I know this may be hard for some to believe, but there was a time in my life when I was successful.
At the top of that success, I decided I wanted to do something for as many people as possible, so I ran for Congress. Of course, I did not win. The run, combined with an illness that nearly took my life, financially destroyed me and cost me so, so very much — much more than money.
I never recovered my success. But I kept on trying. I don’t know how to quit.
Lately, I have taken some occasional jogs around my old hometown. When you are at street level, you notice so much more than when driving through. That street-level view, along with an exchange with the Mayor’s Social Media Coordinator Erin, got me thinking back to a column I wrote for the Pittston Dispatch in 2006 or 2007. I am posting it here because I am so glad that a person who knows not only how to be successful, but sustain success, Mayor Michael Lombardo, shared much of my vision for our hometown, and he has brought much of what I wrote so long ago to fruition today.
It sucks to be a failure, but in my failure, I will always applaud the achievement of others, and Mike’s achievements have benefited so many and so much of good old Pittston. I am proud and honored to call him friend.
I hope you can take a moment to read. I hope you find it an enjoyable read. And, if you see Mike, I hope you take a moment to congratulate, and thank him for Pittston’s multi-faceted renaissance.
“Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more”
from Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown
During my run for Congress our grass roots, shoe leather campaign brought us to downtowns all over NEPA. Eventually, one of those tours brought us to the town where I was born and raised. When we hit Pittston, the usual meet and greet was enhanced by me giving a guided tour of my hometown. I noticed I was continually saying, “and over there used to be this, and over there used to be that.” “In that vacant lot was this and that parking lot used to be that. “ I have to admit, a tear touched my eye as I realized all that has been lost since my youth. Then a smile touched my face as I realized all the possibilities.
What went wrong? Well, in Northeast Pennsylvania the answer is easy. We were a one industry region for a long time. When the Knox Mine disaster deposed King Coal, not only mining jobs were lost, but all the jobs and industries that supported anthracite fell away.
After Knox, the next industry to dominate Pittston was the garment industry. We had numerous dress factories that were teeming with work. So much work that many women sewed from home. Then, the next knock down came in the form of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA for short. When NAFTA was being bandied around I was one of its most vocal supporters. I laughed heartily when Presidential candidate H. Ross Perot spoke of the giant sucking sound that would be heard throughout the land. If you want to see the aftermath of that giant sucking sound, go to Pittston.
Now, on a smaller scale, it is about to happen again. With the closing of Seton Catholic the downtown will lose those that work for and attend the school. Once again, a stinging jab to the fortunes of good old Pittston.
It is easy to sit back and identify what went wrong. The breakfast counters, barbershops and bars are full of those more than willing to point out who, or what, was responsible. For the most part they are pretty accurate, well maybe not the folks in the bar at 2:00AM, but I digress.
What can we do to make it better? What made a smile touch my face as a tear touched my eye? What gives me hope for Pittston? Possibilities of a resurgence in downtown Pittston, that’s what. Downtown Pittston has many advantages:
One – It is centrally located between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.
Two – The Susquehanna runs along side it.
Three – It has relatively easy access to interstate 81, access that can be made easier.
Four – It has good infrastructure, a great fire department and police force.
Five – It is full of good, honest, hardworking people.
Finally, for the sake of this discussion anyway, it has buildings and land.
Perhaps it is time to take a new line of attack regarding downtown redevelopment. Past thinking has always been to grow downtowns we must lure businesses, usually retail, to the downtown. I say we take a new approach. Let’s turn downtown Pittston into a middle to upper income residential area. We need to encourage investors, builders and developers to take to the downtown and create townhomes, condominiums and apartment buildings. When these buildings are in place and people are given incentive to live there, then the specialty shops will come. The boutiques, gourmet restaurants, cafes, professional offices and such will move in to service and supply the new populace. We can make Pittston an oasis of residential and specialty businesses smack in the middle of a great old coal town. (And we should never be ashamed of our coal mining roots, but that’s for another column)
A different idea? Maybe, maybe not? However, we need to start thinking outside the box. We must create a strong incentive for people to want to come downtown. In the process, perhaps we can start a new economy so our graduating children can stay….in our hometowns.