Facing gambling and conspiracy charges in 1991, William Gentile Jr. resigned from Johnstown City Council.

Now he’s getting a second chance in politics.

In a controversial move, Cambria County Democrats have chosen Gentile as a substitute candidate for a two-year City Council term on the November ballot.

Gentile never was convicted of, nor pleaded guilty to, any crime. Instead, he served one year of probation under the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program.

And the West End resident contends his past has no bearing on the present.

“I’m here to try and help the city of Johnstown if I can,” he said.

Gentile takes the place of incumbent Councilman Bill Neatrour, who also won a nomination for a four-year term in the primary election.

Neatrour still will appear on the ballot for the four-year spot, but he voluntarily gave up his two-year nomination at the behest of the county’s Democratic party leaders.

If Neatrour had kept and won both ballot spots in November, he would have been forced to choose either a four-year or a two-year term. City Council then would have had to appoint a councilman to fill the resulting vacancy.

“Why shouldn’t the voters have a choice?” said Bill Joseph, Cambria County Democratic Committee chairman. “Why should it be City Council?”

Neatrour agrees. And despite stiff competition for four-year seats, he likes his chances in November - especially since he was the top vote-getter among council candidates in the primary.

“I was interested in the four-year term,” said Neatrour, a retired Greater Johnstown Middle School teacher. “I like what I’m doing.”

But having Gentile serve as a replacement has caused some controversy. That’s because of the manner in which he was selected, as well as the facts behind his checkered political past.

Gentile served a two-year term on council through 1982, and was elected in 1984 to a four-year term. He began serving another four-year term in 1988.

But trouble arrived in January 1990, when he was linked to a Lower Yoder Township social club that had been raided by state police. Two months later, Gentile was charged with gambling and conspiring to run a gambling operation, both misdemeanors.

In early 1991, officials disclosed that Gentile had agreed to resign from council and entered the ARD program. Along with serving probation, he was ordered to pay $416 in fines and court costs.

At the time, county District Attorney Timothy Creany said he initially had refused to consider ARD but changed his mind when Gentile resigned from council.

Gentile, now 58 and a state Department of Transportation employee, continues to maintain his innocence.

“I could have beat the case,” Gentile said. “But instead of dragging my family through it, I decided to step out of the limelight.”

He also said he does not believe his brush with the law will have any impact on his chances in November’s election.

“I have strong support,” Gentile said. “I know I do.”

Joseph agreed, adding that he believes Gentile’s prosecution was politically motivated.

“Do we penalize him for the rest of his life?” Joseph asked. “He hasn’t done anything illegal.”

The former councilman also has backing from current Councilman Jack Williams, who in his capacity as a Democratic district chairman nominated Gentile for the job.

“I thought he was a good councilman,” Williams said. “The situation he got into was unfortunate.”

Gentile will face Republican Michael Shuman, who ran unopposed for the two-year term in the primary election. Shuman, a political newcomer, could not be reached for comment.

Robert Gleason, Cambria County Republican Committee chairman, declined to comment on Gentile. But he said Shuman stands a better chance with Neatrour out of the two-year race.

“I think we have an opportunity to win that seat now,” Gleason said.

The process leading to Gentile’s nomination also has attracted scrutiny.

While Neatrour declined comment, officials close to the situation said he and others on City Council were led to believe they could pick a nominee and were caught off guard by Gentile’s selection.

But Neatrour never sent a letter to Joseph formally requesting a nominee. Councilman Nunzio Johncola cited a “lack of communication” in the process.

“I don’t think either side knew exactly how this procedure was going to go,” Johncola said.

Joseph defends the committee’s actions, noting that only Williams offered a nomination in writing. So Democratic leaders had one name to consider - Gentile’s - before the Aug. 25 deadline.

Joseph noted that he called a meeting and discussed the matter with some Democratic city councilmen - including Neatrour and Johncola - before the nomination process even began.

But with Gentile’s name now headed for November’s ballots, Joseph said he simply is trying to squelch a squabble among Democrats.

“The party doesn’t need that,” he said.

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