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Chris Kelly: Tick talk

Times-Tribune - 7/21/2019

Jul. 21--It takes a feeding tick 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bill Courtright was mayor of Scranton for nearly six years.

The grinning parasite has been removed, but the bacteria he injected into an already diseased system infects the politics that will ultimately elect his successor.

This week, city council will interview a pool of 16 candidates and then appoint Councilman Wayne Evans interim mayor. (Remember that you read it here first -- before it happened!)

Evans will serve until the end of the year, when the winner of a November special election will take over and finish the two years-plus left in Courtright's reign of error.

Evans vowed that if (when) he's appointed interim mayor, he won't run in the special election, which will feature candidates picked by the executive committees of the Lackawanna County Democratic and Republican parties. Outsiders can join the race, but the winner and the runner-up will have an insurmountable head-start.

Under ideal circumstances, the process would play out over at least a year. This is Scranton and the clock is ticking, so we'll do it the old way and hope for different results.

The same two-ring flea circus that produced Courtright will pick the candidates for the special election. What could go wrong?

Two words: Bob Sheridan.

The county Democratic committee is expected to select a candidate based on recommendations from the city Democratic committee. Sheridan is the chairman of that august cluster, and a stubborn relic of the patronage politics that has plagued the city's public institutions for decades.

Over two calamitous terms on the Scranton School Board, Sheridan was a key contributor to the district's financial ruin, from voting for the no-bid, no-see busing contract with DeNaples Transportation to looking the other way while former "fleet manager" Dan Sansky and his wife received taxpayer-funded health benefits despite never being actual employees of the district.

Sansky pleaded guilty last month to one felony count of theft by deception for his part in charging taxpayers for work on the private vehicles of district employees and their families. His plea agreement includes six to 23 1/2 months in Lackawanna County Prison.

Sheridan was school board president in 2016 and 2017. His eight years on the board figure prominently in an ongoing criminal corruption investigation.

Voters emphatically expelled Sheridan in the 2017 May primary. Local Democratic Party officials should have dumped him, too. Sheridan and his committee should be shut out of this process.

Courtright is a Democrat, which some Republicans see as a crime on par with the three corruption felonies he pleaded guilty to. This is based on the widespread belief that Democrats have overwhelmingly piloted Scranton's downward spiral through recent history.

Since 1961, however, the parties have nearly even representation in the mayor's office. Since JFK was elected president, Scranton has had four Republican mayors and five Democratic mayors, although Jimmy Connors wore the "R" mostly as a party mask.

Today's county Republicans don't have a deep bench. Republican Committee Chairman Lance Stange must be indescribably relieved that outgoing Lackawanna County Commissioner Laureen Cummings lives in Old Forge.

With Cummings disqualified and Evans bowing out, the GOP frontrunner is probably Jim Mulligan, who lost to Courtright twice.

In 2013, Mulligan's campaign was hamstrung by a history of delinquent fees and tax liens. In 2017, Courtright tagged Mulligan for accepting health insurance for which he was not eligible during his tenure as solicitor for the Scranton Sewer Authority.

That was then. This, sadly, is now. The sewer authority barely exists, its zombie remains hanging on to plug holes in the highly suspect plumbing of the SSA sale. Both parties promised to vet all candidates to ensure all their taxes and fees are paid in full.

It's our job to check them for ticks.

CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, is a surgeon with a pair of tweezers.

Contact the writer:

kellysworld@timesshamrock.com, @cjkink on Twitter. Read his award-winning blog at

timestribuneblogs.com/kelly.

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