Friday, April 27, 2007

Nazareth Magistrate Candidates Meet the Voters

I'm a miserable bastard. I'm so nasty I sometimes start arguments with myself. I'm so mean some poor waitress once burst into tears when I demanded to know why my eggs weren't poached for three minutes instead of two. I've even been shot a few times, but keep getting up like Michael Myers. Yes, I'm the bogeyman (with the bogey nose).

On Tuesday, true to form, I laid out some pretty nasty questions for the five candidates who think they can be Nazareth's next district judge. I figured these written interrogatories would scare off at least three of them. Apparently, I wasn't nasty enough. Last night, I met all five judicial hopefuls during a candidates' forum at the Nazareth News Agency. Not only did they answer every question, but they were nice to me, too!

What I learned last night is that, in this cruel and cold world, some good people still care deeply about their community. Five would like to be Nazareth's next district judge. At least thirty more stopped by just to introduce themselves. Ross Nunamaker from News Over Coffee set up tables and very nice name cards for each jurist-in-waiting, while Heidi Wisner at Nazareth News Agency began making the cappuccino and espresso. And we each had nice one-on-one sessions in a relaxed setting. Let me tell you what I learned.

1) Yvonne Falcone. - Not only did I meet Yvonne, but I also had the privilege of meeting her husband, Dan, who has prepared all of her campaign fliers. She's very proud of him, and I liked the way she praised him. My reservations about Falcone are based on the following: most lawyers who are elected as district judge continue practicing law; her belief that only attorneys should be magistrates; her ties to Dem committeeman Rodney Applegate, a very big cog in the local Democratic machine; and her use of Attorney Dave Ceraul to solicit support from local lawyers. She answered every concern.

Falcone explained that, if elected magistrate, she would stop practicing law completely. She would be uncomfortable trying to maintain a law practice while serving as a judge. She told me the four week course of instruction for nonlawyers is inadequate because the law has changed dramatically in the last twenty years, and explained that 60-70% of the voters actually believe that magistrates are attorneys. She acknowledged that many nonlawyers like Elmo Frey have that elusive "common sense" quality, but believes people will see that in her, too.

She explained that Rodney Applegate has given her some support, but her campaign is largely self-funded. She played no part in Applegate's decision to challenge a nomination petition, although she said the "rules are the rules." She has not been funded by the Democratic machine, and has accepted no contribution from any attorney likely to appear before her.

Her chief desire is to create a forum "where people can feel open and comfortable. I think I can make a difference." I think she can, too.

Falcone has twelve years experience as an attorney, and clerked in Lehigh County for Judge Wallitsch.

2) Todd Buskirk. - Before I went to last night's shindig, there was a letter waiting for me from my friend, Larry Kisslinger. I opened it up and, lo and behold, Larry was asking me to consider Todd. "Currently, Todd is the Director of Corrections at Northampton County Prison, overseeing a 25 million dollar budget and nearly 240 employees. Todd has over 25 years of experience in the adult and juvenile justice systems and holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Penn State University specializing in the Administration of Justice. His education and professional experience in the criminal justice field give him a very solid background to be a successful District Judge." Now he tells me!

When I sat down with Todd tonight, he was so relaxed and affable you'd never guess he oversees a pretty big prison operation with lots of daily problems. Here's my reservations about Todd: he'd be collecting a hefty public pension while being paid as a magistrate; he has close ties to Ray Orwig, Nazareth's biggest residential and commercial landlord; and he was plying on emotions by talking about a "tough stance on gang activity." Like Falcone, Buskirk had answers for every one of my concerns.

Buskirk explained that, if elected, he'd freeze his pension and won't be collecting anything until he turns 60. So there won't be any double-dipping, as I originally had suspected. He explained his tie to Orwig by telling me they've been friends for twenty-five years, having coached little league baseball together. He told me that none of Orwig's landlord-tenant cases are handled in Nazareth, so he wouldn't be able to do Orwig any favors. He'd have no problem relocating the magistrate's office, and has made no secret deal to continue renting from Orwig. He would like to see the office centrally located. Finally, he told me he'd like to educate schoolchildren and the public about gang activity, and this proactive approach is what he meant by his gang remarks.

Like Falcone, Buskirk has no intention of accepting any other employment if elected district judge.

3) Alan Siegfried. - Siegfried has been a police officer in Upper Nazareth for over thirty years. For eleven of those years, he's been the chief. After speaking to him for a few minutes, I realized this guy is a class act. He's an "old school" cop, one who is more interested in doing the right thing than in notching arrests on his belt.

Not only did I meet Chief Siegfried, but I also had a nice conversation with his wife, Sandra, and his daughter, Danielle. They are really nice and decent people, the kind you'd like to have as neighbors. My concern about Siegfried? He'd have a difficult time being impartial when deciding cases involving other police officers, especially those in his own department.

I laid it out, and Siegfried quietly but firmly told me he has a strong ethical belief in impartiality, and he developed this because he is a police officer. He told me he has to handle disputes all the time, and can't take sides. He evaluates everything in front of him before making a decision. "Just because someone tells you there's a crime doesn't mean a crime actually occurred." As I listened to him speak, I realized Siegfried already thinks like a fair-minded judge. And as chief, he doesn't have the daily interaction with officers that he may have had eleven years ago. He's a fair man, and I believe he could decide a case involving police officers impartially.

Siegfried will devote all his time and energy to the job if elected. He will seek no part-time position.

I asked him to rate Elmo Frey on a scale from 1 to 10. "12 1/2," he answered. "I know you like him." I asked if there was anything I could do after being so hard on him. "You have to vote for me." Everybody's a comedian.

4) Gary Hammer. - I've seen Gary in town and at the courthouse many times over the years, both as a Nazareth cop and in his current capacity as a detective in the Colonial Region police department. I've seen him in action. Like Chief Siegfried, he's a modest man. He's been a police officer since 1989 and has a degree in criminal justice, but has never been the pushy sort. I've seen him in Giant and at the local hardware store, quietly waiting in line like everyone else.

Gary had told JD Malone at The Express Times that he viewed the District Judge position as the "next step in my law enforcement career." Last night, he explained he should have stated that he views the magistrate's position as the next step and culmination of his career. He realizes a magistrate does not enforce, but upholds, the law.

Although Gary is the youngest person seeking this position, he's another "old school" cop. You won't see him wearing racing gloves or a goofy skinhead haircut. But I had raised the question - how can we expect him to be impartial in cases involving officers in his own department? "I believe I'm fair now and I'll be fair as a judge. I don't rush to judgment as a police officer and I won't rush to judgment as a judge."

Just like Chief Siegfried, Gary spoke quietly but confidently. His eyes tell me he's tired and puts in long hours. But he reamined affable and calm - like any good judge.

He told me how highly he thought of the other candidates. Even his campaign literature is brief and to the point. He's got a great deal of humility, a rare but valuable quality in any judge.

He has no intention of seeking any part-time position if elected.

5) John Capobianco. - I see Cap more than the other candidates because he works at the courthouse as a deputy sheriff. Cap is currently a Lieutenant in Northampton County's sheriff's department, and supervises the deputies in the criminal division. He's a Kutztown University grad, and has a degree in criminal justice. He's married to Andrea Capobianco, and has three children. If I could describe him in two words, they would be - quiet dignity.

Some of you question his relationship with popular state representative Craig Dally. Craig is his brother-in-law. He told me he's close to his brother-in-law, but "I'm running on my own merit."

On his own merit, Capobianco has risen through very competitive ranks in the sheriff's office. He's been a team leader in the Tactical Emergency Response Team, but that's not what he considers important. "Our community is important to me and my family. It is our home. I am committed to preserving the traditions of honesty and integrity that we all cherish. I will treat those who come before the court with great respect. I will serve our community fairly and impartially. You deserve a steward who will work hard, efficiently and responsibly to serve you."

John tells me he would like to work with Nazareth Borough officials to relocate the magisterial office to 30 Belvidere or the new municipal center. That will result in a public, instead of private, landlord that relieves the tax burden on all of us. He's also concerned about the proliferation of drugs and gangs in the community, and would like to visit classrooms on a regular basis to explain the problems caused by both. He'd also like to be a visible presence in the community.

Like everyone else, Cap tells me he will seek no other job if elected as magistrate. He won't try to supplement his income.

Who should you vote for? I'll be honest. John Capobianco is my first choice. He remains my first choice. But after listening to each candidate tonight, I'd applaud any choice. We're very lucky to have such a fine group interested in this very tough and important job. Each would be outstanding. Rarely have I been so impressed. Even more gratifying are the thirty people who cared enough to come out and meet the candidates. And Ross Nunamaker at News Over Coffee deserves special recognition for his commitment to the community.

Desert: Chad Cornell, a Nazareth Area School Board candidate, also dropped by tonight. That makes him the only school board candidate courteous enough to meet the community. Ross reports what Chad has to say.

It was also very nice to see Peg Ferraro, who's running for Tony Branco's at-large seat on Northampton County Council. Peg's escort was her husband, Dominic, who faced death regularly when he made the mistake of becoming one of my father's sailing companions.

12 comments:

LehighValleyHousewife said...

I'm sure the voters in Nazareth will appreciate your thoughtful and insightful article.

Hopefully, you'll also grace us with your presence on May 1st at 6:30 when the South Side Civic Association holds a Candidates Night at St. Paul's Lutheran Church (610 W. Berwick St. Easton).

The association has invited candidates for Easton mayor and city council, NorCo Council, and the district judge seat that covers Williams Township, Glendon Borough and part of South Side.

LVDem said...

glad you have so many qualified folks. I have to admit that the candidates running where my parents live are not all so qualified. One is, but the other 4 are local political hacks.

NewsOverCoffee said...

Bernie,

Extremely well put. I had many of the same impressions that you did as I spoke with each of these candidates.

I also agree that each would make an excellent candidate and we are fortunate for that.

Thanks for taking the time to come out and spread the word about the candidates so the people can make the most informed decision possible when voting.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Lehighvalleyhousewife,

I'll be happy to check it out on May 1. I'm going to get writer's cramp with so many candidates.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDem, Look at it this way. Your parents have an easy choice. The choice in Nazareth is much tougher because, despite my hard questions, they're all good people who deserve the job.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Newsovercoffee,

Once again, you had a great idea and put together a great program for the public and candidates. All were well-served by you.

Anonymous said...

Ohare, you are out of your mind. but funny.

Larry Kisslinger said...

Please consider Todd Buskirk to replace Frey as Magistrate in Nazareth Area, is still my opinion. Doesn't matter who you prefer...just make certain you do vote on May 15th. It's our duty to do so and chips fall where they may. Ray Orwig is an acquaintance of mine and a very honorable person, in my opinion. Ray has zero to do with Buskirk candidacy and now is no time for Buskirk to disavow his friendship with Orwig. What does Orwig friendship with Buskirk have to do with the price of tea in China? I agree that all candidates there seem fine, but Buskirk is my choice from what I have learned about him from friends I trust! Pension "earned" by Buskirk also has zero to do with his candidacy for Magistrate. visit my web site and email me from bottom of any page there, if you like!
www.kisslinger.com

Bernie O'Hare said...

Larry, You're a good man. I appreciate your advice. All candidates, as i understand things, will face the voters again for a Q&A session.

Anonymous said...

and Falcone is still my choice all the way - she has the education, she has the LEGAL experience, and she has the common sense.

i agree that four weeks of mini-judge school just isn't enough.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
I am a lifelong Democrat. I have followed politics closely most of my life, and, enjoyed watching and reading from the sidelines, and,actually being involved in other ways. Unfortunately, with the trash on local and national talk radio, and, the biased print media, and, the hateful, vicious character assasinations I see and hear almost daily,especially from Democrats, about other Democrats, I've decided to switch parties, and, see what's it like on the other side. More than a few of my friends feel the same way, and, the trend is moving away from politics of personal destruction, to decency, and, a call for fair play. The Don Imus situation proved that talk radio hosts are now being called for their outrageous comments about people they simply dislike. I know newspapers columnists are also being monitored by citizens groups springing up all over the area. Calls for more media people's resignations are in the offing, and, I think that is the right way to deal with folks who think they have carte blanche to try and destroy, and, or humiliate other people they don't like, or, whom they disagree with. Actually, I don't know why some people who have been victimized,on the air,or, in the print media, don't sue, although, I hear that may change shortly as well. I always thought Bobby Gunther Walsh of WAEB, was a right wing fanatic, until I heard others. Now, I'm a Gunther fan. He makes sense.In fact, the more I listen to WAEB,the so called right wing of the Lehigh Valley, the more sense they make, even beyond the daily shows.If people want to actually enjoy good radio again,and, I hear that all the time, they should tune in to Clear Channel's weekend shows which are informative,funny and enjoyable. Now,I don't have to get up in the morning on weekends, and, get myself angry by turning on the radio. Isn't it nice to hear good things about good people, instead of the daily savaging of people, just for sport?? Its a shame what has happened to America, and, shame on us for tolerating hostility and incivility. Maybe the Imus situation is the beginning of the end for bad people in a good medium. I can't imagine what their parents, children, and,friends,if they actually have any, must think of them. Also, those politicians who have others trading for them, are not immune from this nastiness. They should be held accountable for their actions, or, those of their ilk, by their constituents, who should use recall as a way to end bad politics. We need to watch and listen to every politician- what they say, who they consider their friends, and, who they have doing their bidding for them. I'm going to be less involved in politics, now, until the stink passes.When it does, I'll be glad to get fully involved,again, and, to emulate a person I consider to be the best politician in recent history-John F. Kennedy. I guess my parents had it right when they told me, "show me your friends, and, I'll tell you what you are".

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 6:04, I appreciate your very thoughtful post. You've obviously think things through and take an interest in issues, and I really respect both of those qualities.