Lesa Gelb, a candidate for the Democratic State Committee, had approached Kelly, seeking his vote. She mentioned she was from Laflin, but had grown up in the Wilkes-Barre area.
“We love Laflin people. We were just ‘laffin’ about them,” Kelly quipped.
It was the start of a day filled with lighthearted banter as Kelly, a Democratic candidate for the 11th Congressional District, made his way to various polling places throughout the city.
Kelly, 62, is a known jokester. But his bid to unseat incumbent Paul Kanjorski and fellow rival Corey O’Brien for the Democratic nomination in Tuesday’s primary election was a serious undertaking, he said.
A political newbie who has never held office, Kelly knew he was a long shot to unseat Kanjorski, a 13-term incumbent, and beat out O’Brien, a Lackawanna County commissioner. But he was intent on proving the oddsmakers wrong.
He hit the polls, starting with his own voting place at Kistler Elementary School, at around 8:10 a.m. to shake hands and deliver his down-home, average-everyday-guy message to voters.
An assistant professor of business information technology at Marywood University, Kelly decided to seek a congressional seat for one reason: He’s disgusted with the politics-as-usual attitude in Washington, D.C., and thought he could make a difference.
That’s why he opted to run the most untraditional of campaigns. He took no campaign contributions, held no fundraisers and sought no organization’s endorsement. He spent roughly $3,500 of his own money to buy a few hundred signs and pins, a few dozen T-shirts and about 1,250 matchbooks touting his candidacy.
“I chose not to be owned by anybody,” he said.
As Kelly greeted voters outside the Kistler poll, his wife of 35 years, Pat, admitted she wasn’t thrilled when he first approached her with the idea of running for Congress.
The couple, who have three grown children, Brian, 29, Mike, 28 and Katie, 25, live a quiet, peaceful life in their Marjorie Avenue home. She’s a private person and was concerned about putting her family’s life out for public inspection. But she could see the passion in her husband’s eyes.
“He’s a regular guy who wanted to come out and make a statement,” she said. “Even if he convinces one person, he’s done something.”
After the stop at Kistler, Kelly and his campaign manager, Marty Devaney of Wilkes-Barre, headed out to several other polling places in the city in search of the “woodworkers:”
“People who come out of the woodwork who feel like I do, that they’ve been cheated by the government,” Kelly said.
He didn’t get to speak to many voters, however. The four polling places he visited Tuesday had only a handful of people, and most of them were election workers.
It was obvious from the first returns that Kelly was not going to win the nomination as Kanjorski immediately took a commanding lead over him and O’Brien. But the mood was anything but somber in the Kelly camp as he did much better than he had anticipated.
With nearly 86 percent of the vote in, unofficial results had: Kanjorski with 33,505 votes, 49.3 percent; O’Brien, 23,011, 33.9 percent; and Kelly, 11,456, 16.9 percent.
“Obviously I wanted to win, but I’m elated with the results,” Kelly said. “This is a testimony to the fact that John Q Public ... and all those who somehow in life don’t think they counted, they actually counted today.”
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