This time of year is when columnists, talking heads, and pop culture commentators start ranking everything from films and albums to beer and soda. The Clarke Report is no different. Sticking with the theme of this blog, here are the top 10 biggest stories in Schuylkill County politics for 2008:
#10 The Clarke Report Goes Live: On February 7th, a political unknown by the name of Hank Clarke decided to parlay some of the notoriety he received from his letter to the editor of the Pottsville Republican and Herald, which criticized the tactics and strategy of the War Board and the Schuylkill County GOP Committee for their 2nd straight electoral loss, into a blog about local politics. The site was intended to be merely a place where I could say my peace, in order to relieve my wife from the burden of hearing me complain about the state of politics in this county on a nightly basis. Little did I know, that only 11 months, 45,000 unique visitors, one syndication arrangement with The Morning Call, one special correspondent deal with WPPA Radio’s Step Up to the Mic,and one contributorship to PaWaterCooler later, The Clarke Report would become one of the most widely read, highly regarded, and most influential political blogs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania today. I am proud to say that I am the conservative voice of Schuylkill County on the state and nation stage and that is all thanks to YOU, my readers.
#9 Schuylkill democrats Tighten Voter Registration Margin: Over the past few decades, registered Republican voters have outnumbered democrats by as many as 15,000 in Schuylkill County. That changed in 2008. With record numbers of people flooding to local election offices around the country to participate in this historic campaign, county democrats closed the once seemingly insurmontable gap among registered voters to within a scant 4000.
#8 Slick Willy Comes to Girardville: 30,000 strong packed the streets of Girardville this past March to catch a glimpse of the teflon president himself, Bill Clinton, as he marched alongside local democrat leaders in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Clinton reportedly accepted the invitation as a favor to US Rep. Tim Holden (D-17).
#7 Presidential Hopeful Rallies in Pottsville: GOP Presidential nominee John McCain made a last minute stop in Schuylkill County less than a week before the November election as part of a rapid barnstorming tour of Pennsylvania. An impassioned McCain blew the roof off of Martz Hall as 5000 Schuylkill Republicans cheered him on.
#6 1912 Building Sale Controversy: You’d think that selling an old vacant building in a prime location in the real estate market that existed at the beginning of this year would be simple. But, of course this is Schuylkill County, where party politics, cronyism, and back room dealing will almost assuredly always get in the way. By April, the sale of the 1912 Building at the Rest Haven complex was completed, but not without political fireworks. We had a pair of democratic county commissioners, who on one side of their mouths were talking about a budget shortfall causing some agencies to make drastic cuts while at the same time trying to give away the 1912 Building to Penn State–Schuylkill for under market value and under what other bidders had offered. Then, we had a Controller who was opposing such a deal, not because she was worried about the finances, but because she was a member of one of the municipal boards who had made a better offer. Finally, we had a local junk hauler, who was gutting the interior of the building of its furniture, computers, and copper plumbing and ripping the taxpayers out of tens of thousands of dollars it could have received from sale of these materials.
#5 Murder in Shenandoah: Normally, murders are law and order issues, not political ones. But, in today’s heated political climate where illegal immigration is a hot button issue facing all Americans everywhere, the savage beating death of one Mexican illegal at the hands of a few local white kids who allegedly bantered racial epitaphs at the victim, quickly became a national story. While the Shenandoah Police Department and Schuylkill County District Attorney Jim Goodman were tirelessly conducting a murder investigation, radical activists from California descended upon our fair county to accuse us of being backward, redneck, lynchers who hate anything not of our own color and accused our officials of trying to cover it up. In the middle of the controversy, was an illegal alien who had lived in this county for 6 years without being caught by INS, had fathered 3 children with a local girl with her own legal issues, and was allegedly selling drugs from his home and three white-bread high school football heroes who had never been in trouble with the law before. The courtroom drama will unfold early next year as the “Shenandoah 3” face trial on murder charges.
#4 The Bi-Polar Controller: One of the more entertaining sagas of 2008 was the emergence of Schuylkill County Controller, Melinda Kanter, as a villain in county political circles. Dubbed “the Bi-Polar Controller” by people in the courthouse for her erratic and in your face way of doing business, Kantner made enemies of nearly every leader on both sides of the political aisle. From making the normally calm Tim Holden red-faced with anger at a democratic committee meeting and being told to shut the hell up by Chairwoman Gallagher at a Commissioners’ meeting to being sued in court by county administrator Darlene Dolzani (all of which are fellow democrats), not to mention her unprofessional public tirades against county treasurer Jacqueline McGovern and State Sen. Jim Rhoades, Kantner doesn’t seem to have ANY friends or allies left anywhere in this county.
#3 Church Closings: After nearly two years of waiting with baited breath, Schuylkill catholics finally were informed of the fate of a slew of parishes across the county: Close your doors and consolidate. In all, 32 area churches celebrated mass for the final time in 2008.
#2 Democrats Take Control of the Board of Commissioners for the First Time in 40 Years: After a rousing election victory in November 2007, where the Schuylkill County democratic Party won two Commissioners seats, the Controller’s office, the Coroner’s office, and the Register of wills, to go along with the District Attorney, Clerk of Courts, Prothonatary, and Sheriff posts that they already held, Mantura Gallagher and Francis McAndrew were sworn into the majority in the Board of Commissioners in January. It was the first time in 40 years that democrats would control the county’s executive board.
#1 Death of State Sen. James Rhoades: In Schuylkill County, 2008 will always be remembered as the year that Big Jim Rhoades was suddenly and prematurely taken from us. Not only did we lose our brightest political star and most steadfast leader, but we also lost a husband, father, grandfather, and friend. The effects of Rhoades’ death continues to ripple across the county as 2009 will bring about possibly two special elections to go along with the May municipal primary and November municipal election. By the end of 2009, political stars in this county will be permanently re-aligned.
To all the readers of The Clarke Report, have a very happy and safe New Year. I will be off for the next week. But fear not, I will return fresh and fully recharged on January 5th, 2009.