You had to be there when Republican Scranton Mayor Jim Connors announced he was switching back to the Democrats.
Mr. Connors couldn’t have picked a more public moment, and as it turned out he probably didn’t pick it, but the switch highlights his problem as he seeks to replace Democratic Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O’Brien.
The county Democratic executive committee will recommend Democrats to the county judges to replace Mr. O’Brien, and Mr. Connors hasn’t always been a registered Democrat, even if he felt like a Democrat at heart.
Let’s jump in our time machine and swoosh back to 1989 when Mr. Connors saw an opportunity to run for mayor. The Democratic ticket was packed with top candidates, including former Mayor James McNulty, county administrative director Jerry Stanvitch and county Register of Wills Jerry Notarianni, the eventual nominee. Yes, the same Jerry Notarianni running for commissioner now.
Figuring he had no shot on the Democratic side, Mr. Connors switched his registration, ran as a Republican and won the party’s nomination. Using all the goodwill he built up as a neighborhood leader and sage advice from his brother Thomas “Bobo” Connors, Mr. Connors defeated Mr. Notarianni in November.
He was re-elected as a Republican in 1993, defeating Mr. Stanvitch, and 1997, defeating Councilman Ed Walsh, two well-known Democarts. Mr. Connors also ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican in 1998.
In September 2000, the day Vice President Al Gore arrived in Scranton, Mr. Connors stood outside Shooky’s restaurant in downtown Scranton and told the vice president he planned to switch back to the Democrats.
“I’m coming home,” the mayor said, handing Mr. Gore a key to the city.
My friend, columnist Christopher J. Kelly, portrayed it as an ambush at the time, something Mr. Gore never knew was coming, but that probably wasn’t true. Mr. Connors later said he arranged the meetup with the Gore campaign much earlier. My tendency, after watching the scripted nature of presidential campaigns, is to believe nothing goes unscripted so I take Mr. Connors at his word.
A lot of people later told me Mr. Connors saw the writing on the wall, and his only hope of winning a fourth term was switching back because he knew he couldn’t beat Democratic City Councilman Chris Doherty as a Republican.
He didn’t. Despite his second switcheroo, Mr. Connors never recovered politically and lost the Democratic primary in May 2001 to Mr. Doherty by a wide margin.
Now, he wants the party to let him replace Mr. O’Brien when the party already has a lifelong Democrat who wants the job, former state Rep. Ed Staback of Archbald.
Mr. Connors even agrees Mr. Staback would be perfect for the job, but, hey, who knows.
If for some reason Mr. Staback is out, Mr. Connors is willing to step in.
Let me just say for the record: the only way it happens is if Mr. Staback has second thoughts. Even then, if Mr. Staback gets out, others might get in, and if they’re lifelong Democrats — and unless they’re complete idiots — Mr. Connors is unlikely to get the nod.