WILKES-BARRE — By targeting Tom Leighton as his opponent in the city’s next mayoral race, Bruce Simpson could be campaigning against the wrong candidate.
Simpson announced his candidacy as a Democrat on Tuesday, almost two years out from the primary in 2015. Much could change by then, including whom he will face.
Leighton, two years into his third four-year term, hasn’t indicated whether he’ll be on the ballot, said his political consultant Ed Mitchell.
“We don’t even know if the mayor is going to run yet,” Mitchell said Wednesday.
Mitchell, who handled Leighton’s mayoral campaigns and his failed run for state Senate, said the mayor’s job is very demanding and his attention is focused on matters other than politics, such as continuing the growth of the city, improving infrastructure and getting a handle on the violent crime that’s been making headlines.
“The best politics is good government,” Mitchell said, adding that if Leighton does his job, “he’s going to be a tough candidate to run against.”
That’s a big if for Simpson, who’s critical of the mayor’s administration.
“This is a city that is deteriorating rapidly before our eyes,” Simpson said.
His law enforcement experience and his administrative positions with the federal government provide a solid foundation for the office, he said.
From 1995 to 1998 when he retired, he served as chief of collections with the Financial Management Service, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury and was tasked with training government employees to comply with the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996.
“My portfolio with the federal government was $50 billion,” he said. The act dealt with the collection of non-tax debt owed to the federal government, he said.
The 60-year-old Simpson is an outsider not having been born and raised in the city. He’s lived here for the past decade, after moving from the Poconos. He was born in New Jersey and grew up in Allentown and Reading.
“That’s a strike against me and for me,” he said.
Announcing so early has it’s advantages, Mitchell acknowledged. It allows someone time to build an organization and raise campaign funds. He estimated it would cost between $100,000 to $150,000 to run for the office, similar to what Leighton’s spent in the past.
All the things Simpson has to do, Leighton has done. He has a base of supporters and an organization of volunteers and continues to raise funds to replenish his accounts, holding a fundraiser recently at the Wilkes-Barre Golf Course in Bear Creek Township.
“He’s doing all the things to do if he wants to run but he hasn’t made the decision,” Mitchell said. Announcements traditionally are made after the November election of the preceding year, he said.
Even though Simpson ran for one of the 11 Luzerne County Council seats in 2011, a mayoral race is different with a narrower field, Mitchell said.
Simpson placed 22nd out of 33 candidates and failed to make it to the 2011 general election.
A primary with an incumbent that has the party’s backing favors Leighton, Mitchell said.
Still Simpson was committed.