Lackawanna lawmakers convened for a reorganizational meeting Wednesday night, but the focus of the standing-room-only audience was the empty City Council seat for the First Ward.
Mohamed Albanna won the November election for the position that was open when the term of Abdulsalam Noman expired.
But a recent ruling by Supreme Court Justice Tracey A. Bannister negated the win – leaving the council to appoint someone to fill the seat.
Expectations were high at Wednesday's meeting as Albanna and John Ingram, his opponent in the election, each brought enough residents to fill council chambers – and then some.
But after more than a dozen people addressed the council on the issue, Council President Keith Lewis explained the lawmakers' reason for doing nothing.
"The council will not be acting on that seat until the court system has run its course," Lewis said. "To act before the appeal is resolved is inappropriate. If by chance Mr. Albanna is successful in the appeal process, the appointee would have to leave the seat."
Looking out at the overflow crowd, Lewis thanked everyone for attending the council's first meeting of the year.
"We like the fact that everyone is here tonight," Lewis said. "We prefer a full house than an empty house."
Ingram was candid in his comments.
"Two months ago we had a race. It was a tight race and I lost by 67 votes, but under the City of Lackawanna charter the individual that won could not take the seat," said Ingram. "This wasn't done for political reasons. This wasn't done for racial reasons."
"Someone told me I like to fuss and argue," Ingram said. "I do. That's how we got our dollar store."
Albanna, a native of Yemen, was convicted of a felony in 2006 for sending more than $5 million to his countrymen without reporting it to authorities, a violation of the Patriot Act.
"I just want to remind everyone here that the game does not end at halftime," Albanna said. "We wait 'til the fourth quarter is over. This case is under appeal, and I think we should all be respectful of the law and allow the process to finish.
"This case is not over yet and when it is over, if the appeals court decides against me, I will abide by the decision," Albanna said. "We still are citizens. We still are neighbors. We still have the same concerns we had before."
Former City Councilwoman Andrea Haxton questioned the status of the Charter Revision Committee.
"Mohamed and I talked years ago about the Charter Revision Committee," Haxton said. "Did anything ever happen with that? Our Lackawanna charter has been around quite a few years, and so the terminology should be reviewed. We need to take a look at that ASAP to bring it up to the 2020 mark."
Haxton's concern was a charter provision that prohibited anyone convicted of a crime of moral turpitude from office. That provision was a basis of Bannister's ruling that barred Albanna from taking the seat.
Rev. Mark Blue also addressed the council regarding the vacancy. "The City Charter was here well before we were," Blue said. "We did not write it, but if anyone gets in that seat who did not put in the time to get to know the residents of the community, it will be a disservice."
Albanna's appeal is expected in court Jan. 17.