'Unopposed' Donora mayor faces late write-in election competition
By Chris Buckley
Published: Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, 12:31 a.m.
John Lignelli is unopposed on Tuesday's ballot for a sixth term as Donora mayor.
But political signs dotting the borough – and even erected as far away as Washington, Pa. – signify that John Lunt is waging a write-in campaign for the office.
Lunt said he has proposed to council that the borough buy the former First Federal Bank building and use it to attract a bank. He wants the borough to give any bank that moves in to the town a $1-a-year rental rate for the first five years of a 20-year lease.
Lunt even promised to obtain letters of intent from Donora residents vowing to bank at a branch established in the borough.
He said Uni-Mart officials have said it would take $100,000 to reopen gas pumps at its 802 Meldon Ave. store.
Lunt said he has contacted several grocery store chains but has been told Donora lacks a suitable site and sufficient clientele for a store to survive. He contends the Bottom Dollar chain has told him the company has not ruled out a move to the borough.
Lunt said he would also advocate for reopening the Donora-Webster Bridge.
Lunt has proposed using Palmer Park for outdoor concerts, claiming 3,000 people would flock there at $10 to $20 apiece to see such national acts as Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton. Such traffic counts could persuade PennDOT to rebuild the Donora-Webster Bridge, Lunt said.
PennDOT's position on the bridge is that the span's condition is too poor to rebuild and it will be razed when money is available to do so.
In addition, there are three other spans within seven miles and there is no money to build a new bridge there, PennDOT spokeswoman Valerie Petersen noted.
Lunt said he has lived on and off in Donora for 25 years.
Lunt, who has never before run for political office, said the borough is “falling apart.”
“There are no businesses in downtown,” Lunt said. “If we have any less money coming in, we won't have a police department.”
Lunt claimed the borough's population is declining because Donora officials are not business friendly.
The former owner of Service Rental All, which had been located at 801 Meldon Ave., said the borough harassed him over the years on topics ranging from parking meters to sidewalks in front of his business to loading zones.
Lunt said he lived above the business while rebuilding it.
The eventual decision to close his business was based on “harassment from the borough and losing our best employee,” Lunt claimed.
“Running that town is a business, but you can't forget about the people,” Lunt said. “You have to listen when they speak. I've knocked on a thousand doors. What I've come across is, the people are ready for a change.”
Lunt said he would try to attract California University of Pennsylvania students to apartments in Donora, noting transit buses go through the borough and are free to university students.
“We could bring 500 students into town and bring energy to the town,” Lunt said.
Lignelli, the man Lunt is attempting to unseat, said residents should re-elect him “for everything I've done for Donora.”
“I have brought more money into Donora than any mayor has in the 105 years of Donora,” Lignelli said.
Lignelli listed a few of his accomplishments as mayor over 20 years.
He said he revived the Veterans Day Parade in Donora and lobbied for a $2 million federally funded project to repair a Gilmore Cemetery wall that was falling onto the roadway.
Lignelli, a longtime member of the Mid Mon Valley Transit Authority board, lobbied for a grant from then-U.S. Rep. John Murtha to build a pavilion at Palmer Park.
Lignelli said that when Polycom moved into the Donora Industrial Park, he was a member of borough council. Company officials came to him because a pipe 22 feet beneath the surface on their new site had ruptured, and the fledgling company didn't have the money to repair it.
Lignelli said he lobbied for money to repair the pipe and keep the company in Donora.
“They started employing a lot of people after they got on their feet,” said Lignelli, adding he got many people jobs there.
In return, Polycom donated $50,000 when Lignelli kicked off a fundraising effort to build the new Donora Library, he said.
Lignelli said that with Murtha's help, he brought a fire whistle to the borough.
Lignelli said he recently met with First Federal Savings Bank President and CEO Patrick O'Brien about the possibility of acquiring the bank property at a discounted price.
Asked about the bank, O'Brien said, “We have our property in Donora listed for sale with Coldwell Banker Realty. We are interested in talking with any potential buyers of the property.”
Lignelli said Uni-Mart officials have told him they would not consider reopening the gas pumps at the company's Meldon Avenue store because of the cost involved.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or email@example.com.
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