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From Erie to Philly and in between, 12 Pa. mayors share their hopes for how Biden will change our state | Opinion

From COVID-19 plans to small biz loans, Pa.'s mayors have high hopes for how Biden's presidency will improve our commonwealth.

12 mayors from across Pennsylvania. Top row, left to right: Duquesne's Nickole Nesby, Upper Darby's Barbarann Keffer, Braddock's Chardae Jones, Erie's Joseph Schember. Middle row, left to right: McAdoo's Dane Watro, Mercer's Kimberly Doss, State College's Ronald Filipelli, Carlisle's Tim Scott. Bottom row, left to right: Wilkinsburg's Marita Garrett, Philadelphia's Jim Kenney, Williamsport’s Derek Slaughter, Scranton’s Paige Cognetti.
12 mayors from across Pennsylvania. Top row, left to right: Duquesne's Nickole Nesby, Upper Darby's Barbarann Keffer, Braddock's Chardae Jones, Erie's Joseph Schember. Middle row, left to right: McAdoo's Dane Watro, Mercer's Kimberly Doss, State College's Ronald Filipelli, Carlisle's Tim Scott. Bottom row, left to right: Wilkinsburg's Marita Garrett, Philadelphia's Jim Kenney, Williamsport’s Derek Slaughter, Scranton’s Paige Cognetti.Read moreStaff graphic

It was last Saturday’s drop of votes in Pennsylvania that pushed the Associated Press and major television networks to project that Joe Biden had secured victory over Donald Trump in the race for the presidency. While Biden’s Electoral College win seems to have further expanded to include Nevada and perhaps Georgia, the Keystone State will forever be central in the telling of Biden’s win.

So what can Pennsylvania expect from the first president who was born in the commonwealth since James Buchanan? The Inquirer asked 12 mayors from every corners of Pennsylvania, in areas that range from a couple thousand residents to 1.5 million, what the Joe Biden administration should do to improve the lives of their constituents.

Quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity. Interviews by Sandra Shea, Elena Gooray, Kevin Riordan, and Abraham Gutman.

Mayor Marita Garrett, Wilkinsburg

Population: 16,000 Assumed office: 2018

"What I would like to see restored to places like Wilkinsburg is more funding for our small business community, and into education as well. The past four years of the administration, their focus has been on corporations and larger businesses and the wealthy and leaving communities, especially those with lower socioeconomic status, in the dust.

» READ MORE: Philly isn’t why Biden won Pennsylvania. And Pennsylvania probably isn’t why Biden won the White House.

I would like to replenish some of the funds or programs we’ve had before. Between a partnership with the borough and our community development corporation, we used to have a facade storefront improvement program that went towards not only existing businesses, but new businesses as well—whether it was signage, replacing windows or those types of things. Also, businesses who didn’t have brick and mortar storefronts, if they needed online services, or new websites. And then there was also a separate pot that specifically focused on Black-women owned and people-of-color-owned businesses too. That was something [where] funds got slashed with this administration’s different priorities."

Mayor Nickole Nesby, Duquesne

Population: 5,600 Assumed office: 2018

"We’re expecting more financial help directly to cities and boroughs to local government economies. Generally when money is allocated from the federal government, it goes to the state who usually fills their pockets where their budget is missing funding, then it goes to the county and what’s leftover comes to local municipalities. A lot of the time, there’s not enough money to meet the needs of the communities that we represent. We need more federal money.

The city of Duquesne had been an Act 47 distressed community for 28 years when I took office. What that basically meant was after the steel mills left this area, we never financially recuperated the business to provide the financial support that used to be here. Because of that lack of investment, we have been a poverty-stricken area where 80% of my community is 110% below the federal poverty line."

Mayor Chardae Jones, Braddock

Population: 2,100 Assumed office: 2019

"Gun control is definitely on the top of the list because it’s very hard on a local level to do anything about gun control. We need federal regulation. Fact is, I don’t want to take away anyone’s right to bear arms. We just need to regulate it more so the wrong people don’t get guns in their hands.

I am very anti-fracking. Biden should stick to what he said, that he doesn’t want to open any more but he would like to regulate the ones that already exist. We don’t have fracking in Braddock, thankfully. U.S. Steel tried to put in the neighboring community, East Pittsburgh Borough, and they took them to court and they’re still in limbo with it because no one in the community wants this well."

Mayor Dane Watro, McAdoo

Population: 2,400 Assumed office: 2018

“I absolutely don’t think the election is settled and I strongly believe that President Trump and his Administration will clearly have a good legal fight in the courts in the days/weeks to come. My constituents and I fear Biden’s core values. But if Biden does become president, I’d like to see him embrace his Catholic upbringing and support pro-life issues, which are of vital importance to people in my borough. Additionally, I want him to uphold our second amendment rights. My constituents here along with me fear that him and his administration will be quick to strip that freedom away from the American people.

» READ MORE: How Joe Biden won Pennsylvania

Finally, Biden claims he is for the Coal Region of Scranton but does not publicly come out and support coal as a natural resource which often is raised here in Northeastern PA. If he becomes president, I would like Biden to publicly support using coal as a heating source and as a natural resource.”

Mayor Joe Schember, Erie

Population: 100,000 Assumed office: 2018

"We need leadership at the national level to do the things we need to do to get through this pandemic. Biden is going to give leadership in terms of dealing with COVID-19. I think that’s going to be his greatest contribution in terms of what’s most important as mayor of Erie.

[Aside from COVID-19], we have the only bayfront on Lake Erie. It’s beautiful. We have some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. Our people have trouble getting down there especially by foot or bicycle because of a road that was put in over 20 years ago. At that time, the bay front was mainly industries but now our bayfront transformed to a place where there are conventions, events that people really want to go to, and it’s hard to get down there. We need over $100 million to really fix just the four block area near the center of Erie downtown. We’re trying to make it better for pedestrians to cross. We got about $60 million of that. We could use more federal money."

Mayor Ronald Filippelli, State College

Population: 44,000 Assumed office: 2019

"The two things that I would like to see coming from Biden would be, beef up the Community Development Block Grant program for municipalities and the HOME Program, which come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It’s important to me to have funds to support affordable housing and workforce housing in the city.

» READ MORE: These Pa. voters spent 8 weeks talking to people on the other side of the aisle. The biggest surprise: How well it went. | Opinion

Also, if there is going to be another CARES Act, it should include money for municipalities because we’ve all taken a hit in this pandemic. In the first CARES Act, universities did receive funding. I would certainly hope that will be the case in any new act. That there will be money made available for universities who have been hit hard by the pandemic and losing hundreds of millions in some cases for big universities like Penn State. The economic situation at Penn State is critical to the economic situation of the borough of State College. We’re joined at the hip."

Mayor Jim Kenney, Philadelphia

Population: 1.5 million Assumed office: 2015

"[An] important thing is a serious infrastructure package. We have a lot of issues in transportation and in other projects that have languished because lack of funding. A serious package will put people back to work, give people living in poverty a chance to get trained for jobs.

We also need a more rational dialogue on guns, criminal justice reform, and systemic racism. If the federal government would do as much to interdict guns and gun running as they do immigration and immigrants, we’d be a much safer society and we’d have a lot more bad guys in prison instead of kids in cages."

Mayor Paige Cognetti, Scranton

Population: 76,653 Assumed office: 2019

"We’ve got big infrastructure issues to solve and that is tied to help from state and federal government. I was in the Obama Biden administration back in 2009-10. There was an infrastructure bill we were so hopeful for, but it languished under Mitch McConnell. We can appreciate the Recovery Act, and shovel ready programs, but we need help with stormwater management We need to rebuild pieces of infrastructure in Northeastern Pa. in order to avoid future flooding, especially as climate change impacts things like rainfall. These are big projects that we can’t fund with local dollars.

We also need help to foster an environment for small and medium-size businesses to come to places like Scranton. For example, to have a federal office set in a place like Scranton could accelerate our growth, and create an ecosystem for jobs."

Mayor Tim Scott, Carlisle

Population: 19,196 Assumed office: 2014

“We need to get help to municipalities and cities following the COVID-19 downturn. We need a good federal partner to lead, follow or get out of the way. Here in Carlisle, our revenues are a lot lower than when the pandemic first started. For example, we removed parking enforcement and had have done no utility cutoffs. But that doesn’t balance the budget. We’re seeing a $1 million shortfall in the Borough’s operating budget of $48.9 million. We’re prepared and we can do it, but any stimulus money should go directly to municipalities. We provide services that people expect, like police and fire.”

Mayor Kimberly Doss, Farrell

Population: 4,700 Assumed office: 2019

"We have bars and restaurants that are trying to get through all this with [limits on] capacity. Some have laid people off. Others, I’m not sure if they are going to reopen. Their families are suffering. People are trying to raise families on the minimum wage, which I support raising. The new president and vice president should meet with Gov. Wolf to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Mayor Derek Slaughter, Williamsport

Population: 28,000 Assumed office: 2019

"First and foremost, we need a plan, based on the science and health experts, for managing the pandemic — and along with that, a plan for economic recovery. We want to make sure our small businesses and manufacturers keep their doors open. The Build Back Better plan of the Biden-Harris administration will help a community like Williamsport, and all of Pennsylvania.

» READ MORE: Just enough white working-class voters bought into Biden’s blue-collar appeal to win him Pennsylvania

I am a Democratic mayor in a red county, and I am a mayor of color. Part of Build Back Better aims to advance racial equity [through] closing the gap, affordable housing, workforce training, strategic recruitment, police reform ... all of which would benefit Williamsport.”

Mayor Barbarann Keffer, Upper Darby

Population: 82,000 Assumed office: 2019

“I like Joe Biden for a lot of reasons —and one is he really supports mass transit, and Upper Darby has the 69th Street terminal and one of the best transit systems in the state. So I would like Upper Darby to get more federal investment in mass transit.”