The good news is that, at this point
Philadelphia, Pa. (Vocus) April 27, 2010
Four out of six of the announced candidates whose names will appear on the ballot during the Pennsylvania Primary Election for Governor, on May 18, say that they will include in their overall platforms a number of issues that are designed to eliminate employment, educational, economic and social disparities currently experienced by many of the Commonwealth’s 1.3 million African-American citizens. Each of the four respondents happened to be Democratic candidates.
The responses were obtained through a questionnaire that was distributed on April 5 by the Forum for a Better Pennsylvania (http://www.forum-betterpa.org), a non-partisan organization of African-American business, professional, civic and religious leaders in the state.
Among the four responding candidates – Joseph Hoeffel, Daniel Onorato, Jack Wagner and Anthony Hardy Williams – only Wagner and Williams offered “yes” responses in support of all nine of the questions. Hoeffel and Onorato, by comparison, responded positively to eight out of the nine issues presented.
Despite having received email and a hard copy of the questionnaire and numerous follow-up phone calls, and despite the availability of the document and cover letters on the Forum’s web site, neither of the two Republican candidates for governor--Thomas Corbett or Samuel Rohrer-- submitted a response to the questionnaire.
“The good news is that, at this point,” said A. Bruce Crawley, one of the Forum’s four conveners, "It appears that each of the four Democratic candidates has, at least, some level of commitment to having more effective African-American inclusion in the next administration, and in its programs.
"Regrettably, based on their lack of response, there can be absolutely no assurance that such will be the case if one of the two Republican candidates wins the General Election. Between now and May 18, and certainly between now and November, we can sort through the responses they've provided on these issues to determine, in the final analysis, which candidate will be best for our community and for the citizens of the Commonwealth, overall."
The Forum’s conveners believe that the southeast Pennsylvania vote and especially, the Commonwealth’s Philadelphia vote, wherein African Americans comprise more than 60 percent of Democratic party registrants, will be critically important in determining the winners of the Primary Elections and the winner of the General Election in November.
According to U.S. Census data, black Pennsylvanians represent 10.8 percent of the Commonwealth’s statewide population, or 1.3 million persons. Of those, 65 percent reside in the State’s five southeast Pennsylvania counties, and that percentage jumps to nearly 77 percent when just seven urban centers in Pennsylvania with double-digit black population counts (Harrisburg, Erie, Pittsburgh, Reading, Lancaster, Williamsport and York) are added.
“We can only speculate,” said Crawley, "that, as part of a purely political calculation, the two non-respondent candidates simply didn't believe that African-American voters across the state would be significant participants in the Republican Primary and didn't feel an obligation, therefore, to comment on issues that are important to that community.
“The risk," he continued, “for whichever candidate wins the Republican Primary Election, is that he will be seen as unresponsive or insensitive to the issues that impact 1.3 million Pennsylvania residents. A lack of confidence by a voting bloc representing such a significant potential margin can clearly cost a candidate a General Election victory.”
Included in the gubernatorial candidates' survey were nine questions, testing each campaign’s response to the following topics:
- The creation of a statewide, urban-focused jobs-creation program,
- Two packages of legislation (House Bills 2140-2149 and Senate Bills 1210-1218) designed to eliminate race-and gender-based procurement disparities across the Commonwealth and to create a Cabinet-level Secretary for minority and women business development
- A request to disclose the diversity profile of each campaign's staff and senior consultants,
- The adoption of specific goals for African-American vendor inclusion over each year of the new governor’s first term,
- The appointment of more representative levels of meaningful, senior-level African-American staff members and board, agency and commission members, whenever feasible and appropriate,
- A commitment for a continuation of adequate levels of funding for public and charter schools in high-density, African-American-populated urban centers across the Commonwealth. In addition, a commitment that state-appointed public school governance boards will fairly reflect the demographic profiles in local school districts, and the retention of the current School Reform Board Chair in Philadelphia,
- A commitment that board appointees, executive- and senior-level leadership and procurement activities at the expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center be appropriately inclusive of African Americans, and that related disclosure be done on a regular basis,
- A gubernatorial initiative for review of race-based inequities in sentencing across the Commonwealth, and the establishment of a credible, statewide re-entry program, and
- An enhanced focus on preparing young Pennsylvanians for careers in three of the Commonwealth’s anticipated growth areas – education, healthcare, and the sciences – with a discrete focus on underrepresented African-American and minority students.
While the candidates responded affirmatively, for the most part, to each of the nine questions, Joe Hoeffel, responding to the question on educational funding, did not offer a “yes” response and said “….I believe all public money should be spent on public schools and I strongly oppose using public money for non-public school vouchers.”
Similarly, Dan Onorato opted not to give a “yes” or “no” answer to the question about his support for the two packages of bills in the General Assembly that are designed to eliminate race-based and gender-based procurement disparities.
Onorato did offer that he supports “...the intent of these bills." He did not express support for their passage.
Other key excerpts from the responses, by candidate, included the following:
- Agrees with the concept of more “job creation” but did not specifically address the call for an “urban-focused, jobs-creation program.”
- Reported that his campaign staff includes one African American, each, in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh. He made no mention whether any of them served at a senior level.
- Provided an extensive response for the need for audits, expense control and “safety” in Pennsylvania's school districts. He did not mention charter schools.
- “…would support and encourage diversity at the Convention Center.”
- Provided no specifics in his commentary about sentencing inequities or the need for state-wide re-entry programs.
- Reported that “African Americans serve at senior levels of my campaign, including as my southeastern PA political director and southeastern PA field director.”
- In response to proposed statewide diversity procurement goals: “I support and will adopt these targets.”
- “As governor, I will ensure that leadership positions in my administration, and on the boards and commissions wherein I make appointments, fully reflect the diversity of Pennsylvanians."
- With regard to education funding, he said he is committed to “advancing policies that do not pit traditional public and charter schools against one another.”
- Agrees that state-appointed governance bodies such as the Philadelphia School Reform Commission should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve…” Said he looks "forward to working with and getting to know Chairman Archie and the other members.”
- Committed to a review of race-based sentencing inequities and a focus on re-entry, as governor.
- Cited a 15 percent reduction in recidivism in Allegheny County.
- Regarding the packages of bills in the General Assembly related to diversity procurement, “I am a co-sponsor of this legislation.”
- Williams' campaign manager and communications director are young African-American women and his campaign's director of field operations is a young African-American male.
- Regarding the recommended four-year goals for African-American vendor inclusion in Commonwealth contracts, “…In certain areas, we can be even more aggressive…am certainly comfortable with the numbers outlined.”
- “Strong support for charters and ‘family choice’ for educational options."
- Cited his “Economic Development Fund” in Montgomery County as a model for an “urban-focused” approach to job funding statewide.”
- Regarding campaign diversity: "My campaign’s small, yet diverse, senior staff includes men and women, young and old, white, black and Asian people and representatives from the LGBT community…my administration’s staff and advisors will be similarly diverse.” (No specifics were provided).
- Regarding state sentencing inequities and the need for a re-entry program, Hoeffel mentioned Montgomery County’s successful re-entry program…”which projects a 50 percent reduction in recidivism.” He said he “will work to develop a statewide program based on this successful model.”
In addition to releasing the results of the candidate survey to statewide traditional media, and to targeted websites and portals, the Forum also plans to distribute data from the responses directly to business, community, civic and religious organizations across Pennsylvania's African-American community.
About the Forum for a Better Pennsylvania
The Forum is an affiliation of politically engaged business, civic, professional and religious leaders from across Pennsylvania, who are committed to increasing the quality of social and economic participation by African Americans across the Commonwealth. The ultimate mission of the group is to improve key, economic, educational and social indicators for Pennsylvania, as a whole.