The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 10, 2013

Ad attacks 4 council candidates, supports others

Dave Sutor

JOHNSTOWN — A political advertisement depicting a crime scene, detailed map with dots presumably pointing to Section 8 housing units, newspaper clips about violent incidents and red slashing “no” symbols through the names of four Johnstown City Council candidates has been handed out in the Moxham neighborhood.

The fliers, paid for by the Committee for Safer Neighborhoods, support three candidates: Pete Vizza, Charles DiFalco and Dave Vitovich.

The crossed-out names are those of their opponents: Rose Howarth, Marie Mock, Nunzio Johncola and Anthony “Red” Pinizzotto. Two other candidates in this year’s Democratic Party primary, Ian Miller and Jack Williams, are not mentioned.

Vizza, DiFalco and Vitovich denied having anything to do with the advertisement.

“Honestly, this is the first time I’m hearing about this,” Vitovich said when asked about the ad. “I don’t want to start a mudslinging campaign.”

DiFalco added, “I didn’t put any money or any effort into that committee.”

All three stated they did not know anybody involved with the Committee for Safer Neighborhoods, which referred to them as “our candidates.” The Tribune-Democrat could not immediately obtain official documents about the organization.

“I don’t know who these folks are that put this thing out. ... Evidently, they’re for us and against the other team,” said Vizza, who played a key role in starting the city’s Drug and Crime Commission.

The handbill appears to suggest a link between crime in Moxham and Section 8 without providing statistics to back up any alleged connection. Section 8 is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development voucher program designed to help low-income families, the elderly and disabled find affordable housing.

One page of the advertisement shows a map of the neighborhood with clearly identifiable street names and dots, along with text stating “over 100 Section 8 houses in Moxham” and the candidates’ four names.

“It’s nasty, dirty politics,” said Howarth.

Mock expressed similar feelings, saying, “It’s not even political anymore.

“It’s just nastiness.”

Pinizzotto added, “I’m a believer in running a clean campaign.”

Johncola questioned the anonymity of using a vague name, such as Committee for Safer Neighborhoods.

“If they put ads out, they ought to put their names on the bottom,” Johncola said.

Approximately 10 percent of the rental properties in Moxham are affiliated with Section 8. The dots on the map appear to draw no distinction between residences of law-abiding elderly citizens and possible criminals.

“You can’t paint them all with the same brush,” said Miller, a Moxham resident.

Another page of the advertisement points out how in July 2011 Howarth and Pinizzotto, along with Councilman Frank Janakovic, a current candidate for mayor, voted against resolution 9492 in which council decided to ask HUD for a reduction in Section 8 vouchers allocated to the city.

Mock, Williams and Vizza supported the measure, helping it pass 5-4.

The ad states the team of Vizza, DiFalco and Vitovich will “fight to reduce the number of Section 8 vouchers in the city.”

However, according to a letter received from Housing and Urban Development in response to the resolution, only an independent HUD-contracted administration – in this case, the Johnstown Housing Authority – can make such an allocation request. “HUD does not reduce a program size unless there are program violations or serious concerns or findings about fiscal management,” according to the letter.

HUD’s correspondence closed by stating that since the housing authority’s Section 8 waiting list had more than 600 applicants at the time, “a discussion about reducing the program size would be counterproductive.”

Rather than limiting Section 8 access for people in need, Janakovic feels the emphasis needs to be placed on dealing with absentee landlords and slumlords.   

“They are renting out places just for the money and don’t care about Johnstown,” Janakovic said. In conclusion, he called the advertisement “Section 8 bashing in an election year.”

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