4 Democrats seek Latrobe mayoral seat

Joe Napsha
| Friday, April 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Four Democrats want to succeed Latrobe Mayor Barbara Griffin, who is not running for re-election.

Competing in the May 21 primary are council members Fabian Giovannagelo and Rosie Moff Wolford; Carl R. “Skip” Bollinger Jr., a Latrobe parking authority member; and Jason L. Weiss, a city planning commission member.

Giovannagelo and Wolford's terms on council do not expire until 2015.

Neither Bollinger nor Weiss has run for public office. Both promote their candidacies as offering change and new perspectives.

Giovannagelo, a longtime member of the city's fire department, is a veteran councilman first elected in the 1990s. He lost an election bid in 2005, but won a seat in 2007 and re-election in 2011.

In a prepared statement, Giovannagelo said he is challenging what he claims is a “head in the sand” approach to the city's problems.

“The proliferation of illegal drug usage, property theft and the lack of effective code enforcement are compromising the quality of life,” Giovannagelo said.

As mayor, Giovannagelo said he would seek council's support to initiate an action plan to resolve the most critical concerns.

Giovannagelo is the subject of a state ethics complaint filed by Latrobe police Officer Michelle Preston, who has accused him of threatening her job during a discussion with city manager Alex Graziani. The dispute involves an incident report filed by Preston that alleges Giovannagelo's son, Nico, had driven in a reckless manner to a fire in February.

Giovannagelo has declined to comment on the matter.

Wolford, who has served on council for nine years, said she is running for mayor because she sees a lot of positive movement in the city and believes that she can market Latrobe, promote it and network on behalf of the city.

“We are well-positioned for the future. There are a lot of opportunities to bring things (business) into town. We need to go out and find them,” said Wolford, who is a member of the Latrobe-Unity Parks & Recreation Commission and the Adams Memorial Library board.

Wolford, vice chair of the Westmoreland County Transit Authority, said she believes it is important to have experience in city government before becoming mayor.

“I have the business experience, knowledge of government and passion to make it happen,” Wolford said.

Bollinger, who served on the city's home rule charter commission, said he believes that it is time for someone new with fresh ideas on city council.

“It's time for a change on that board. I think we need someone new,” said Bollinger, who has volunteered with the city fire department for 40 years.

Weiss said he believes it is time for new ideas.

“The mayor also serves in the unique role of a public emblem of this city's private faces,” Weiss said.

Weiss said he has written to several large corporations about ideas for the abandoned Lehigh Specialty Melting building on Ligonier Street. Those ideas include a city-owned geothermal/solar power plant that could employ more than 200 people, Weiss said.

He said he is “strongly considering” researching how to petition the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission to create an additional gaming license for Latrobe, with the intention of converting the vacant Lehigh building into a casino and hotel.

Weiss said he is exploring the idea of creating a local community theater or theater in the park organization, an annual Renaissance-themed festival, and the construction of an ice cream diner that resembles the famous trolley from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Weiss said he believes that crime, specifically drug-related crime, is one of the city's most pressing issues.

City council has been embroiled in a controversy for several months over the future of Latrobe's refuse transfer station, where residents and businesses pay a fee to deposit trash and the city hauls it to a landfill. Latrobe has advertised for five-year bids for the collection of residential and commercial garbage and recyclable items, as well as hauling services at the transfer station on Mission Road.

Giovannagelo has favored seeking bids to see how much a contractor would pay the city for the right to operate the transfer station.

Wolford, chairwoman of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, said she believes the city needs to wait for more information on the cost of operating the transfer station and the revenue it generates.

Bollinger, the city's emergency services coordinator for three years, said the city should maintain ownership of the transfer station “because that is where they make the money.”

There are no Republicans on the primary ballot. Griffin won as a Republican four years ago, succeeding Republican Tom Marflak, who did not seek re-election.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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