MOUNT CARMEL - Government officials and business leaders in places like Mount Carmel need to be shown that Washington will help them, said U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-11) Wednesday after nearly three hours in the borough with Mayor J. Kevin Jones and other community members.

"Many of these communities like Mount Carmel feel like they're neglected," the congressman said. "They feel nobody's paying attention and it's very hard for them to get help. They're doing the best to survive and keep their businesses and their people here. I want to let them know I care."

Barletta was originally scheduled to tour Mount Carmel Oct. 18, but had to reschedule because of the federal shutdown. He was in Shamokin and Sunbury Oct. 25 for lunch and a walking tour with community leaders.

Barletta's visit to Mount Carmel started at Matucci's Willow Cafe on West Fourth Street, where he ate lunch with Jones, state Rep. Kurt Masser (R-107), borough council members Clem Plisiewicz, Joseph Lapotsky, Robert Shirmer and Gary Hixson Jr., borough manager Edward T. Cuff III, borough treasurer Megan Janolek and Barletta's district director, Joe Gerdis, and director of communications, Tim Murtaugh.

After lunch, police Chief Todd Owens escorted the group to eight local businesses on Oak Street. For approximately an hour, Barletta visited with business leaders from Matlow's Clothing, Community Pharmacy, Catino Vino, Catino's Candy and Gift Shop, UNB Bank, Scicchitano Ace Hardware, Hollywood Pizza and Bakery and Family Home Medical.

"It's important to come and tour and meet the people and let them know I hear their challenges, and I'll work to help them," Barletta said.

As a former mayor, he said he understands the struggles of blight, crime, absent landlords and economic challenges for businesses.

Conversing one-on-one with his constituents will allow him to take his experiences back to Washington, he said.

"I'll remember the people and how hard they worked to keep their businesses and how much the people care about their little communities," he said.

Barletta said Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), cop grants or other federal aid may be available for the borough.

"It's small towns like Mount Carmel that makes America what it is," he said.

'Encouraging'

The business leaders on Oak Street appreciated Barletta's visit.

For Jose Gonzalo, pharmacist and manager of Community Pharmacy, the borough of Mount Carmel is his life and he's discouraged to see young people needing to move away.

"I'm happy he (Barletta) cares enough to come. Maybe the next time a grant comes up, he'll remember Mount Carmel," he said.

The "hands on" approach is needed, Tony Scicchitano Jr., co-owner of Ace Hardware store, said.

Art Catino, who owns and operates Catino Vino, Catino's Candy and Gift Shop and Catino's Italian Specialities with his wife, Maria, said, "It's nice to see someone in his position talking and showing his support for us. It's very encouraging."

He and the congressman shared a small cup of wine together, and then he showed him his efforts in removing blight and expanding his business on Oak Street.

"I like what he stands for. I think he's representing me the right way," Catino said.

Washington cares

Jones said he was impressed with Barletta because congressional visits "rarely happen."

"He's shown that Washington does really care. He's shown good faith in our community by talking to our people," he said.

Masser said it's important to note that Barletta's experience in Hazleton is similar to the Coal Region and he was impressed with how the congressman related to the business owners.

Owens said he coordinated with police officers from the borough, Mount Carmel Township and Kulpmont, the Union County Sheriff, Northumberland County Emergency Management to provide security for Barletta.

Everyone cooperated well, he said.