Tuesday, January 05, 2016
Ferraro Out, Cusick In, as NorCo Council Prez
(The Dietz Family: Matt Dietz sits behind the dais for the first time, surrounded by his family. Sitting on his lap is his cute daughter Madison. The rest of the crew includes sons Brilynd and Cade, wife Lori and in-laws Karen and Jeff Frack)
Elections have consequences. There's a new tea party faction on Northampton Council. It consists of Exec wannabe Hayden Phillips, Matt (that's two t's) Dietz, Mat (that's one t) Benol and Seth Vaughn. Their new leader? John Cusick. He's no tea party member himself, but is ambitious. He's walked right back into the Council President job he had when he left politics four years ago, fearful that his advocacy of Gracedale's sale would cost him an election. He managed to become President the same way he did in 2011 - by ousting the incumbent.
In 2011, that incumbent was Ron Angle. Cusick, along with Peg Ferraro and former Council member Tom Dietrich, were part of a bi-partisan sneak attack that removed Angle as President and replaced him with Cusick. This time, it was Peg Ferraro who was ousted. She was removed by the tea party elements within her own party.
Ferraro and Cusick have starkly different styles. Ferraro is known for a warm and engaging smile that makes nervous citizens feel at home when they come to Council with something that is important to them, even if no one else cares. Retired, she has time to attend numerous functions at which a Council president is expected to appear. Cusick, who teaches algebra in New Jersey and lives in Williams Township, has less time than Ferraro and is far less engaging, especially with members of the public.
Council members provided no explanation for their votes. It was a raw exercise of power.
Benol, who nominated Cusick, is the former Chair of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party and first became known in 2010 when he challenged Charlie Dent for U.S. Congress. He was defeated by a 4 to 1 margin. Hayden Phillips, rumored to be interested in running for Executive next year, has referred to himself as a "proud tea party member." Matt Dietz, who was supported by tea party members, has claimed that many Northampton County services are "ineffectual and ineffective. ... There is not always a need for government intervention." Seth Vaughn's significant other is an enthusiastic tea party member, and Vaughn appeared at a Bethlehem school board meeting last year to complain about taxes.
Ferraro was nominated by Glenn Geissinger, a Republican member of Council who is running for Congress.
Cusick attempted to vote for himself, but Ferraro challenged his vote because the Council President receives a slightly higher salary than other Council members, and the Ethics Act prohibits a Council member from voting in a matter in which he or she is financially interested. Despite Cusick's protests that Council has winked at this violation in the past, Solicitor Phil Lauer advised such a vote would be an illegal conflict of interest unless Cusick were to agree to waive his higher salary. Cusick indicated he would do so, and Ferraro made the same pledge before voting for herself.
This waiver of higher pay is common practice in Lehigh County, but Solicitor Lauer may pay a price for pointing out the law to an embarrassed Cucick, who tried to argue with him. The tea party faction has discussed removing Lauer, but has thus far failed to find a suitable replacement
The final tally was five votes for Cusick, including himself, and three votes for Ferraro. Cusick received the votes of the tea party faction, while Geissinger and Democrat Bob Werner voted for Ferraro.
Democrat Ken Kraft abstained.
Seth Vaughn was nominated for Vice President by Hayden Phillips, despite having only a 64% attendance record at Council last year.
Vaughn then muddied up the waters by nominating Glenn Geissinger, who has served as Vice President for the past two years. Geissinger declined the nomination,. He said he learned a great deal over the past two years, but told Cusick that it is "time that I allow somebody else to stand at your side."
Instead of thanking Geissinger or at least acknowledging his kind words, Cusick woodenly responded, "Mr. Geissinger has withdrawn."
Ken Kraft nominated Democrat Bob Werner, who is rumored to be interested in the Executive position That went nowhere. Only Ferraro and Kraft would vote for him. Werner even abstained from this vote. The remaining Council members voted for Vaughn. .
Ferraro, who is normally mild mannered, was a bit miffed at her ouster, but noted she knows what it is like to lose an election. "It hurts. You feel betrayed in many ways" But she added she will move on. "Some of the best things in life happen after you lose an election," she said. She spoke of losing an Executive race in which her husband woke up blind on the day he was supposed to watch the polls. She said that loss enabled her to focus on her husband's recovery.
Cusick asked Council members to let him know the committees on which they'd like to serve.