Over the 20-plus years since I arrived in Our Stiff Neck of the Woods, a few features of the political firmament seemed as constant as the constellations that grace the night sky:
■ Voter apathy is Northeast Pennsylvania’s most self-destructive vice, and government corruption and crony capitalism are its most profitable industries.
■ Louis DeNaples gets what’s good for him, and gets to decide what’s “good enough” for everyone else.
■ Patrick “Nibs” Loughney is the Mayor of Dunmore for Life.
To varying degrees, these constants were challenged in Tuesday’s primary election. Lackawanna County voters sent at least 13 incumbents packing and sent a message to pandering politicians and perennial power brokers: We expect those we elect to serve the common good, not a select few. We will no longer accept the historically disastrous status quo, and we will vote accordingly.
Consider yourselves forewarned.
The Dunmore mayoral race is a clear-cut case study of the changing political landscape. Councilman Tim Burke apparently bested Nibs by three votes. The final count could change the outcome, but there is no question that Nibs’ support for the proposed 40-plus-year expansion of Keystone Sanitary Landfill raised a stink with truckloads of voters.
I like Nibs. Always have. I haven’t always liked his positions or his politics, but I have never doubted that he loves Dunmore and wants to be a great mayor. That’s why his support for the landfill expansion is so troubling. Nothing could be a bigger threat to the shared future of the borough and region, yet Nibs stands with DeNaples at the eternal expense of Dunmore and Throop, which also hosts part of the landfill.
Nibs is right when he says Dunmore is a great place to live, but dead wrong when he asserts that the borough will remain so with another 100 million tons of mostly out-of-state garbage dumped on it. This ridiculous notion is why Burke — who ran on his opposition to the landfill expansion — may be the first new mayor of Dunmore since 1993.
‘It’s not over yet’
Nibs has been in office for nearly a quarter of a century. That’s a long time, but only slightly more than half as long as the proposed landfill expansion. I spoke with Nibs on Thursday, and while he acknowledged that the landfill was a defining issue, he said “very low turnout” also hurt his chances.
Actually, 45 percent of Dunmore Democrats cast ballots Tuesday, far higher than the 33 percent turnout by Democrats countywide, according to election statistics. Republican turnout was 29 percent countywide.
Nibs called Burke an old friend who ran a good campaign, but he was not ready to concede with such a small margin and the official count starting Friday.
“It’s not over yet,” Nibs said. “With every official count, some people lose votes and some people gain votes. Hopefully, we can turn this thing around.”
I spoke with Burke on Friday as the count was underway. He was cautiously optimistic that his victory would stand, but said win or lose, he was proud to be the vehicle for putting the landfill expansion back on the political map.
“That’s the only reason I ran,” Burke said. “If (Nibs) stood up against the landfill, I never would have been in the race.”
Instead, Nibs stood up against Dunmore, a borough he dreamed of leading as a boy. In the process, he may have sacrificed his status as mayor for life. The spike in voter turnout in Dunmore is just the latest empirical evidence that support for the landfill expansion is toxic to even the sturdiest of political careers.
More importantly, it reflects the power and promise of informed, inspired citizens who refuse to settle for “good enough” while Louis DeNaples gets what’s good for him.
Nibs was right. This isn’t over yet.
CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, congratulates everyone who stood up and voted Tuesday. Contact the writer: [email protected] Read his award-winning blog at timestribuneblogs.com/kelly.