John Zogby was hard pressed for praise when discussing findings of his community assessment at a town meeting Wednesday at Hazleton Area High School.
John Madden, chancellor emeritus at Penn State Hazleton and a member of the Community Assessment Committee of the Greater Hazleton Area Civic Partnership, kicked off the 5:30 p.m. session with a two-page statement outlining the local association’s take on the findings.
Madden specifically pointed to Zogby’s “political position” on immigration, adding that the task force committee and civic partnership neither endorses nor rejects that stance.
Zogby publicly reminded meeting attendees that his firm was contracted to conduct the study based on the best data available, which “isn’t necessarily the best data.”
He said some statistics cited in the study were based on Census data that is sometimes often flawed.
Zogby spoke of his ties to Hazleton, with family living in the city. He spoke of “global changes” that affected the city 120 to 150 years ago during the shift from a rural to manufacturing community.
Today, he said, the city is one of many in the midst of more social and economic changes that are creating “social problems” dealt with by public schools that rely on dwindling property taxes and job growth consisting of “jobs that pay less.”
Crime statistics featured in the report were compiled by state police and Zogby said that it was not until Tuesday that he received conflicting figures from Barletta that shows a spike in city crime.
Educational issues stem from overcrowded schools, while Census reports project a decreasing population, he noted.
Zogby also referred to Hazleton’s challenged illegal immigration law, saying that such legislation is often interpreted as “anti-immigration.”
He gave his personal take on the issue in his study, saying he feared that the notion of immigration could be “hijacked” by “national demagogues trying to accent the worst.”
Barletta told Zogby that if his firm planned on doing further work, it should include representatives from the school district, city and local hospitals in order to reduce inaccuracies. He also faulted the firm for interviewing about 200 Hispanics compared with 45 non-Hispanics.
Zogby again disagreed with the mayor.
“I feel the public opinion we tapped is an accurate perception,” he said. “We don’t always get what we want to hear. My only agenda is to try and get it right.”
Meeting attendee Erica Cardenas ran down a brief history of the city’s immigration proposal, particularly referencing the English-only proposal.
She said she felt offended when asked to give up her heritage, particularly when she agrees on many issues discussed in public about increasing gang activity and illegal immigration.
She asked the mayor to arrange meetings with the local Hispanic community so that he could better spell out his intentions.
[Mayor Lou] Barletta explained the difficulty police are encountering with 10 different gangs identified in Hazleton, asking Cardenas not to misunderstand his intentions.
Attendee Anna Arias chimed in, criticizing Barletta for not consulting local Latino leaders when drafting the ordinance.
Council President Joe Yannuzzi commended Cardenas for acting “level-headed,” saying she should be Hazleton’s representative of the Hispanic community.
When asked by an unidentified audience member about suggestions for improving the community, Zogby suggested the Bridge Building program where local leaders and residents partner with churches on various improvement initiatives.
Dr. Linda Trompetter, executive director of the Diversity Institute at Misericordia, said the county started a task force that includes Arias and Dr. Agapito Lopez, but said she has experienced difficulty recruiting members from Hazleton.
Zogby endorsed the task force, urging attendees to circulate a sign up sheet Tuesday. He concluded the presentation referencing a five-year-old news article that ironically stated Zogby was known for giving his clients what they want.
“You asked me to call the shots as I see them,” he added. “I did and we’re going to work together.”
A Zogby International report issued Wednesday paints a picture of Hazleton as a city where racism is rampant and people live in constant fear of racial profiling and losing their homes and/or jobs if taken for being in the country illegally.
The Hazleton Area Community Assessment report’s 114 pages are broken into nine different sections.
It is sharply critical of Mayor Lou Barletta, though it does not mention him by name, and the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which it is also does not name.
It states that though he won both the Republican and Democratic primaries in the spring, he needed to be challenged anyway.
The report was formally released during a 3:30 p.m. press conference at the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce’s office in the Citiscape Building on West Broad Street.
Zogby’s “Special Executive Summary” calls Hazleton “a city of traditions” and an “anomaly” because, “Newcomers want it!
“Now fear reigns supreme, and the biggest fear is that this great tradition can be hijacked, especially by national demagogues trying to accent the worst,” it reads. “The current atmosphere threatens to set Hazleton back to the pre-CAN DO days. The companies who want to locate here will rethink their position if the labor force is driven out… Incoming business will wonder why people are leaving. And whether legal or illegal, they will leave. Many have already left.”
The report said residents fear racial profiling.
“Racism is a critical local issue in Hazleton, and a massive community effort needs to be made to root out the disease of racism,” it reads.
During the press conference, Zogby admitted to interjecting his political opinion into the introduction, but he said his comments about local ordinances were not judgments on them.
Zogby also recommended the city execute an outreach program directed specifically at the Hispanic population.
The report states the city is “experiencing the typical burdens of a community that is experiencing growth,” adding that social systems are resources are “being stretched, but these are not undue burdens.”
In the introduction, it states crime has decreased since 1999, referencing pages 31 and 32 of the report.
Those pages state, “Using data from the Pennsylvania State Police Web site, the total crimes reported in Hazleton is decreasing, not increasing,” the body of the report reads. “Arrest patterns show that while overall reported crime is decreasing, the Hispanic population accounts for a greater percent or proportion of arrests.”
The report compared 2005 crime rates per thousand between Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre, “which has a smaller Hispanic population,” and found, “Wilkes-Barre has a higher rate per thousand in every category.”
It found Hazleton’s 2005 rate per thousand higher than Luzerne County as whole “for sex-related offences, robbery, property offenses and alcohol-related crime,” but added that “even though there may have been some increases, the crime rate is very low.”
The report also states, “Hazleton seems to be facing no greater challenges than other areas of the country.”
It states that “while the public school district spending may be down and the SAT scores are low,” it concludes Hazleton Area School District is “performing adequately in light of the challenges it is facing.”
It cited statistics that show the district’s dropout rate fell from 2.1 percent in 1997 to 1.6 percent in 2003.
Under economic data, it states the highest unemployment rate of 7.1 percent occurred in 1996 and the lowest, 4.9 percent, came in 2000.
The report says unemployment rose from 2001 to 2004, but decreased in 2005.