Mayor Ed Pawlowski – Can the Allentown Remedy Cure Pennsylvania’s Ills?
Norristown – From the quiet steps of the Montgomery County Court House, Edward Pawlowski launched his gubernatorial campaign, last Thursday, issuing a twenty minute statement that outlined the sharp distinctions between his bipartisan record as Mayor of the state’s third largest city and the current “gridlock” in Harrisburg.
The Mayor of Allentown joined a growing crowd of Democratic candidates eager to replace incumbent Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, but underscored his executive experience at the local level with a tour of the state’s beleaguered cities. With the likelihood that he will be competing against member of Congress and the state assembly, Mr. Pawlowski contrasted the impoverished conditions and struggles of cities like Reading, Harrisburg and Norristown, with the successful economic transition, infrastructure development and job growth he achieved in Allentown.
“I have seen our state going in entirely the wrong direction over the course of the last three years.” said Mr. Pawlowski, who proceeded to lament the state’s deteriorating “infrastructure” of roads, bridges and mass transit.
Citing data on Pennsylvania’s abysmal record of “job growth over the last three years,” Pawlowski said, “under Corbett, Pennsylvania has gone from 7th to 49th in job growth, just ahead of Wyoming. A distinction I don’t think we want to have as Pennsylvanians.
Referring to the “gridlock in Harrisburg,” despite Republican party control of the legislature and Governor’s office, he asserted, “We have one party system that’s controlling the House, Senate and Governor’s Office. Yet we can’t get a simple bill, something like a transportation bill; something that everybody agrees should happen.”
“So we need to bread this gridlock and bring some common sense approaches back to Harrisburg, and that’s what we’ve done in Allentown.“
Making an argument reminiscent of Philadelphia’s Ed Rendell, another successful Mayor, Mr. Pawlowski depicted Allentown’s “transformation,” saying, “Over the last eight years in Allentown we have seen a major transformation (by) working in a bipartisan fashion to turn that city around. We are like a lot of other rust-belt cities across the northeast and midwest; our growth was declining, our economy was failing. We were lacking in job development and we were really headed for fiscal collapse and headed for bankruptcy.”
“Eight years later we’ve turned that picture around,” said the Chicago-born Pawlowski. “We are now the fastest growing city in the state of Pennsylvania. We’ve turned multi-million dollar deficits into multi-million surpluses. We’ve solved our pension problem, which is something no other city in the commonwealth and very few in the country have been able to do. And we’ve fully funded our pensions.”
Noting the increased violent crime besetting many cities, Mr. Pawlowski boasted of nearly a decade of “decreases in crime.”
Highlighting a record that will appeal to Philadelphia voters, Mr. Pawlowski referred to $1 billion in new development and “nine straight years” of property tax decreases:
“That‘s a pretty good story. It’s really a story of working together, (and) It was not an easy task to rebuild that city. But we did it and we did it really in a bipartisan fashion.”
Along with utilizing, ‘“New Economic Development Zones,” that allowed Allentown to capture state tax money for a period of time, Mr. Pawlowski attributed the economic growth to an “innovative approach” and a cooperative approach between Republicans and Democrats at the state and local level. The Pawlowski strategy for Allentown will result in billions of dollars in new development and over 4,000 new jobs over the next two years.
After noting his effort to use local workers and materials in all development projects, Pawlowski said, “We need to bring that common sense approach back to Pennsylvania because we’re going in the wrong direction.”
“We’ve cut over a $1 billion out of education and put $90 million back this year,” continued Mr. Pawlowski. “I don’t know what math teacher they’re using. But, by my math you take out $1 billion and put $90 million back, that’s still a $910 million short. But it’s decimating our urban schools and it’s decimating our rural schools. We’ve seen 20,000 teachers that have lost their jobs, (and) schools have had to increase class size.
Early Childhood Education and Head Stsart programs have been cut or eliminated in most of our urban and rural schools. This is the wrong direction for Pennsylvania.
“We spend six times more on prisons than we do on public education (nationally) and here in Pennsylvania that statistic holds true. We spent $80 million on Corrections in 1990; and in 2013 we’re spending $1.75 billion. I’m not suggesting that we eliminate money for corrections, but what I am saying is that our priorities is screwed up in this state.”
Discussing the nearly twenty cities in the state on “the brink of bankruptcy,” Pawlowski said, “This picture is wrong. It’s wrong for our state and what these municipalities need are jobs. We need to have a plan again to attract business and economic activity and economic synergy back in our urban cores.”
Mr. Pawlowski also called for a new approach to the natural gas industry and agreed with the need passage of the “Dream Act,” for immigrant youth.
“What I learned along time ago as Mayor, is that there is no Republican or Democratic way to pave the street, or fix a pothole or pick up garbage or police a community. There is only a good way and a bad way.”