By Joe Wiercinski
Herald Staff Writer
Ed Pawlowski bought breakfast for local Democrats after telling them why he deserves their backing in his bid to be governor.
The Allentown mayor started his day of campaigning Friday at Donna’s Diner in downtown Sharon.
Pawlowski began with jobs and talked his way through a list of issues that included public education, crumbling roads and bridges and ways he has raised revenues, cut debt, and reduced costs without raising property taxes in nine years.
Pawlowski never mentioned Gov. Tom Corbett by name, instead aiming his criticisms at Republicans he said have failed to solve Pennsylvania’s problems despite holding majorities in the House and Senate.
“They’ve taken us from seventh in job growth to 49th among the states,” he said. “We’re only ahead of Wyoming.”
He said Allentown, the state’s third-largest city, has attracted $1 billion in business investment during his tenure and benefited from 4,000 new jobs.
Pawlowski said economic development has lagged even as Republicans have failed to agree on how to pay for rebuilding Pennsylvania’s crumbling infrastructure.
“Mercer County is the gateway to Pennsylvania on Interstate 80,” he said. “There’s no way it shouldn’t be a place to create new jobs.”
Pawlowski said 5,000 tons of steel being used to help rebuild his city was made in Erie. Concrete used for new construction in Allentown was made in nearby Berks County.
“We need to be aggressive in economic development,” he said. “If it means trying to steal jobs from neighboring states, I have no problem with that because they’re stealing ours. And what is the Republicans’ answer? They say they will send money for job retraining. That’s not good enough.”
Pawlowski said he led the way for Allentown to solve its $160 million underfunding of pensions by leasing its water and sewer system for 50 years to the Lehigh County Authority for $220 million. Proceeds from the deal, which preserved employees’ jobs and wages, paid off some city debt and cut its yearly pension obligation from $18 million to $3 million while also reducing the annual 5 percent increase in sewer and water rates to 3.75 percent, he said.
Pointing to Corbett’s failed effort to sell the state’s liquor stores, Pawlowski said leasing would be a better alternative.
“We could leave the system as it is and nobody has to lose a job,” he said. “We could lease it for $2 billion to $4 billion and lease it again in 10 years.”
Lease proceeds would provide money that could be spent for economic development, schools, and roads and bridges.
So far, Corbett’s perceived re-election weakness has drawn eight Democrats who want to challenge him next year.
Pawlowski said none of them have his mix of experience.
“Four of them have never run for office before,” he said. “I’m the only mayor; I’m the only one to run a government.”
His message was good enough to win the support of some local elected officials although he is the first candidate for governor to appear here.
Gene Pacsi, a Farrell councilman, said he is endorsing Pawlowski.
So is Ed Palanski, an Independent serving on Sharon council.
“I like what he has done,” Palanski said. “Knowing the kind of problems Allentown faced, I like what he has done to turn it around.”
Charles “Chaz” Rice, chairman of Mercer County Democratic Committee, said it’s too early for the local party chairman to make a choice among the field of candidates.
State Rep. Mark Longietti agreed. The 7th District representative who is also a member of the state Democratic Committee and president of its Northwest Pennsylvania Caucus of 15 counties, said the candidates for governor have been invited to a weekend meeting in Clairton with state legislators from the region.
The candidates will be trying to win support for the state party’s endorsement during its winter meeting, Longietti said.