KINGSTON — Kingston, one of the seven contested mayoral races in Luzerne County, will see four-term incumbent Mayor Jim Haggerty go head to head with Democratic challenger Curt Piazza at the polls on Tuesday.
Piazza secured 285 votes in the primary election, while Haggerty, a Republican, received 358 votes and has nearly 16 years in office. But Piazza already has planned his first moments as mayor.
“I want to be sworn with my hand on my own personal reading Bible. OK, that’s first order of business,” Piazza said.
Piazza said he hopes to improve the public’s opinion of Kingston by making the town hall seem less like a rigid office building and more like a community center with open communication between the council and citizenry.
Haggerty points to more than $7 million in local share or gaming grants secured for projects around the borough. Earlier this fall he used a $1 million gaming grant to re-surface Rutter Avenue and some of its branching streets, and another $900,000 state grant earlier this year to pave Pierce Street.
Haggerty, 47, who lives on Church Street, said as a mayor with a full-time job — he’s an attorney with an office along Wyoming Avenue — he achieves balance between decision-making and administration.
“Your political mayor really needs to have a job,” Haggerty said. “Day-to-day operations should be in the hands of the professional government staff.”
Piazza said, as mayor, he would prioritize his role as overseer of the police department. Earlier this year former police Chief Keith Keiper resigned when borough staff realized he was violating a 2009 policy for paying officers who work special details.
Keiper had sporadically ignored the policy and, following a review, left his post in June.
Piazza said as he directs the police, one of his first orders of business will be to fully vet each officer.
“The mayor is the commander and chief of the police department. What happens eventually lies on the shoulders of the mayor,” Piazza said. “I’m not trying to lord anything over them, but (the mayor is) the elected civil authority.”
After Keiper resigned, Haggerty said he made certain each officer understands the neglected policy.
“We reviewed our policies. We went about essentially reconstructing the police management,” Haggerty said.
Piazza, turns 52 today. He lives along First Avenue and has spent his life filling odd jobs and volunteering. Most recently, he has worked as a caretaker for his ailing father. He considers himself semi-retired.
Piazza worked for two years as an insurance agent and also for a Christian school tutoring math. He is a graduate of Luzerne County Community College and Penn State University where he studied foreign languages.
Haggerty graduated from Wyoming Valley West, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then Georgetown Law School. He served as a second lieutenant for the Army Reserve and served again in the National Guard.
Piazza said, while Haggerty may have done well running the borough during his tenure, a government risks of becoming a good-ole-boys club when one person stays in office for too long.
“I suppose he has his record. I just believe it’s very unhealthy for any municipality to have one person in power for 16 years,” Piazza said.
Haggerty admitted, at some point, he will yield the reins to the city; but he said when he does, he’d like to hand off a thriving community.