BY JOE SHAHEELI/ Name-dropping is the name of the game at this stage of the Democratic contention for a challenger to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in the upcoming May 20 primary.
Ten candidates either have formally announced for the Governor’s race or are closely considering it. As the incumbent Corbett has been leaking blood in recent dismal polls, Democrats are drawn like sharks toward what looks like a winnable election.
To make serious headway during the winter months, serious candidates need to start raising serious money now. Big-name endorsements usually don’t cost much but they provide crucial support for fourth-quarter fundraising, as major donors want to know candidates already have a base before they endow them.
Thus far, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz (D-Northeast) and State Treasurer Rob McCord have proven themselves to be amongst the most capable in this regard. Last week, these two added to their credentials by each securing organizational endorsements. Both hail from Montgomery Co., which has become a bastion of Democratic votes. As a result, though, neither can expect to confront the other with a unified “home team”. So both must scramble far and wide for support in other corners of the state.
Schwartz picked up a big win by getting the backing of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.
“Allyson Schwartz is far and away the best candidate to take on Gov. Corbett next fall,” Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of PFT 400, said. “She has a detailed plan to reverse the damage of Gov. Corbett’s cuts in her first term and make unprecedented investments in universal pre-kindergarten for four-year olds.”
Schwartz – along with most of the Democratic hopefuls – has said education would be her top priority as Governor.
Significantly, this endorsement comes from the key battleground area of the race: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. With all of the major candidates hailing from Southeastern Pennsylvania, establishing a strong foothold in Pittsburgh is a must.
For his part, McCord picked up the backing of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association. With 9,500 members statewide, this union is a major voting bloc in Midstate and Northern Pennsylvania.
“When we met with Rob McCord we sensed he understood the challenges we face and that he was committed to working with us,” said PSCOA President Roy Pinto. “We know Rob appreciates the needs of working families better than any other candidate because he grew up in such a family.”
MANY COUNTY CHAIRS FALL IN BEHIND McCORD
Twenty Democratic Party county chairs have endorsed McCord for Governor.
“I’m proud to add my name to the list of Rob McCord supporters,” said Chester Co. Chair Michele Vaughn. “Right now this state needs a leader who understands what families are going through, a leader with the intelligence and expertise to find innovative solutions to our toughest challenges, and a leader who has the experience to deliver real results. Rob McCord is that leader.”
It’s highly unlikely any of the Democrats running for Governor will win the endorsement of the statewide party. That requires a two-thirds vote by state committee members – a tough threshold even in a two-way race.
But unlike the GOP, which maintains stricter control over county party activities from the top down, individual Democratic county committees are free to endorse.
The county party circuit is McCord’s strong suit. He first courted local leaders and state committee members – aggressively – in 2008 when he ran in the competitive Treasurer primary against former State Rep. John Cordisco.
Cordisco, now the chairman of the Bucks Co. Democratic Committee, is on the list of McCord supporters.
Since then McCord regularly has traveled the state, keynoting breakfasts and party functions throughout all 67 Pennsylvania counties.
“The Democratic County Chairs are on the front lines when it comes to standing up to Tom Corbett’s agenda — an agenda that has significantly reduced the investments we make in Pennsylvania’s working families,” McCord said. “As someone who has made it a priority to say ‘no’ to this governor when he tries to take us off track, I am honored to receive these valuable endorsements from fellow Democratic leaders.”
In the west, McCord has won over the chairs of Blair, Cambria, Cameron, Crawford, Indiana, Lawrence and Somerset Cos. Midstate, he claims the party chiefs of Centre, Cumberland, Fulton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lycoming and Union Cos. Northeastern backers include the chairs of Berks and Carbon Cos.
The key question: Can these chairmen and women deliver their county endorsements?
CAN BOXER, CITY CHIEFS PACK ONE-TWO PUNCH FOR PAWLOWSKI?
While McCord works the counties, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski is working the cities. Enjoying a good track record and high repute for his leadership of Lehigh Valley’s flagship city, Pawlowski is picking up support from other municipal leaders as well as from elected officials in his regional base.
Former Heavyweight Champion and Easton businessman Larry Holmes, as well as President of Erie City Council Jim Winarski, have given the nod to Pawlowski in 2014.
Also announcing their endorsement of Pawlowski are Co-Chair of Monroe Co. Democrats Hector Citron; Reading City Councilman Jeff Waltman and Lehigh Co. Commissioner Dan McCarthy. These are the latest elected officials from across the state who have joined the growing list of supporters for Pawlowski’s run for the Democratic nomination.
“I greatly appreciate the support of Larry Holmes, who is a legend, champion, and important to the business community in Pennsylvania,” said Pawlowski. “In addition, I’m glad these other elected officials have joined our fight to defeat Tom Corbett and to counter the failed leadership that is sending our commonwealth down the wrong path. Together we will work to move Pennsylvania forward on the road to prosperity.”
Urban votes are a gold mine for Democratic candidates. If Pawlowski can build a statewide network of supporters in cities, he may be able to sneak through the scrimmage for county-party and labor support and come out ahead.
Other Democratic candidates for Governor include former Dept. of Environmental Protection Secretaries John Hanger and Katie McGinty, Cumberland Co. minister Max Myers, Lebanon Co. Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, former Auditor General Jack Wagner from Pittsburgh and former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf. State Sen. Mike Stack (D-Northeast), who had been considering a run for the governorship, yesterday announced he will stand for Lieutenant Governor instead.
When it comes to fundraising, millionaire businessman Wolf of York Co. needs to attract only one major donor, at least in the primary: himself. The other four will need to start harvesting endorsements soon, if they are to garner the resources to mount effective campaigns after New Year’s Day.
The larger the field, however, the lower the bar becomes for any one individual to win; it doesn’t take nearly as many votes to win a ten-person race as a two-person race.
PROGRESSIVE SUMMIT WILL SHOWCASE HOPEFULS
Hanger, Litz, McGinty, Pawlowski, Myers, Rob McCord, Wolf and Schwartz will divert their attacks from Gov. Corbett and onto each other. They’ve each agreed to participate in the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit in February.
The Pennsylvania Progressive Summit will be held Feb. 28 and Mar. 1 at the Harrisburg Hilton, with the debate scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. Candidates will take questions from progressive leaders in the audience and sponsoring organizations of the event.
Hosted by Keystone Progress, an online activist community, the event expects nearly 1,000 attendees at its fifth annual summit.
“We are excited about the impact that our gubernatorial debate will have,” said Eileen Connelly, chair of the board of Keystone Progress. “This is an incredible opportunity for the progressive community to set the agenda for the entire campaign.”
Technically, this will be the second debate for the Democratic primary candidates, as they were all invited to a debate hosted by a Harrisburg community group back in June. Only Max Myers and John Hanger actually participated. Schwartz was in a voting session in D.C., McGinty and McCord declined, though McCord was still undeclared at that point.
Despite the event’s poor candidate attendance, Myers and Hanger didn’t waste the opportunity to chastise their opponents for not participating.
Hanger questioned, “If you are not ready to do this debate, why are you ready to run for Governor?”
Myers quipped, “The risk is too high for those who aren’t here.”
The Progressive Summit debate promises to be better attended, though Jack Wagner has yet to respond to their invitations. Progressive activists are well dispersed across the state and have independent networks of grassroots organizers who can be invaluable for a statewide campaign. For candidates with small war chests in particular, the Summit may be the last hurrah for their efforts to seize high ground in the primary.
AND TOM’S ‘ENDORSEMENT’? LOOKS LIKE IT’S ALLYSON
Gov. Tom Corbett’s reelection strategists have made clear they see their man’s top threat coming from Schwartz. They showed this by singling her out for early and sustained attacks on her proposal to fund transportation funding through a new 5% severance tax on natural-gas production.
Campaign Mgr. Mike Barley released the following statement:
“Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz owes the Pennsylvania taxpayers an answer as to what other taxes she would increase to fund her campaign plans like the transportation infrastructure bank. It’s clear the only page in her playbook is to implement new excessive taxes and spend more money on increasing the size of government, an agenda already failing us in Washington, D.C. Every one of Congresswoman Schwartz’s plans will be dependent on failed tax-and-spend policies that will kill jobs and increase the burden for Pennsylvania’s families and small businesses.
“Gov. Corbett has put Pennsylvanians first by keeping his promises to restore fiscal responsibility in Harrisburg, grow our energy sector, empower the private sector to create over 130,000 new jobs, and refuse to raise taxes on Pennsylvania’s hardworking families and small businesses,” Barley continued.
Schwartz hardly sticks out in the Democratic field on this issue. Many if not most of the other Democratic gubernatorial aspirants are also leery of shale-gas extraction and want to tap it for more revenue.
Therefore, the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s early efforts to brand Schwartz in particular as a “tax-and-spend liberal” amounts to a left-handed “endorsement” of Schwartz’s candidacy. Insiders are reading this move as a statement the GOP fears the Congresswoman more than any of her rivals at this date.
WILLIAMS, ALVAREZ AGREE TO DEBATE D.A.’S RACE
After Republican challenger Danny Alvarez encountered incumbent DA Seth Williams in the Mayfair Diner in Northeast Philadelphia, the two settled on a televised debate.
The taped debate, which has not yet taken place, will be aired on Larry Kane’s “Voice of Reason” show on CN8.
Alvarez had long been badgering Williams to schedule a debate, as a prosecutor.” Furthermore, he implored Seth Williams to engage him in a debate by stating, “I think Mr. Williams is afraid to go toe to toe with me in a debate about the issues, unless he has his entourage there to answer all the tough questions.” That charge will now be put to rest.
Alvarez is hoping to draw momentum from what he regards as a misstep by Williams at a public meeting in Mayfair when the family of slain Fishtown resident Shane Kelly questioned Seth Williams about his plea-bargaining strategy. In Kelly’s case, the defendants pled out for as little as 13.5 years behind bars in the armed-robbery case. Some found Williams’ response insensitive and the crowd turned unruly, causing the town-hall meeting to be halted.
Alvarez is a former Assistant DA. Currently, Alvarez is an associate at Lamb McErlane, PC, where he is a member of the criminal-defense practice.
Williams has upped his visibility in his own way in recent weeks, joining other elected officials at fairs and forums largely in friendly territory. Like any incumbent, he has little incentive to provide his challenger with a venue for display on an equal footing.
TRACY: BIPARTISAN EYE NEEDED FOR SCHOOL $$
Philadelphians sorely need a Republican eye on expenditures by public officials in a Democrat-run city, insists Terry Tracy, who is challenging incumbent City Controller Alan Butkovitz in the November general election.
Pointing to a Pew Institute poll showing widespread dissatisfaction with the city’s direction – particularly in the area of public education – and calling for lower taxes instead of more services, Tracy has vowed to begin aggressive audits of all city and school bureaucracies if he is elected Controller.
Speaking at a civic meeting for Center City voters in Fairmount, Tracy said, “The point of this particular cycle, when it was initially imagined, is the people of Philadelphia basically have a midterm election on the performance of the Mayor.
“If you are not satisfied with this current administration’s performance, then elect a City Controller and a District Attorney … that are able to really operate as a meaningful check and balance on the government in power. And I think there are people across the city coming from different ideological points of view that say, ‘You know what, that makes a lot of sense’.”
Most urgent, in Tracy’s view is an immediate probe into School District spending. He charges top-heavy administrative costs have created many of the painful cuts in direct educational services at the school and classroom level. Butkovitz, he says, has soft-pedaled investigations of the School District.
A link to a “Town Hall with Terry” video clip can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baP2k_MNftM&noredirect=1
FATTAH MAKES COVETED PILGRIMAGE TO ISRAEL
Nothing shores up a political figure like a visit to Israel. It catches the eye of Jewish voters, who are a high-information and influential bloc.
Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-Phila.) traveled to Israel last weekend to deliver a keynote address at Brain Tech Israel 2013, the country’s first ever international brain technology conference. Fattah’s keynote speech, “Neurotechnology — The Time is Now,” will address his work as the architect of the Fattah Neuroscience Initiative and provide an update on President Barack Obama’s BRAIN Initiative. Fattah has carved out “eds and meds” as an area of specialty.
The Congressman was the only US elected official invited to address the conference. During the visit — his first to the country — he also met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, Avi Hasson, Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Economy, and a group of young Israeli entrepreneurs that have business interests in the Philadelphia area.
Fattah has been instrumental in enhancing the US-Israel collaboration in neuroscience and neurotechnology, and the visit is an extension of his effort to increase partnerships between the two countries. The visit will build on Philadelphia and Israel’s strong economic ties, as Fattah explores new opportunities for investment and cooperation, especially among his district’s hospitals, research universities, and science centers.
To date, he’s supported several joint projects between the Philadelphia region and Israel, including the clinical trial of ReWalk (designed in Israel) at Philadelphia’s Einstein Medical Center.
BrainTech Israel brings together government officials, Nobel Prize winners, investors, scientists, entrepreneurs, and leading multinationals to discuss cutting-edge brain technologies from Israel and around the world.