During this photo shoot, several locals stopped Michael Lombardo ’86, M’88, on the street to express gratitude and appreciation for the mayor’s work.


with Vision –
& Heart

Michael Lombardo ’86, M’88 has transformed a once-distressed small town into a vibrant, prosperous community that bursts with civic pride and admiration for its homegrown mayor. For Lombardo, it’s all been a labor of love.

by Bryan Hay

photographs by Douglas Kilpatrick


During this photo shoot, several locals stopped Michael Lombardo ’86, M’88, on the street to express gratitude and appreciation for the mayor’s work.

with Vision – & Heart

Michael Lombardo ’86, M’88 has transformed a once-distressed small town into a vibrant, prosperous community that bursts with civic pride and admiration for its homegrown mayor. For Lombardo, it’s all been a labor of love.

by Bryan Hay

photographs by Douglas Kilpatrick


n idyllic Frank Capra-esque winter scene of Pittston, Pa., with a cherry-red streetcar passing by a bustling Main Street dotted with storefronts, theatres and bank buildings is captured in a painting that occupies prominent wall space in the office of Mayor Michael Lombardo ’86, M’88.

“That piece serves as a reminder of Pittston’s heyday and as a source of inspiration for future possibilities,” he says of his hometown, which lies along the Susquehanna River between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Lombardo has orchestrated an urban revival in this 1.7-square-mile city of about 7,500 people, many of them descendants of anthracite miners and garment industry workers. From the moment you turn onto Main Street from any of the alleys coming from the residential areas of town, the heart of Pittston spills open like a movie set.

Where ghostly, abandoned warehouses and shuttered storefronts scarred the business district just 20 years ago, a vibrant Main Street corridor has taken shape with restaurants, retail establishments, residential units, colorful murals of Pittston’s heroes and icons, and public artwork by local artists. One of Lombardo’s many stretch goals is to have more public art per square inch in Pittston than any other city in the country.

Drawing inspiration from the vintage street lights of Lewisburg and his academic and athletic mentors from Bucknell, Lombardo reimagined Pittston, much in the image of the painting on his office wall, by tapping into a latent civic pride and reawakening a community.

Michael Lombardo smiles while leaning against a counter in his office, various architectural sketches and memorabilia line the walls

Michael Lombardo ’86, M’88 embraces lessons from the past as he looks toward the future. His office showcases plans for upcoming development projects.

Today, Pittston residents enjoy community police programs, refurbished parks, open-air markets, street festivals and business investment. Lombardo is particularly proud of establishing a modern, freestanding public library that offers an array of community programs, replacing a few shelves of books formerly housed in the basement of city hall.

Lombardo is serving his fourth term as mayor. But he says he feels like he’s just getting started.

The Reluctant Mayor

The Mike Lombardo who majored in psychology and went on to earn his master’s in school psychology at Bucknell was “a naive idealist with no political ambition.” He landed his first professional job in 1987 as a school psychologist with the Mifflin County School District. When he accepted a position with the Pocono Mountain School District in 1990, he returned to live in Pittston, a few blocks from his childhood neighborhood.
Lombardo went about his days passing empty storefronts and peeling paint along Main Street. It was easy for him to overlook the faded edifices of a bygone age. That changed one day when his brother-in-law paid a visit, his first time back to Pittston in many years, and expressed dismay with the condition of the town. “I remember him asking, ‘What happened to this place?’ ” Lombardo says. “It rattled me, so the next morning I got up and decided to deviate from my normal running path.”

An 800- and 1,000-meter runner at Bucknell, Lombardo started his route on the south edge of Main Street and took in his hometown in a new way. “For the first time in a long time,” he says, “I looked up at the upper floors of buildings and wondered, ‘When did all those windows get boarded up?’ ” Lombardo realized, abruptly, the true state of his city, “and it really bothered me.”

Lombardo also had something else stirring within him — the memory of his late brother, Captain John Lombardo. A volunteer firefighter for Pittston, John died in 1993, at 26, fighting a blaze on Main Street. His selfless act of duty motivated his big brother to step up and serve the community.

And so, in 1996, Lombardo reached out to his closest childhood friends and hatched a plan to run for city council. “Together, we founded a group called Downtown Tomorrow with the idea to make our city look better.” The globe street lights of Lewisburg kept popping into his mind, serving as a beacon in his quest. “I always loved running in Lewisburg, and those vintage light standards stuck with me,” he says. “I know psychology, and I thought we sort of had this bad self-image. We needed to clean up the welcome mat and at least make ourselves feel better. So how do you do that? You do that visually. That’s the first step.”

the Pittston Main Street mural with a focus on the depictions of Michael Lombardo's father and brother
Michael Lombardo ’86, M’88’s brother and father are both depicted in the Main Street mural Inspiration, which memorializes residents who made an impact on Pittston.
As his campaign propelled forward, his friends started elbowing him to forget city council and go for the mayor’s office instead. “We ran an all-out campaign,” he says. “I had to raise money. I had to advertise. I literally knocked on every door in the city. And, you know, I was nervous. I thought to myself, ‘I can lose this thing. What’s going to happen then?’ ”

He thought back to an encounter with the late Art Gulden P’03, P’05, longtime head coach of Bucknell’s cross-country and track and field programs. After a disappointing meet, Gulden reminded Lombardo that a loss is sometimes inevitable — and personal conduct counts most. Lombardo never forgot that lesson, and he says it helped him through the anxieties of that first election season.

In the end, Lombardo won by a landslide, and in 1997, at 33, he became the youngest mayor in the city’s history. He got to work turning campaign promises — to enhance the downtown, establish a freestanding library, improve streetscaping, build new homes and attract businesses — into reality.

Pittston, Transformed

Former Pittston Sunday Dispatch editor Ed Ackerman, who has known Lombardo since he was a teenager, witnessed the city’s decline during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He remembers one of Lombardo’s first tasks as mayor was installing electric utilities underground to improve aesthetics. “It’s a seemingly simple thing that makes all the difference in the world — he once said to me that we’re doing a lot of preliminary things, making improvements that no one is going to see, but they’ll get this sense that something’s right with the town,” Ackerman says. “He had a feel for that before everybody was talking about it.”

Lombardo also developed a knack for securing public money from politicians, which in turn attracted private investment in Pittston and drove measurable growth both downtown and in neighborhoods. The Main Street occupancy rate stands at 90%, compared to just 25% a little over a decade ago. Significant strides have been made in neighborhood blight reduction, and civic pride is abundant. The city has an investment-grade credit rating, increased housing opportunities, record-low crime, and property taxes that have not increased in 13 years.

From the beginning, Main Street Pittston has been the focal point of Lombardo’s plan for renewal. He not only sees Main Street as a source of services for residents but also as an attractive staging area for programmatic opportunities such as art walks, parades, live music, farmers markets, outdoor movies and events, including the Pittston Tomato Festival. The annual celebration promotes the city’s long-held designation as the “Quality Tomato Capital of the World,” attributable to the fact that the town’s soil and climate are particularly conducive to tomato growing.

“Mike has a tremendous vision for his hometown, which he loves dearly, and he’s very hands-on,” says Ackerman, who more than once has observed the mayor in a bucket truck repairing a pole or putting up Christmas lights. “I grew up here, I live here, and you know, when I look around now, I feel that this is a wonderful club I belong to here.”

A Personal Evolution

Lombardo launched Pittston on this dramatic transformation while still working as a school psychologist. By the end of his second term in office, he also had added director of special education to his resume. And, at home, he and his wife, Susan, were raising twin daughters, Catherine and Kristen. Lombardo decided to step away to devote more time to his family. But he missed his civic engagement work so much that, in 2005, he made a career change, leaving education in order to focus professionally on economic and community development.

“Bucknell trained me how to listen, show empathy and motivate people.”

Michael Lombardo ’86, M’88

Currently, Lombardo serves as business development director for Quad3, an architecture, engineering and environmental services firm in Wilkes- Barre. His role involves everything from pitching projects to municipalities to grant writing. These skills inform his duties as mayor, a position he resumed in 2018. Back by popular demand, Lombardo was reelected for a fourth term in 2021.

Lombardo’s leadership has received notice statewide. In 2022, he was named Pennsylvania State Mayors’ Association Mayor of the Year, received the Pennsylvania Municipal League Career Recognition Award and was appointed president of the Pennsylvania Municipal League.

He credits his Bucknell academic mentors — Professor Emerita Mary Bryfogle Wetzel ’56, M’78, P’79, G’11, education, and Professor Emeritus William Hauck, education, in particular — for shaping his personal and professional development. “They taught me how to be analytical, methodical and empathetic, how to listen and the power of making a difference in others’ lives,” Lombardo says.

He also learned the value of teamwork and the importance of recognition from Coach Gulden. “Often those out front get a lot of credit and those working behind the scenes tend to get neglected — but they deserve a ton of credit,” Lombardo says. “It’s easy to look good when you are surrounded by greatness.”

Bucknell’s well-rounded liberal arts education prepared him to be ready for anything, “whether it’s life’s tragedies or victories,” he says. “I never took any government classes, yet Bucknell trained me how to listen, show empathy and motivate people. That’s what effective municipal governance is all about.”

What Lies Ahead

Lombardo ended 2022 on a high note by securing a deal with Alvernia University, a Catholic university based in Reading, Pa., to open a satellite campus on Main Street. With three years remaining in his current term and plans to run for a fifth, Lombardo wants to continue the expansion and revitalization of Main Street’s north section.

“My team and I will keep working on neighborhood revitalization utilizing the proven downtown strategies,” he says. “I have recently announced Project Connect, which is a strategic plan to link the neighborhoods to our downtown. Operationally, it’s my goal to continue to place the city in a strong, financially sustainable position while continuing to be an example of effective government operation.”

It’s a source of pride and satisfaction for Lombardo, who keeps a steady eye on that streetscape painting in his office. It was by the late Joe Borini, who painted Pittston’s many history-themed murals and joined Lombardo as one of his original patriots in the cause of redeveloping the city.

“It reminds me of what I’m fighting for,” says Lombardo, who says he has no political ambitions beyond his hometown. “It’s not really about having power; it’s about having the power to make a difference. I’m proud of what’s happening in Pittston. There’s nothing on the planet, short of my family and friends, that you could offer me that would have more value than a five-minute walk down Main Street.”

Pittston Pride

Mayor Michael Lombardo ’86, M’88 shares what makes Pittston, Pa., a special community.