Barletta speaks to the Breakfast Club at Tony’s Restaurant in Kingston.
KINGSTON – Lou Barletta had breakfast Thursday with a group of Republicans who he hopes will help him win the 11th Congressional District race.
The Hazleton mayor made the trip to Kingston to dine on the famous “fat bastard” omelet – the popular breakfast dish served by consummate Republican and chef Jimmy Zambito at Tony & Sons Restaurant on Wyoming Avenue.
The trademark omelets were enjoyed by 10 local GOP power brokers who invited the Hazleton mayor to their favorite morning gathering spot.
Barletta is seeking the Republican nomination in the 11th Congressional District, the seat held by 12-term Democratic incumbent Paul Kanjorski of Nanticoke. Both are unopposed for their party nominations and likely will square off in November.
Barletta is hoping to turn around the 22,000-vote deficit from the 2002 race when he lost to Kanjorski.
Barletta knows he needs to raise a significant amount of cash to battle Kanjorski, who is armed with a $1.4 million war chest that he will use for television and other advertising.
Barletta is counting on this breakfast club for help.
Hal Flack organized the gathering attended by Jack and Bill Sordoni, Steve Alinikoff, Stuart Bell, Terry Casey, Robert Fortinsky, Tony Brooks, Scott Burnside and Dan Meuser. Meuser is a Republican candidate in the 10th Congressional District. Burnside is Meuser’s campaign general chairman.
Barletta spoke for about 15 minutes, giving a summary of his stance on many issues. He repeated one phrase several times. He said, “Anyone can talk the talk, but I have walked the walk.” Barletta said he was the first elected official to take a stand on illegal immigration and “stood out there alone” for a long time before any other candidates dared to speak out on the issue.
Barletta wanted to put to rest the claim that he is a one-issue candidate; however, he told the group that illegal immigration affects many other issues.
Barletta, who said his childhood dream was to play centerfield for the New York Yankees, said he chose other avenues because he couldn’t hit a curveball. Being in politics, Barletta said, has made him learn how to hit curveballs thrown by his detractors.
The illegal immigration issue has brought Barletta to national fame; he’s appeared on numerous national news shows and spoken at university forums. A picture of Barletta and President Bush, taken in the Oval Office, hangs on a wall at Tony’s. Behind the counter is a “Lou Barletta for President” sign. The mayor said he’ll be happy with the title of congressman, for now.
As mayor, Barletta said he erased a $1.2 million deficit in Hazleton and boasted about bringing more than 250 new businesses to the city. He said he led by example, taking a 10 percent pay cut before asking city employees to consider a 5 percent cut.
Another accomplishment Barletta is proud of is a massive mine reclamation project that will turn a scarred area into a 20,000-seat open air amphitheater. He also told of the energy-efficient neighborhood created in Hazleton that earned the city awards and notoriety.
Barletta is the only U.S. mayor to serve on the United Nations Advisory Board for Local Authorities. The group consists of mayors from around the world who discuss issues such as improving the quality of life in their cities. He attended a 2002 world conference in Barcelona, where Mikhail Gorbachev spoke on safe drinking water.
But it was leadership that Barletta spoke most about. He said the illegal immigration issue affects the economy, education, energy and jobs. He told his audience illegal immigrants are hurting the health care system because they are using it for free. Hospitals can’t recoup many of the charges for treating the illegals, he said. Schools face overcrowding issues and many of the students can’t speak English, Barletta said, and many of them are pushed along.
“That’s not what America is about,” he said.
He talked about Sept. 11, noting the 19 terrorists involved in the attack on the U.S. had used more than 360 identities. Barletta said Hazleton’s police often can’t identify many of the people they arrest.
When Barletta said the coming campaign will be about courage and standing up for what he believes in, Flack said, “I feel privileged that you are stepping up to run for this office.”
Knives and forks dropped and the Republicans applauded.
“We haven’t had leadership to represent this entire community,” Alinikoff said. “We are not being represented by Nancy Pelosi and that ilk. We need your type of leadership.”
Sordoni said the Republican Party has “two great candidates” for Congress in Barletta and Meuser.
Barletta said the people shouldn’t be concerned about losing a 12-term incumbent and the seniority that brings. “I look at all those years as a liability,” Barletta said. Flack agreed, saying in those 12 terms, Kanjorski has only managed to attain chairmanship of a congressional subcommittee.
Flack said it was his goal to learn more about Barletta and what he stands for. After the meeting, Flack said he was certain every person at the table would support Barletta.
That left the last word for Zambito, who was still busy flipping eggs on the grill. “No doubt about it, they’ll both win,” Zambito said of Barletta and Meuser.
Sitting at an adjacent table at Tony’s Restaurant were Todd Vonderheid, former Luzerne County Commissioner, and Jim Brozena, executive director of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority. Both are Democrats.
Before the Republican forum began, the two men got up and moved to the front of the restaurant.
There were a few comments and some laughter, but it was all in fun. Vonderheid posed for a picture with Barletta and Meuser but was quick to point out it wasn’t an endorsement.
One guest at the breakfast was Jack Roe, a friend of Sordoni. The two met while attending Boston College and have been friends since. Roe’s story may soon be made into a movie. Briefly, here is why, according to a story that appeared in Variety.
United Artists has made a deal to tell the story of two entrepreneurs who went to post-war Iraq to make their fortune. The duo, Brent Balloch and Roe, became millionaires in a few months and got a contract to help run the country’s first elections since the invasion.
“Twentysomethings Roe and Balloch hatched the get-rich-quick scheme when they met for the first time in January at a Super Bowl party in Rome,” the story read. “Without a plan or even the ability to speak Arabic, they arrived in Iraq looking to start businesses. While well-connected firms like Halliburton swallowed up the most lucrative jobs, the duo ended up operating a radio station plus catering and printing businesses, as well as securing the election contract.”
Roe speaks Arabic and operates a radio station in Baghdad. He was featured in a recent story in GQ magazine, which prompted Sordoni to give his college pal a call. Watch for the movie.
U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, D-Dimock Township, will be featured on the cover of the National Journal in early March. The publication is featuring Carney and U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Florida, as representing the exact center of Congress. Carney spokeswoman Rebecca Gale said the article will discuss the voting records of congressmen, and based on the magazine’s research, Carney and Mahoney are in the dead center on voting.
Carney has become a member of the Center Aisle Caucus, an equal number of Democrats and Republicans who meet monthly for dinner. Gale said there are about 30 in the group.
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“We haven’t had leadership to represent this entire community. … We are not being represented by Nancy Pelosi and that ilk. We need your type of leadership.”