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After 26 years, voters show Kanjorski the door

In his 26 years in Congress, Paul E. Kanjorski saw some of his visions take shape and reshape the 11th Congressional District.

The heightened levees along the Susquehanna River improved Wyoming Valley flood protection and transformed the riverfront into an accessible family-friendly park.

His Earth Conservancy acquired 16,000 mine-spoiled acres from the bankrupt Blue Coal Corp. and has returned more than 1,000 of them to productive use.

The former Stegmaier Brewery, long a vacant, hulking eyesore in downtown Wilkes-Barre, was reshaped into a federal office building.

Some of the Nanticoke Democrat’s other dreams – an inflatable dam on the Susquehanna, an airport-style moving walkway to link downtown Wilkes-Barre to the riverfront and a water-jet technology initiative that put millions of federal defense dollars into the hands of his relatives but produced no results – were never realized.

“Paul Kanjorski is a dreamer and a visionary. He is sometimes ahead of the public and even ahead of science on how you do things,” Ed Mitchell, Mr. Kanjorski’s longtime media consultant, said in an interview before Tuesday’s vote.

“That is not a great trait to bring to politics. It’s a not a normal trait. Most people don’t have that sense of vision he has in trying to be creative and in trying to approach something from a different angle.”

Troubles

Some critics, though, say he never lost sight of his own self-interest.

In the 1990s, Mr. Kanjorski became enamored with proposals for using highly pressurized water to disarm munitions and pulverize coal and other materials into microscopic particles for industrial uses. He secured a $1 million research grant for the 11th Congressional District Regional Equipment Center, a nonprofit he formed to make surplus federal equipment available to local towns. The center’s board balked when it learned the company Mr. Kanjorski wanted the center to partner with was co-owned by his nephew.

Mr. Kanjorski later got Congress to authorize more than $9 million for water-jet research through the Office of Naval Research. The only company that bid was Cornerstone Technologies, co-owned by several of Mr. Kanjorski’s nephews. Mr. Kanjorski’s daughter, Nancy, also had a financial interest in the firm.

The Navy later concluded Cornerstone never produced anything useful to national defense. The company declared bankruptcy in 2006.

Mr. Kanjorski, 73, never faced criminal charges or congressional sanctions due to the controversy. A 2003 FBI report concluded no laws had been broken.

Wilkes University professor Thomas Baldino called Cornerstone the “low-water mark” of Mr. Kanjorski’s career. It was an issue in all three of his races against Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who defeated him Tuesday. Whether it was Cornerstone, Mr. Barletta’s high-profile anti-illegal-immigration stance or voter exhaustion with a 12-term incumbent, Mr. Kanjorski was abandoned by his natural political base in 2008, losing in heavily Democratic Luzerne County and surviving only by winning in Lackawanna and Monroe counties.

Triumphs

Over the years, Mr. Kanjorski ranged widely over foreign policy, financial and scientific issues, playing the insider, dropping names of powerful allies like Bill Clinton and hinting at issues that were just around the corner.

Mr. Kanjorski, who headed a subcommittee that regulated financial markets, held hearings on predatory lending in the mortgage industry years before the sinking housing market brought the world economy to the brink. He worried about the U.S. debt to China long before it became widely recognized. He was at the forefront of efforts to stave off a 2008 banking collapse and drafted substantial portions of the finance-industry regulations approved by Congress.

He clearly relished his heightened profile and influence as a key player in the world where government and finance intersect.

Contact the writer: djanoski@citizensvoice.com

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