Last updated: February 17. 2013 10:15AM - 60 Views

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WILKES-BARRE – When federal funds were sought, former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter lent a hand and often times stuck in both to secure the money for projects big and small, prominent and mundane, regional and local.

The Tobyhanna Army Depot, the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Plains Township, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, the Wyoming Valley Levee System, The Commonwealth Medical College and the Mocanaqua Volunteer Fire Co. all benefited from government dollars delivered by Specter, sometimes on his own, but mostly through a bipartisan effort.

Those who worked with him, relied upon him and supported him remembered him Sunday after he died at his home in Philadelphia at the age of 82 from complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Former U.S. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski spent 13 terms in the House of Representatives.

"I knew Arlen for probably 40 years and served with him in Congress for almost 30 years," Kanjorski said.

"He was a fellow who first and foremost fought for Pennsylvania and the communities in Pennsylvania."

The Democrat from Nanticoke found an ally in Specter, the Republican from Philadelphia by way of Kansas, when it came to representing the needs of the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania. They put aside political and personal differences to get the job done.

"Arlen is a guy who didn't hold a personal grudge," Kanjorski said of his fellow legislator's ability to reach across the aisle to lend support and ask for it.

When Kanjorski first took office in 1985 he made it known where he stood with Specter.

"He had some strong notions. He would try and muscle you if he could," he said.

But Specter couldn't because Kanjorski wouldn't let him. He would bend but not break for Specter; a recipe for cooperation.

The evidence of that cooperation remains throughout the region.

"If I had to put it in numbers I'd have to say close to 1,000 projects (Specter helped fund)," Kanjorski said.

Not all of them made the front page or the 6 o'clock news.

The Mocanaqua Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 received a $46,654 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Specter's last year in office. Other fire companies in Luzerne County were awarded money to be used for operations, safety programs and vehicle acquisitions.

"There are a lot of silent projects that people don't know about," Kanjorski said.

For 15 years the two legislators worked with others to ensure hospitals in the region received funding on par with hospitals in larger metropolitan areas through the Medicare Wage Reclassification Index.

"Every year we brought in $30 million," Kanjorski said. "I did the job in the House. He did the work in the Senate."

Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton pointed out the downtown wouldn't be in the shape it is today if it wasn't for the senator.

The $14 million Coal Street widening and realigning project, the $28 million Intermodal Transportation Center, the nearly $8 million Streetscape Enhancement Project received federal funds.

Leighton said that when he took office in 2004 Specter's staff contacted him "to see what he could do to help Wilkes-Barre."

Specter's had been approachable and dependable, Leighton said.

The Democrat, in the first year of his third, four-year term, added political party affiliation was not an issue with Specter.

"It never mattered to him," Leighton said.

"If you had a viable project he was always willing to take a look at it," he said.

When Specter visited the region, Scranton businessman Leo Vergnetti often met up with him.

"I was a supporter of his before he even won," Vergnetti said of their long relationship.

He described his friend as passionate about public service.

"Remember he came from Kansas," Vergnetti said. "His father was in the First World War. He was supposed to get a pension, but he didn't."

That's why he fought hard for veterans, Vergnetti said.

"The veterans hospital is his signature. Tobyhanna he was huge in," Vergnetti said, listing some of the projects in which Specter took a lead role.

The senator pushed for the nearly $48 million outpatient center and renovation of the veterans hospital.

He also defended the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Coolbaugh Township in Monroe County when the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission was deciding whether it should be shut down. The region's largest employer survived and took on additional employees and work from bases that didn't make the cut.

Specter had used his seniority and clout to secure funding to keep the proposed Scranton-to-Hoboken, N.J. passenger rail project on track.

"When things made sense and everybody won, he went to bat for them," Vergnetti said.

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