used to in this black eye magnet of a town. As I previously mentioned, tiny steps. Rebuilding our tattered morale will do nicely until the theater opens, the Labor & Industry building opens, the dike portals open, the River Landing Museum opens, the Woolworths building reopens, the new bike shop opens, and every thing else suddenly falls into place.

Are we too used to bad news to actually believe that a big comeback might be right around the corner? I hope not, but if you were present in downtown Wilkes-Barre today, you have to be thinking that things are changing for the better. What we got down there today was a major dose of pride in one's community. Where better to start than right there?

Thompson Street T-shirt Stand

And the call to arms is about to go out to the folks that volunteered to undertake a city-wide Spring clean-up.

Face it. We're either on our way back, or some of us are poised to exhaust our next to last breath trying to make that comeback happen in earnest. And we could use a lot more help.

Some of the well-heeled folks will donate money, while most of the less well-heeled folks can offer only sweat, but we need both to remake Wilkes-Barre into one of the best cities in this state.

We can either get involved, or remain docile on the sidelines. If enough of us get involved, the big comeback might just turn out to be easier than any of us would have previously believed possible.

Come on Wilkes-Barre!

The time is now.