Oh, yeah, "More on that later today." More on Tom Leighton, it was. Yeah, well that was before work went and interupted my plans. For those of you here in Amerika, "work" is a term used by some people to denote that they have a job. It's kind of little-used in the U.S. of late.
7 a.m. to 7 p.m. yesterday. It hasn't gotten much press, but there is a huge outbreak of bed bugs in this area. Huge. If you even hear those two words used in conjunction wih each other, bed and bugs, run screaming just as fast as you can.
Anyway, my thoughts on Mayor Tom Leighton's decision to run for the retiring Ray Musto's seat in the state senate.
My thoughts drift back to when the post-Agnes reconstruction of Wilkes-Barre was complete. 1975? Perhaps 1976. Somewhere in there. When the rebuilding of the city was complete, it was new and shiny from end-to-end, top-to-bottom. New streets, new curbs, new streetlights, new storm sewers, new sidewalks and a new-look downtown. A hustling and bustling downtown, in fact. For a while, that is.
As far as I'm concerned, from that point until the year 2000, no elected or appointed official in Wilkes-Barre City earned their salaries, benefits and perks. Not a one of them. And I've always likened what happened to Wilkes-Barre during that protracted and painful down slide as a pilot putting his aircraft on auto-pilot. In other words, as the city's infrastructure and outlook all but collapsed, and while it's downtown was all but deserted and left for dead and it's while finances were frittered away, no one at City Hall did much of anything to counteract that disastrous slide into insignificance.
Proof that the city was on it's own, on auto-pilot if you will was pallet after pallet after pallet of unused red paver bricks I found languishing far, far to the rear of the DPW property. Paver bricks that had been piled there for thirty-odd years while the faded and battered paver bricks in the downtown were missing, broken or uneven and causing untold numbers of claims against and law suits to be filed against the city. We had the replacement bricks. The entire time, we had the capability to easily repair those disheveled downtown sidewalks. But nobody ever bothered to make it happen.
It should be noted that one exception was former mayor Tom McGroarty, a man long on ideas but woefully short on execution. He had some good ideas, he had the drive and the fire in his belly, but his my-way-or-the-highway approach led to umpteen failed projects, massive unpaid debts and a city staring down the barrel of the bankruptcy gun, evidenced by the fact that the incoming Leighton administration's first official act in January 2004 was the floating of a $10.4 million bond to pay off the previous administration's overdue, unpaid debts. By the way, $5.3 million of which was to settle the debts for the muddy theatre hole, or the Holeplex as I always called it.
By the time Tom Leighton took possession of the keys to City Hall, the infrastructure was an absolute shattered mess, the finances were non-existent, and the city's bond rating was in the sunken storm sewers. The police department's manpower had dwindled to the point where we could not capably patrol a city of this size. The fire department was operating out of rusted, tired, aging vehicles that the Mogadishu F.D. would reject. Collectively, the then five firehouses needed millions upon millions in upgrades and repairs.
The downtown was all but abandoned, except for the persistent prostitutes and their ever-circling clientele. The neighborhoods were suffering through reverse-gentrification the likes of which we had never seen, let alone ever imagined happening here. We all know about the well-documented suicidal streetlights taking flying leaps to the ground below. Never did I ever think a city as a whole could be embarrassed and mocked over streetlights, but we were.
Kirby Park was such a deplorable mess as the 4th of July 2003 approached, that my company closed our local office for a day and all of our employees spent the entire day raking and sawing and cutting and bagging and trimming and on and on it went. As was documented through pictures by none other than myself, Coal Street Park looked as if it belonged in Cabrini Greene. It was broken, bowed, stripped, splintered, overgrown and covered with obscenities by way of the graffiti "artists" of the area.
I could go on and on, but I don't want to spend an entire day typing.
The long and short of it is, the infrastructure has been repaired, albeit, maybe not as fast as some of the more impatient people would like. The finances as well as the bond rating have been stabilized. The police department has been bolstered by some thirty-plus officers, in addition to countless new vehicles. The fire department has a fleet of new vehicles, two remodeled firehouses and a brand new one located in my neck of the northern woods.
The downtown is jamming. And producing revenue, I might add. The long lost projects of the McGroarty years are all being completed, one by one. With that said, more are scheduled to begin soon. Piece by piece, building by building, blight is being slowly removed from our neighborhoods. Both of the long-abandoned, long-shuttered Murray complexes are being removed from the landscape. The Pine Ridge development has brought new, energy-efficient homes into the urban mix. Coal Street Park is about to celebrate it's rebirth. Wilkes-Barre will be ground zero for the AHL Penguins. Kirby Park has regained it's former luster.
We now have a remodeled River Common beckoning people to rediscover the Susquehanna River. We have 14 screens by which to enjoy a movie within walking distance of most of our homes. We still have hopes of seeing the mothballed Hotel Sterling brought back to it's former glory, but as a mixed-use facility. The corner of North and Main, a busy thoroughfare through the heart of the city, is no longer an abandoned amalgam of blight and urban decay on display for all to see when they knife their way through the city.
Again, I could go on and on. But I won't.
With all of that noted, too many of us mocked the man, Tom Leighton. Too many of us couldn't buy into his vision when he asked us to believe. But when you consider where we were (weren't) in 2003 and how far we've come since, it's hard not to believe him when he tells us that he'd be a man on a mission in Harrisburg.
And when it comes to comparing resumes and recent achievements, I wouldn't want to be John Yudichak right about now. Nor would I want to be him when next we vote.
Personally, I'd prefer that Tom Leighton stay right here in Wilkes-Barre. But I put my trust and faith in him once and was greatly rewarded, speaking as a resident of Wilkes-Barre. And if he thinks the next logical step is Harrisburg, I will put my trust and faith in him once again. Because the way I see it, throughout the entirety of my mostly wasted life, he's the one person, the only person that did anything especially noteworthy for Wilkes-Barre.
The thing is, I still believe.