I called former Democratic Scranton mayor nominee Chris Cullen yesterday to get his take on the election because he didn’t return calls on Election Day.
Cullen still sounded sullen.
The 67-year-old lawyer finished a distant third behind mayor-elect Paige Cognetti and City Councilman Kyle Donahue.
At first, Cullen said he wouldn’t have much to say because the post-election campaign finance reports haven’t come out. The reports aren’t due until Dec. 5.
“I tend to believe we won’t have any way to comment until the final reports,” he said.
Later, he opened up a bit.
He clearly believes Cognetti’s huge fundraising advantage, built by many out-of-town donors, had a lot to do with his defeat. There’s plenty of truth to that. Cognetti’s fundraising allowed her to produce and air that terrific TV commercial.
Asked if he regrets the way he ran his campaign, Cullen offered none. If you remember, Cullen said he would reject all campaign contributions and leave all fundraising up to the city Democratic Party. He did exactly that.
“I like the line out of one of your stories: ‘Chris Cullen kept his word,’” Cullen said. “I have a bad habit of doing the right thing.”
His approach certainly highlighted the dilemma many candidates face when they take a contribution. When people give you money, what do they want in return?
If it’s good government contributors seek, fine. If it’s something other than that, well, that gets into governing’s gray areas.
I think the influence of a contribution mostly depends on the candidate and elected official. The give-and-take isn’t always black and white.
A guy like Cullen, known for his independence, certainly could have taken contributions without compromising his ethics, especially since he said he wouldn’t seek re-election. Mike Washo, when he ran for Lackawanna County commissioner in 2007, flatly told contributors to expect nothing in return except good government.
When he decided to run, Cullen said he realized the Democrats didn’t have anybody else so he applied for the nomination. That tells me maybe he thought he would face only the Republican nominee, Charlie Spano.
If you’re thinking that, then, in a city so Democratic, promising you won’t take campaign contributions is easy. You’re likely to beat the Republican with or without them.
Cullen didn’t bite on that theory.
“This was an opportunity to serve,” Cullen said. “If I had not received the Democratic nomination, I would have supported the nominee of the party.”
Cognetti and Donahue, former Democrats who switched to independent to run, didn’t do that. Instead, they ran themselves and voters, most of them Democrats, picked them one-two. Cullen finished only about 100 votes ahead of Spano.
If voters worried about Cognetti’s and Donahue’s campaign contributions, they certainly didn’t show it.
“Voters voted the resume, and they liked the resume,” Washo told me this week, referring to Cognetti.
Cullen’s political baggage among many Democrats didn’t help. There’s still a story of his past behavior involving the local Democratic Party structure that remains untold, mainly because Cullen declines to talk about it publicly.
For whatever reason, he didn’t win and doesn’t seem to be taking it well.
He declined to offer kinds words for the mayor-elect.
“I have no words for anyone,” he said.
“How about good luck?” I said.
“I have no words I could possibly share,” Cullen replied.