BY JOE SHAHEELI/ As we have been predicting, hopefuls seeking the Democratic nomination in the May 20 primary will find themselves quite similar when voters begin to check their platforms. With poll positions rather frozen â€“ Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz and State Treasurer Rob McCord, both from Montgomery Co., holding one and two in popularity â€“ the others in the race continue to press for additional exposure.
That pressing urgency for all the candidates is to outdo the Salvation Armyâ€™s Santa Claus kettle brigade from now until early May.
Millionaire Tom Wolf is already ordering campaign supplies, since he is sure he can pay bills early on, and is promoting ways to make more jobs in Pennsylvania. His plan is being criticized by his contenders.
It is not without appeal to donors, however, it appears: the York Co. manufacturer raised $420,000 from outside sources between Dec. 11 and the New Year, bringing his numbers of to $3.27 million. Thatâ€™s in addition to the $10 million of his own money he has pledged to the primary race.
Being a Treasurer doesnâ€™t seem to hurt McCordâ€™s fundraising ability either. He announced a total kitty of $6 million by the end of 2013, including $1.7 million from his own pocket.
Democratic Party chairs in 25 of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s 67 counties have already endorsed McCord and that could force an open primary, since Philadelphia Co. is solidly committed to Schwartz, though that may not be as solid as it could be, since she is reportedly angering some segments of the community. Schwartz is clearly in the hunt as far as funding is concerned, having posted $6.5 million in 2013.
Katie McGinty, a former Dept. of Environmental Protection Secretary, established some good business connections during her tenure and they are paying off for her now. It is thought she has raised over $2 million, but her campaign is not discussing finances at this time.
The next round of public fundraising disclosures is scheduled for Jan. 31.
CAN HANGER HANG ONTO â€˜MOST PROGRESSIVEâ€™ TITLE?
To date, all leading candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nod have adhered to standard progressive positions on most major issues. That leaves the statewide progressive community with the challenge of figuring out which of the eight really mean it, so to speak. If one candidate can establish bona fides with liberal activists, that may become an advantage in the race. Strongly liberal votes are usually not enough to take a two-way race in Pennsylvania, but in an eight-way race all bets are off. Such a strategy is most attractive to candidates who cannot match the top-funded competitors.
John Hanger, who, like McGinty, is a former Dept. of Environmental Resources Secretary, may be developing his campaign around issues likely to appeal to younger progressive voters.
Hanger is the first candidate to support legalizing medical marijuana. This reform, which has already been initiated in several states including neighboring New Jersey, will be getting extra media play in the Keystone State this winter now that a bipartisan State Senate teamup, Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin), has introduced a measure, SB 1182, to allow this business here.
Since other candidates may not be prepared to go this far yet, Hanger can jump out ahead with voters who support this idea. He has already drawn praise from former Gov. Ed Rendell, who called Hanger’s proposal â€œbrilliant.â€
Hanger has reached out to Philly-based Ronald Blount, president of the Taxicab Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, to decry the treatment of cab drivers by company owners. â€œPhiladelphiaâ€™s cab drivers are some of the hardest working people in the City,â€ said Hanger. â€œThey do this essential and sometimes dangerous work making an average of $5.00 an hour. But they are getting ripped off by taxi company owners who are charging them outrageous medallion fees.â€ Hanger is calling on the Philadelphia parking Authority to enforce limits on medallion fees â€œand stop this wage theft.â€
College students and their families may take note of one of Hangerâ€™s educational proposals â€“ two years of free tuition at a community college (or one at a university) for any high-school graduate. The tuition would be paid by a new agency to be called the Keystone Opportunity Fund. Once students graduate, they would pay back 1.2%-2.2%% of their incomes back into the fund for 15 years. The fund would be initially financed with a $1.5 billion bond and a total of $3.4 billion of bond financing needed over 10 years. Hanger states the fund would become self-sustaining within 22Â½ years. Its initial annual taxpayer cost until then would average $200 million, he projects.
Fracking in the Marcellus Shale is a touchstone to the progressive vote and all Democratic candidates have sworn to keep the energy industry at armâ€™s length when it comes to campaign solicitation. But on this issue, Hanger shares one advantage with McGinty in having actually run an agency that regulates natural-gas drilling. This positions him to speak as a stern Marcellus hawk.
Testifying at a Dept. of Environmental Protection hearing on proposed revisions to oil and gas regulations, Hanger charged regulation, zoning and taxation must work together and reinforce each other, but the State is â€œnot doing any of those things today.â€ Hanger has proposed a comprehensive 19-point program to bring â€œworld-classâ€ regulatory standards and mandatory best-practices to drilling. He urges stiffening drilling requirements, doubling liability, banning bad actors from the state and adding 105 new DEP inspectors.
He has been endorsed for Governor by fracking-affected families in Dimock as well as Franklin Forks, where last month he helped ensure that households whose well water was contaminated would not lose their water supply tanks, as threatened by the drilling company WPX Energy. Both sites are icons to the anti-fracking movement, which is skilled at getting out its message to its base across the state. It that message becomes a pro-Hanger message, thatâ€™s worth something.
PAGOP COMES OUT SWINGING AT SCHWARTZ
If the opinion of the opposing party counts for anything, Schwartz is comfortably in the lead. To date, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania has concentrated almost all its fire on the Congresswoman, ignoring her rival fellow Democrats. Its favorite weapon: Obamacare, which Schwartz has supported and which, in the glare of a shaky rollout of its new insurance mandate, many voters feel queasy about.
Latest blast was from Megan Sweeney, PAGOPâ€™s new communications director. Its particular focus: health-care coverage for volunteer firefighters, which may become unaffordable for small fire departments according to some of the language in the Affordable Care Act.
Schwartz herself has criticized these provisions and called for them to be revised. But the Republican position is they are still her fault. â€œAllyson Schwartzâ€™s support for Obamacare is the reason Pennsylvania volunteer firefightersâ€™ health-care is in jeopardy in the first place,â€ Sweeney said. â€œIt was PAGOP who forced Allyson Schwartz to finally take a look at Obamacareâ€™s disastrous effect on volunteer firefighters.
â€œMany questions regarding Allyson Schwartzâ€™s support for Obamacare remain,â€ Sweeney continued. â€œWhy wasnâ€™t Allyson Schwartz aware of the dangers that Obamacare posed to our volunteer firefighters in the first place?â€
Throughout much of rural and suburban Pennsylvania, volunteer fire departments are core civic institutions that link and inform ordinary citizens. Any candidate who becomes identified in their minds as hostile to fire companies â€“ well, that personâ€™s campaign may not exactly catch fire with them.
BRIGHT HOPE PASTOR WEIGHS MAYORAL RUN
The church from which the legendary Congressman Bill Gray launched his huge political career may have a new candidate waiting in the wings. Bright Hope Baptist Churchâ€™s current pastor Kevin Johnson has let it be known he is eyeing a shot at the mayoralty in 2015.
Johnson has never sought public office and is a relative newcomer to the city, having moved here in 2006. He would position himself as an outsider and hope to tap into anti-establishment sentiment. If Rev. Johnson can muster the support of his influential congregation, though, he will not lack connections and clout.
Although Johnson himself lives in Overbrook Farms in West Philadelphia, Bright Hope is a North Philadelphia landmark. On the African American side of city politics, the mayoral contender most talked about at present is State Sen. Anthony Williams, who hails from West Philadelphia.
Perhaps the most noteworthy North Philadelphia politician is City Council President Darrell Clarke, who could put up a fight for the mayoralty if he wished. But it is not at all clear he will wish to. To run, he would have to give up his Council seat â€“ and the pleasures of maturing as a long-standing Council President, a role that offers great power with few of the headaches that beset an administrative elected official. Absent Clarke, an electoral void in North Philadelphia may be something Rev. Johnson hopes to fill.
ALTON REACHES OUT TO BLACK PHILADELPHIANS
Candidate Brenda Alton joined leaders of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s black clergy in Philadelphia on Jan. 12 to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. and the continuing progress of social justice.
Alton attended services at the Mt. Airy Church of God In Christ and Prince of Peace Baptist Church in Philadelphia. These events began Altonâ€™s series of public appearances dedicated to honor Kingâ€™s memory of service to the church and community. King was the first to exemplify â€œpeople before politics,â€ which is the cornerstone of Altonâ€™s public policy.
Alton is the only female candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 2014 and the only Black person currently running for Governor or Lieutenant Governor in this election cycle. â€œI bring a fresh perspective, and believe that itâ€™s time for government to be accessible and accountable to everyone in Pennsylvania,â€ said Alton.
PROGRESSIVE PAC SET TO MAKE ENDORSEMENTS
Keystone Progress Political Action Committee will endorse candidates for the first time, beginning with the 2014 election cycle.
â€œKeystone Progress has grown to be one of the most powerful progressive organizations in Pennsylvania. Our board of directors has recognized we can have an impact beyond our usual issue-based work by getting actively involved in electing progressive candidates,â€ said Michael Morrill, speaking for the PAC.
KPPAC has posted a questionnaire for candidates seeking its endorsement. The questionnaire is available at www.kppac.com.
The endorsements will be announced on a rolling basis, with the first likely to be announced during the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit in Harrisburg, Feb. 28-Mar. 1.
KIRLIN HEADS I-95 PARKING NONPROFIT
Edward J. Kirlin has been named the executive director of the Interstate Land Management Corp. (ILMAC), a not-for-profit joint venture between the city and state. ILMAC is responsible for managing 48 acres of land alongside and underneath Interstate-95, a two-mile stretch between the Benjamin Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges.
Kirlin, a former union business representative, has long been involved in issues that impacted the waterfront in his native South Philadelphia community. Kirlin also has been a vocal advocate and fundraiser for the Philadelphia Mummers Association for many years.
CHALLENGE IS BREWING IN ROXBOROUGH DISTRICT
Some Democratic activists in the 194th Dist., which serves Roxborough, Wynnefield and Parkside, are seeking to draft Capt. David Henderson for State Representative in the May primary. Henderson returned from active duty in September, during which he completed three combat tours.
Curious citizens can explore the draft website (www.draftcapthendersonstaterep.com) that has been formed by his family and friends who are asking David to continue his public service.