Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski stood before Philadelphia City Hall Monday evening to announce his candidacy for Governor in 2014.“This is not a decision that was easily made,” said Pawlowski, who is finishing his second, four-year term as Allentown’s chief executive. “But as Mayor of the third-largest city in the state and president of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, I have seen first-hand the damage that has been done to our Commonwealth over the past four years under the current Administration.
“I cannot sit idly by and let our state continue to suffer,” he continued. “We have done many great things in Allentown, accomplishments made possible because we were able to work together across party lines at all levels of government. I want to bring that cooperation to Harrisburg, to break the gridlock that has brought our government to a stand-still, and to address the many issues that face our state, our municipalities, and most of all, our people.”
A Quinnipiac Poll earlier this year touted by Pawlowski’s camp tagged their man as the most likely of the current declared candidates statewide to beat incumbent Tom Corbett in a head-to-head race.
During the eight years since Pawlowski took office, Allentown has reversed an $8 million budget deficit, added 80 officers to its police force and reduced crime almost 30%, implemented a variety of neighborhood-improvement projects that have helped restore vacant or deteriorating properties, and worked with local, state and federal officials to revitalize a downtown core once devastated by the loss of major retailers and locally owned businesses.
Pawlowski also led the recent effort to lease the City’s water-sewer facilities to Lehigh Co. Authority for $214 million – money that will be invested to offset the City’s pension fund obligations – making Allentown one of the only cities in the Commonwealth to successfully address its pension obligations while protecting retirees and current employees.
“None of this was easy. None of it came without significant discussion, debate and compromise,” Pawlowski said. “But we did it. We reached out when needed, we found common ground, we sat down with the people from both parties who could help us and we found new ways to make things work. We have proven that you can cooperate, that you can make progress, you can make things better. If we can do it here, why can’t it be done in Harrisburg?
Pawlowski noted Pennsylvania lags the nation in economic recovery and employment; early childhood, elementary and secondary and post-secondary education has suffered significantly because of current administration’s draconian budget cuts, and the state’s roads and bridges are among the worst in the nation.
“Mr. Corbett has a Republican-controlled legislature. Republicans control both the House and the Senate, and yet he cannot find ways to work with them to accomplish his agenda,” Pawlowski said. “If he can’t even work with his own party, how can we expect him to reach across the aisle and find the compromises that are needed to move the Commonwealth ahead?”
Pawlowski is currently running for a third term as Mayor, and has secured both the Democratic and Republican nomination for the November election.
Pawlowski has a Master’s degree in urban planning and public policy from the University of Illinois. He began his career as a community organizer on Chicago’s southwest side. In 1996 he became executive director of Lehigh Housing Development Corp., which under his leadership expanded to six counties, becoming a regional community-development corporation.
Due to his success in reviving and strengthening this organization, he was recruited to work for the City of Allentown as the director of community and economic development before being elected and sworn in as the 41st Mayor of the City of Allentown in January 2006.
Pawlowski and his wife Lisa live in Center City Allentown. They have two children, Mercy and Alex, who attend Allentown public schools.
Pawlowski formally joins a field already crowded with announced and potential candidates: Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz (D-Northeast), State Sen. Mike Stack (D-Northeast), businessman Tom Wolf, former Pennsylvania cabinet officers John Hanger and Katie McGinty, and State Treasurer Rob McCord.
Part of Pawlowski’s pitch is that he would be the only candidate in this field who has actually run a government.
KOPLINSKI STRESSES STATEWIDE REACH, MUNICIPAL SKILLS
Municipal government actually matters when choosing a Lieutenant Governor, since the holder of this office serves as head of the Local Government Advisory Committee. Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski, in town last week to talk with Philadelphia labor leaders, stressed he will face no learning curve if he is elected Lieutenant Governor in 2014.
“We didn’t do this lightly,” said Koplinski of his early entry into the race for Lieutenant Guv. “We’re running to do something with the office. I’ve got the experience.”
City Council in Harrisburg is a part-time job. Koplinski has long plied the trade of a top-level political campaign operative with strong progressive affiliations. He ran the statewide campaigns of John Kerry in 2004 and Hillary Clinton in 2008; when Barack Obama took the nomination that year, Koplinski became Obama’s controller for his Pennsylvania campaign. When Arlen Specter switched back to the Democratic Party, Koplinski became his statewide political director in 2010. He ran Kathryn Boockvar’s campaign for Commonwealth Court in 2011.
“I also worked for Auditor General Jack Wagner in his policy shop, dealing with issues like gaming and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency,” Koplinski noted.
Having worked so many statewide races, Koplinski is broadly familiar with county Democratic organizations everywhere. He is counting on these connections to yield him local endorsements – in a race which is decided more by endorsements than by TV advertising.
Geography also matters in Lieutenant Governor races. Being from Dauphin Co. is an asset, Koplinski reckons, since people from either end of the state have some familiarity with the capital city and relate to it. Democrats have been making gains in Central Pennsylvania of late, and Koplinski hopes to build on this growth.
If nominated, Koplinski will bring an asset to the fall campaign: time. “Most of the likely candidates for Governor on the Democratic side have day jobs,” he points out. Koplinski has the time to show up and keep a grueling face-to-face schedule while the head of the ticket concentrates on fundraising and advertising strategies.
If elected, Koplinski notes, the Lieutenant Governor also heads the Marcellus Shale Commission. Koplinski has sworn to fight for a severance tax on natural-gas production. “We’re losing $100 million a year from the lack of one, which 15 other states impose,” he said. “We are losing so many funds which could go to fix school budgets.” Too often Pennsylvania has had its natural resources looted by out-of-state profiteers, he said. “We saw it happen with oil, with coal and with timber,” he said. “We can’t let it happen with natural gas.”
Ethnicity may help him as well. “In 100 years there has never been a statewide Polish American candidate,” he said. Pennsylvania’s 800,000 Polish Americans could turn out to be a hidden weapon for Koplinski’s candidacy and an aid in the general election (unless his running mate turns out to be Ed Pawlowski).
Other names being floated for the Lieutenant Governor primary are three Westerners: Mark Smith of Bradford Co., former Congressman Mark Critz and State Rep. Brandon Newman of Washington Co.
CORBETT WHACKS SCHWARTZ AS A BIG-TAX ADVOCATE
Meanwhile, taking aim at his loudest Democratic rival, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, Gov. Tom Corbett laid out a case that Schwartz would undo Corbett’s proudest achievement: keeping taxes down.
Corbett’s campaign office released the following statement from Campaign Mgr. Mike Barley on Allyson Schwartz’s proposed tax increase: “Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz’s proposal to drastically increase taxes on the shale-gas industry will cost Pennsylvanians good-paying, middle-class jobs by forcing the industry to relocate to more business and energy-friendly states. Between the State Democratic Party’s radical proposal to ban natural-gas drilling and Allyson Schwartz’s agenda to tax the industry out of our state, it is clear they have chosen to side with the special-interest groups over the nearly 250,000 average working-class Pennsylvanians employed in natural gas and the millions more who are benefiting from this growing industry. This industry has helped to reignite growth and opportunity in areas of the state that have been in decline for decades.
“Gov. Corbett has consistently stood with the middle class in his efforts to create jobs, grow our economy and responsibly use our natural resources, while protecting the environment. Working with the legislature, Gov. Corbett passed and signed historic legislation that has reinvested over $400 million in our local communities. Pennsylvania is fortunate enough to have a booming natural-gas industry to help lead the charge in lowering energy costs for our families and small businesses and creating over 130,000 new opportunities for Pennsylvanians to return to work.”
GUV DEALS GRANTS TO S.E. ENERGY PLANTS
Gov. Tom Corbett announced the award of two key energy projects in Southeastern Pennsylvania with Economic Growth Initiative grants. The program provides grants to local communities for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, and historical improvement projects.
“These grants are investments in our state, in our people and in our economy,” Corbett said. “These projects will help create jobs here in Pennsylvania and continue our trend toward prosperity.”
Five million dollars was awarded to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Catalytic Cracker facility in South Philadelphia. The project includes upgrading the existing 100,000-barrel-per-day residual-fuel catalytic cracker to improve both operational reliability and efficiency. The upgrade is critical to the ongoing viability of the refinery’s operations and will help protect 850 permanent positions and create 1,000 new non-permanent construction jobs within the facility, as well as support the creation of more than 10,500 jobs in the immediate and surrounding area.
Delaware Co.’s Marcus Hook Splitter project also received an additional $5 million for the continued optimization and integration of a portion of the former Sunoco Marcus Hook refinery, preserving hundreds of jobs and keeping the company’s operations and North American HQ in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Braskem America, the facility’s new owner, processes chemicals for use in its adjacent plastics plant.
Sunoco announced the closure of the Marcus Hook facility last year, threatening the jobs of more than 200 employees and potentially 1,500 workers from surrounding businesses.
“Elect me and hold me accountable,” he said. “As school auditor, my top priority will be to ensure every penny possible is dedicated to the classroom. Parents deserve to have specific visibility to how our billions are spent in this time of fiscal distress. As I have spoken with parents across the city, there is one common theme: they don’t feel their kids are always the priority.”
Tracy believes to fix the schools, we must begin with a comprehensive, independent review of the School District’s finances and provide mass-published, accessible budget details to the public, as per the home-rule charter.
“This is absolutely fundamental. We don’t really know what we’re solving for without it, which is why we find ourselves in crisis year after year,” Tracy said.
Tracy has criticized incumbent City Controller Alan Butkowitz for claiming his office needs no more power or authority in the face of the school crisis. “We need to break the cycle of blame, spin and knee-jerk tax increases that too many in our governing class resort to. There are solutions to the problems we face. These are man-made, not natural disasters. Our kids deserve better.”
As far as Tracy is concerned, it is an antiquated political class, encumbered by years of partisan divide, diffused accountability, and political horse trading that prevents creative problem solving and the embracing of substantial reform. It is a core function of local government to provide equal access to quality public education for every child.
“This is needed now,” he added. “T his is new-school politics.”