In an exclusive interview, the Independent Gazette sat down with both of the candidates for mayor of Scranton, Jim Mulligan and Bill Courtright. We posed a series of questions so that you, our readers, may gain greater familiarity with these two men, one of whom will lead the City of Scranton as chief executive for the next four years. We encourage all of our readers to visit the candidates’ campaign headquarters or websites, and to do your own research into each of these individuals, their plans, and visions for the Electric City over the next four years. Our aim is to encourage and foster informed voting decisions this election day, Tuesday, November 5.
Gazette: What qualities do you possess that would make you a better mayor than your opponent?
Jim Mulligan: First, I am a leader. Second, I have extensive experience in local government, not only in finance, but legal. Third, I am a consensus builder, having worked with both Democrats and Republicans. And finally, I am not beholden to one constituency—I am prepared to lead. I cannot sit idly by and watch the city’s future unfold. I want to help shape the future.
Bill Courtright: The simple fact that I spent six years on city council and know how the city works will benefit me as the mayor of Scranton. There were problems when I took over the tax office, [but] I fixed it. I have a track record, and [I’m] very proud of that.
Gazette: What has the current administration done right, and what could they have done better during their time in office?
Mulligan: They have significantly improved the downtown, parks, and recreation, but I feel they could have addressed the financial concerns of the city better.
Courtright: The administration did a good job downtown, but should have paid a lot more attention to finances. They should have negotiated with the unions instead of fighting them.
Gazette: With corruption, nepotism, and cronyism a major problem in our area for years, what will be your policies pertaining to nepotism going forward? Do you have any relatives that currently work for the city or county?
Definition of “nepotism” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: the unfair practice by a powerful person of giving jobs and other favors to relatives.
Mulligan: No relatives that I am aware of that work for the city or county. I have zero tolerance and will have zero tolerance when it comes to nepotism.
Courtright: I have no relatives that work for the city. All my relatives have jobs.
Gazette: Along the lines of cronyism, let’s talk Pango, the city’s new pay-by-phone parking arrangement. The city just extended its contract with Pango for three months. Upon expiration, the city will have the option to extend the contract for another three months, sign for a longer term, or put the service out for public bid. Ed Rendell is on the advisory board of Pango, and public perception of the city’s association with the firm is one of “business as usual, crony capitalism at its best,” perhaps. What are your thoughts on that, and what will be your policies as they relate to crony capitalism? As mayor would you insure all contracts are put out for public bid? Does that include Pango?
Definition of “crony capitalism” contained in the Business Dictionary: An economy that is nominally free-market, but allows for preferential regulation and other favorable government intervention based on personal relationships. In such a system, the false appearance of “pure” capitalism is publicly maintained to preserve the exclusive influence of well-connected individuals.
Mulligan: Any good decision maker needs to weigh and review the advantages and disadvantages of all contracts and how they will affect the city of Scranton. I will not tolerate any crony capitalism. I am in favor of soliciting bids on this contract and any other. Transparency is paramount.
Courtright: Everything needs to be bid out. I don’t see why it would not be put out for bid. The business administrator’s job is one of the most important in the city, and I plan to have an executive search done by professionals to get the best and brightest. I will surround myself with the best individuals. The city is in financial crisis and has to be transparent.
Gazette: Do you feel a reduction of city personal income taxes from the current rate of 3.4 percent would attract individuals to move into Scranton? What are the ramifications of reducing the rate, or would you consider raising the personal income tax to offset some of Scranton’s debt?
Mulligan: The personal income tax has an oppressive and chilling impact on bringing new families into the City of Scranton. Not sure if we can reduce it at the present time and would need to fill it with another revenue stream, until we emerge from distressed status.
Courtright: I would not consider raising it—it is too high the way it is—but I have to be honest with people: I don’t see it going away with the shape the city is in.
Gazette: What of the Mercantile Tax?
Mulligan: Oppressive in this regard: it is based on gross income, not net income. Changing it to be based on net income is only fair. What we need to do is draw in more business and expand our tax base. We need to think outside of the box and generate new streams of income. That is what my comprehensive real estate program will do. [Editor’s Note: You may view Mulligan’s real estate program at his website.]
Courtright: It is just another thing that keeps business from coming to Scranton. Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to reduce anything right now. I would love to get rid of it. That is why I have been meeting with people outside the area and looking for new ways to attract business to the city.
Gazette: What is your plan for dealing with Scranton’s pension obligations in the coming years?
Mulligan: Pensioners are entitled to the benefits they worked for and depend on. It is critical that they be fully funded. We need to grow the tax base, both residential and business—reduce the structural deficit.
Courtright: The current administration has paid the bare minimum into our pension obligations and I believe it is in jeopardy right now. I want to review what solutions are being proposed right now, and weigh all options. Pensions need to be funded.
Gazette: What is your stance on guns/gun control/large-clip ammo?
Mulligan: I believe strongly in the 2nd Amendment. However, I have no objection to background checks and do not see a need to have clips that hold 100 bullets. I would follow the law that is provided by Congress and would not implement any ordinances pertaining to gun control.
Courtright: Not real familiar with other cities’ stances on this issue, and personally, I do not own a gun. Not looking to pass any ordinances on a local level pertaining to gun control.
Gazette: Are you in favor of a home rule form of government for Lackawanna County? Do you prefer the commissioner form of government, or something different? Will you publicly support or not support it either way?
Mulligan: Commissioner form of government.
Courtright: Wait and see what the people say. It will be on the ballot.
Gazette: Would you be in favor of reducing Scranton’s debt by legalizing and taxing cannabis for personal use?
Gazette: Would you be open to a debate or to a few debates with your opponent? Would you consider a media-sponsored debate?
Mulligan: Welcome as many debates as possible. [It’s] time we debate the issues relating to Scranton.
Courtright: Yes, I would be open to having more than the one debate now-scheduled.
Gazette: Do you see bankruptcy in Scranton’s future?
Mulligan: No, we have significant, but not insurmountable, problems.
Courtright: Certainly hope not.
Gazette: What’s your vision of the city four years from now?
Mulligan: Scranton is a great city. Together with the people of Scranton, we can and will make it better. The most important resource is our people; they are resilient. I see a vibrant and solvent City of Scranton. We will take small, but positive, steps to insure our financial future, to insure a quality of life for every one of our citizens.
Courtright: I am going to have the City of Scranton financially stable, bring our young people back with a vibrant job market, and get rid of the blight. I am working on a plan that will bring money back into the city and have a good working relationship with city council—that is important.
A live scheduled debate between Bill Courtright and Jim Mulligan, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, will take place at 7:00 pm, Tuesday, October 22, at the University of Scranton.
The Independent Gazette is working with the candidates and other local media to provide to the voters of Scranton with a second debate.