MAHANOY CITY- Like many communities in the coal region, Mahanoy City struggles with a shrinking population and blighted, abandoned buildings.
But the upcoming election for mayor may come down to a different issue.
“I was young, dumb, sorry, and regret what happened,” says Republican Candidate Dennis Wiessner about his 1972 felony conviction in Lehigh County. He pleaded guilty to burglary, larceny, and receiving stolen property.
More than four decades later, Wiessner said he thought it was a misdemeanor.
“It was not a felony like where I killed somebody, or a DUI,” said Wiessner, who paid a $50 fine and was on probation for two years.
A grand jury presentment claims Wiessner broke into a turkey coop outside Allentown, and stole five turkeys. The crimes he pleaded to were considered felonies at that time, because the value of the theft exceeded $50.
The issue never came up in the May Democratic primary where Wiessner lost to incumbent Nancy Petritsch by six just votes.
But with 79 republican write in votes, Wiessner is able to run in the general election as that party’s candidate.
A lawyer with the Schuylkill County Democratic Party said that if Wiessner is elected, there`s a good chance he`ll never be able to take office as Mahanoy City Mayor.
In a memo, Pottsville Attorney Chester Corse, quotes the Pennsylvania Constitution, “No person…convicted of infamous crimes shall be capable of holding any office of trust…in the Commonwealth.”
According to Corse, a state supreme court ruled in 2008 that a “conviction of all felonies comes within the definition of `infamous crime`”
“I would think you would want a clear record and you might want to tell people, that in the past I have this, and that on my record but its been taken care of,” said Incumbent Democrat Nancy Petritsch.
She claims the issue is not Wiessner’s old crime. It`s the possibility that he gets elected but can’t serve.
“If someone like that goes around and asks for a vote, the vote, in my opinion is wasted because he may never take office,” said Petritsch.
“I`m sorry, Mahanoy City that I made the mistake of stealing the turkey,” counters Wiessner, who said he’s asked Governor Corbett to remove the felony from his record. “If the governor sees something like this, I`m sure he won`t hesitate to pardon such a small matter that`s as trivia (sic) as something that happened 47 years ago,”
To clarify Wiessner pleaded guilty 41, not 47 years ago.
Weissner said he will send an application to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.
If Wiessner wins on November 5, a pardon would have to happen by the time he would take office in January.
If Wiessner remains a convicted felon at that time, the Schuylkill County District Attorney could go to court to stop him from taking office.
If a judge agrees, the Mahanoy City Borough Council would then appoint a Mayor to serve for two years and another Mayor’s race for a two-year term would be held in 2015.