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May 13, 2013

City candidate denies link to ad

JOHNSTOWN — A Johnstown city councilman has personal ties to members of a political committee that circulated a provocative campaign advertisement, supporting him and two other candidates in this year’s Democratic primary.

But he denies having any actual connection to distribution of the handbills.

The fliers, which have been handed out in at least two Johns-

town neighborhoods – Moxham and the West End – have been paid for by the Committee for Safer Neighborhoods.

Joseph Barber is listed as the chairman, according to the Cambria County election office. Stephen Kollar is the treasurer. Councilman Pete Vizza, one of nine Democrats running in this year’s primary, says his personal relationship goes “way back” with them, but that he had no knowledge of the ad before it was distributed to the public.

“They’re supporters of mine,” Vizza said. “I didn’t know they were big enough supporters to support me in that way. I’m happy to have their support.”

In a interview Friday, Vizza said he did not know who put out the advertisement. Then, on Monday, Vizza stated he learned about his friends’ involvement soon afterward from Councilwoman Marie Mock, one of the opponents singled out in the ad.

“I found out from the competition,” Vizza said.

The ad depicts police officers preparing to enter a door, crime scene tape, cop car lights, newspaper headlines about violent acts, the crossed-out names of four council candidates – Mock, Rose Howarth, Nunzio Johncola and Anthony “Red” Pinizzotto – and neighborhood maps with dots possibly showing the location of Section 8 housing units.

Section 8 is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that helps low-income families, the elderly and disabled acquire living accommodations. It is not certain yet whether the maps show the exact location of Section 8 units or just randomly-placed dots. Addresses are not included, but street names are clearly visible. Advertisements circulated in the West End and Moxham show different maps for those respective neighborhoods.

“I feel it’s a shame that people would stoop to that level to publish the information,” said Dan Kanuch, executive director of Johnstown Housing Authority, which oversees the local Section 8 program. “HUD’s looking at it like it’s immoral, but they’re looking at it to see if it’s illegal, too.”

Vizza feels the dots were used simply to create a strong visual impact and do not point to specific housing units.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Vizza, who played an important role in the development of Johnstown’s Drug and Crime Commission “These guys I know didn’t do anything wrong. I think the people in the neighborhoods have a little more at stake than a bunch of dots on a map.”

Mock felt the ad broadly made all Section 8 users out to look like criminals.

“I just don’t think you can judge people by the house they live in, instead of looking for actual criminal activity,” Mock said.

Vizza, Charles DiFalco and Dave Vitovich are supported as “our candidates” in the fliers.

In response to the advertisement, Howarth, Mock, Pinizzotto and Johncola, along with mayoral candidate Frank Janakovic, released an ad of their own in which they described the Committee for Safer Neighborhood’s information as “propaganda.”

Two other candidates, Ian Miller and Jack Williams, are not mentioned in either group’s advertisements.

Neither Barber nor Kollar could immediately be reached for comment.

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