Albert Boscov is a bossy old crank, Scranton leaders declare

Someone owes Albert Boscov $70,000, and we know who that is. It is a Vaughn D Spencer, the soon-to-be former mayor of Reading. Albert Boscov, being a shrewd businessman, will want that money back. (Unless, of course, a bum debt is better on his tax returns then a contribution to a losing political campaign.) But that shouldn't cloud the mighty judgment of the mite retail giant when it comes to dickering over the fate of one of the Boscov chain's troubled locations up there in Lackawanna County.

Welcome to Steamtown.

Steamtown is just one of many, many shopping mall around the nation hurting for tenants. Scranton city council hopes to turn things around and is hunting for new ideas to make Steamtown viable again  — everything from converting the building into a Reading Terminal-style market to creating a “mixed-use lifestyle center” with lofts, retail storefronts, restaurants and offices. Or maybe transforming  the mall into a casino or converting it into a skating rink.

Trouble is, grumpy old Al Boscov holds sway over what can be done to turn things around. The mall’s lease agreement with Boscov’s Department Store allows the anchor tenant to veto significant changes.

Councilman Pat Rogan is pissed:

“I was very upset to read an article in the newspaper featuring Al Boscov talking about the mall. Mr. Boscov criticized and even poked fun at many of the great ideas that have been put forward by the residents of Scranton to rehab that building. Obviously, the current formula that Mr. Boscov has a leading role in didn’t work. I was just at the mall last Tuesday, and it is a ghost town.”

Council President Bob McGoff poured some sweet-and-sour sauce over Albie's "obstinacy to change":

“I believe that Mr. Boscov is a great businessman. However, I don’t think Mr. Boscov has been very good for the city of Scranton. I think as the mall goes to auction — and it would appear that Mr. Boscov is doing everything he can to purchase the mall — he needs to be willing to consider options. ... We cannot persist in the mall structure as it is.”

Sir Albert called those who want to repurpose the mall "cranks." He said he might be open to different uses for Steamtown's second floor, but “we can’t do anything now because we don’t own it.”

Vaughn, pay up.  Albert Boscov needs the cash.

Deal inked for film version of Harry Deitz's runaway best-seller "The Editor's Notebook"

Laurence R. Harvey as Harry Deitz

Laurence R. Harvey as Harry Deitz

Hollywood — and Berks County — are abuzz today with news that Harry Deitz's collection of old columns, "The Editor's Notebook" has been optioned by a top production company and will be made into a major motion picture.

Harry Dean Stanton as Harry Deitz Sr.

Harry Dean Stanton as Harry Deitz Sr.

"We are tremendously excited to acquire this hot property," said Menahem Globus of the recently reborn Cannon Group. "This will certainly be one of the hot family movies for Christmas 2016."

There was no word on much Cannon paid to option Deitz's volume, but it is believed to run well into two figures.

Gilbert Gottfried as Peter Barbey

Gilbert Gottfried as Peter Barbey

The script will unfold in anthology form with Deitz reading six columns to his grandchildren, each of which will be dramatized. The stories will include the hunt for the ultimate flamingo lawn decoration, the lack of civility on Berks County roads and sidewalks, a typical Sunday morning at church, and Deitz obsessing over how everyone in the community is jealous of his stature as editor. A different director will helm each of the segments.

John Waters as Bill Flippin

John Waters as Bill Flippin

First to sign on in the cast is Laurence R. Harvey as Deitz. Harvey is currently starring in the new horror flick "The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)."

"Harvey will bring a distinct magnetism to the part," Globus said.

Others in line for key roles include Harry Dean Stanton as Harry Deitz Sr.

"He definitely wants to do it," Stanton's agent said, "If he doesn't die first."

Reading Eagle CEO Peter Barbey will reportedly be portrayed by Gilbert Gottfried, and director John Waters — lured by the vast presence of flamingos — is line to both direct that episode and co-star as publisher Bill Flippin.

Albert Boscov will executive produce and reportedly make an appearance as Santa Claus during a dream sequence.

Copies of "The Editor's Notebook" were flying off the shelf with today's news.

Vaughn Spencer says stupid ethics rules are "flawed and unenforceable"; Boscov coldcocked by where his money went

"I'm shocked — SHOCKED! — that this money all went toward a political campaign.

"I'm shocked — SHOCKED! — that this money all went toward a political campaign.

Hell did not freeze over, last I checked, but the morning newspaper did get around to addressing the suspicious contributions to Mayor Vaughn Spencer's reelection campaign from the paper's dear and favorite patron, the Honorable Albert R. Boscov, whose advertising dollars are keeping the paper afloat and thus is not a person the paper wants to piss off.

So let's follow the money.

Boscov says his three contributions, totaling $70,000 to Spencer's war chest were actually personal loans that Spencer signed a legal document vowing to repay in full.

"He never said this would be for the campaign," Boscov said out of one side of his mouth. Out of the other, Boscov said that he figured some, but not all, might be election-related.

From Spencer's mouth hole emerged a giant thank-you to Albert Boscov as well as a swipe at the city ethics code which Spencer himself signed into law: "The city solicitor and others have described the rules as flawed and unenforceable, which is why most of the candidates could be in violation of the law depending on interpretation."

The paper said the mayor did not answer questions about why Boscov thought some of the loans were for Spencer's personal needs and not all for the campaign.

One does have to admit that is is nice for a rich guy like Boscov to loan a fellow like Vaughn Spencer $70,000, especially when Spencer stands to lose his $81,322 salary once he gets trounced in next Tuesday's primary.  But, hey, if a promissory note is good enough for Alby, I could use a little dough to spruce up my crib. Where do I sign? I'd even spend the $70,000 in Boscov's Department Store to buy all the fixings.

The Eagle's he-said, he-said account of the flap provides plenty of wiggle room so as to not offend its Great and Noble Advertiser, but there is no explanation offered for why a "personal loan" needs to be included on official campaign documentation.

If Vaughn Spencer prevails in next Tuesday's primary (which he won't), he could have ethics complaints coming out his ass

So just because the city of Reading has a code of ethics, and just because Albert Boscov contributed roughly 26 times the legal amount to Mayor Vaughn Spencer's reelection campaign, what does it all mean?

Has somebody broken the law and now faces the risk of jail time? Is throwing gobs of money at the incumbent merely the price of doing business with the city (pay-to-play, wink, wink)? Will Spencer merely be required to promise to play nice the next time he runs for office?

After all, it's not like Spencer has ever been called on the carpet on ethics charges before.

Here's how it works.

City clerk Linda Kelleher said any citizen can file a (confidential) complaint alleging misconduct under the code of ethics. The evidence then will be decided by a board of five citizens. Penalties can range from censure (naughty mayor) to a directive to return the campaign contributions to the donor (sorry, spent).

Of course, none of this will ever be considered until well after Tuesday's primary, which leaves it up to the morning newspaper to report this week on these financial shenanigans involving the paper's biggest and bestest advertiser.

That is not how it works in the world of journalism, Reading Eagle style.

Before you sigh away your cynicism and pour your first drink of the day, it does not all have to be moot, citizens of Reading.

Complaints, meet Vaughn Spencer's ass.

Here is the link where you can download a copy of the form and file your very own complaint.

While you're filling it out, you may want to hum "Did you Boscov today?"

Why is Albert Boscov throwing all that cash at Vaughn Spencer (and whatever will the mayor do with all that loot)?

Seventy-thousand dollars can come in quite handy, if you are a politician. If you are Chris Christie, for instance, it can pay for a month's worth of refreshments at the ballpark. It can even place a down-payment on a United States Senate seat from the state of Illinois, where a Senate seat is "a fucking valuable thing."

But what if you are Vaughn Spencer, incumbent mayor of the city of Reading, facing a steep climb in next week's primary? Seventy-thousand fungolas is some serious coin. In fact, it would translate into $32.77 from each of the 2,136 people who voted for Spencer in the 2011 primary.

An army of small donors would be required to pump up that kind of war chest.

Or only one fat cat:

This is a portion of a Spencer expense report on file in the Berks County Courthouse. It shows that the Albert Boscov money spigot is at full guzzle feeding the mayor's campaign coffers. Naturally, some might question whether one individual should have such influence in a municipal election. What might Albert Boscov be hoping for in return? Should there not be some law against it, Citizens United be damned?

Oh, wait...


The above is a screen grab from the City of Reading website showing there is indeed a Code of Ethics limiting contributions by individuals that candidates can accept during each election cycle — roughly 1/26th of Albert Boscov's largess.

So how can the mite retailing mogul pull a Koch brother in our precious mayoral primary? Is someone breaking the law? Will Spencer have to return the loot, even if he has already spent it? It is not like he will need any more cash after next Tuesday anyway, once Wally Scott hangs his big, bald head up like a trophy.

It is too bad there is not some watchdog in the community that can get to the bottom of this potential scandal. Like one of those obsolete objects from the 20th century that were made of ink printed on paper… what do you call them?…oh, right, a newspaper.

If there were a newspaper like that still in existence, it would have to be one with a streak of fierce independence, not one whose primary source of revenue comes from a certain department-store chain, and, without it, would lurch into bankruptcy faster than you can say "Peter Barbey is a spineless dickhead."

Such days may be gone forever.

Harry Deitz will tell you today who is ahead in the race for Reading mayor based on reports of a poll conducted in January

Harry Deitz is editor of the Reading Eagle, and you're not.

That is a fact.

Here is another fact. Harry is just brimming with perspicacity and savvy and political wonder today. In his weekly column, he shares his very important insight into what is happening in local politics, sandwiched around a plea to vote (bad pun: "May 19 should be a primary concern"— get it!) and a plug for his book, which collects many of his excellent columns in softback form.

Here's the key excerpt from today's Harry wisdom:

I've heard talk about polls that have shown [Wally] Scott as the heavy favorite. One reputable source shared figures from a poll conducted in late January that had Scott with 48 percent of the vote, [Vaughn] Spencer with 14 and [Tim] Daley with 7. The sampling was 342 potential voters.

Anybody who knows beans about politics knows that polls conducted in January offer a vital snapshot of precisely how voters are thinking in the first week in May. It does not even matter who conducted the poll as long as Harry has "heard talk about" it and there is one source whom the editor deems reputable.

Shut up and read on:

I've also heard reports of the core support for those candidates:

  • Spencer has the support of unions.
  • Daley has the support of some people outside the city.
  • Scott has the support of many minorities.

This is big news (though maybe not big enough to report back in January when the poll was taken). Once the editor has "heard reports" nobody need ask where such reports came from.

After all, Harry Deitz is editor of the Reading Eagle, and you're not.

Sure to sell out as fast as the Apple Watch

Here's a scoop for you.

In tomorrow's Reading Eagle, editor Harry Deitz, whom everybody is jealous of, will announce the impending publication of a book that all of Berks County has been clamoring for.

It is a collection of columns written by Harry Deitz, a whopping 109 of them, including 60 photos, some of which have never been published before!

The volume (first in a series?) will cover such hot-button topics, sure to excite readers, as Harry's grandkids, pink flamingos, civility, spring housecleaning, and, of course, the weather.

The project all started when Harry had a designer (on the company clock?) design a booklet that collected some of his favorite columns, which he presented to his family as (cheap) Christmas gifts. ("Thanks, granddad, but I'd rather some socks.") 

The idea so impressed CEO Peter Barbey that he got all tingly inside:

"What a wonderful launch for REP!"

And so the reborn Reading Eagle Press will have its first best-seller.

Ever humble, Harry told his staff he doesn't care his book sells one copy or a thousand. 

Even if it sells zero (most likely) Harry's grandkids have something to look forward to next Christmas.