SCRANTON — As Joe Biden, son of Scranton, became president-elect, residents of Washington Avenue congregated for selfies and honked horns in celebration outside of the modest gray Colonial home down the block where it all started for him.
“We’ve got a president of the United States from Scranton, Pennsylvania!” Mayor Paige Cognetti proclaimed joyously from the stoop of Biden’s old home at an impromptu block party that broke out shortly after he was declared the winner.
The tree-lined street in the Green Ridge neighborhood, where Biden was born and lived until age 10, is a quintessential middle-class neighborhood that provided a central theme for his presidential campaign.
Scranton vs. Park Avenue, Biden called the race. And here, in the state’s sixth-largest city, which voted overwhelmingly for him, Scranton is claiming victory, too. Residents, neighbors, and friends say Biden won a no-nonsense state in part because of his homegrown empathy and authenticity.
“It’s an affirmative, uplifting story for a lot of Americans, but I think in a very special way for people in Northeast Pennsylvania and Scranton,” said Sen. Bob Casey, himself a native of the city.
Scranton showed up for Biden. He won Lackawanna County by 10,000 votes, a 6,000-vote increase over Hillary Clinton four years ago. More than half of his votes came from the city, where he won every single precinct.
While the eyes of the nation were on Philadelphia in the final hours of the vote count, small towns and midsize cities like Scranton are a key part of Biden’s Pennsylvania victory. He succeeded in connecting with just enough working-class people in places like Northeastern Pennsylvania by using his working-class upbringing as a way to push back on President Donald Trump’s claims of being a billionaire who is nevertheless a friend to the everyman.
Outside his childhood home Saturday, almost everyone had a story of how they knew Biden or someone related to him. They described Biden as “a genuine article” and “Just a Green Ridge-raised decent human being.”
Neighbors danced in the street to the theme songs from The Office and Rocky.
“I’m ecstatic!” said Danna Biello, a student at Marywood College, who voted in her first election. “I just think it shows with how divided the state is, Pennsylvania still knows how to love.”
Visiting Scranton last year, Biden introduced himself as “the proud son of Jean Finnegan” and reminisced fondly about “walking the pipes across the Lackee” (the Lackawanna River). He didn’t just reference his blue-collar roots, he made them the banner for his entire campaign.
“He ran as Joe from Scranton, and I think it worked for a reason," said Lori Grady, whose mother-in-law, Marge Grady, has lived across the street since Biden was a little kid riding his bike in her driveway. “People are very hardworking around here, and I think that’s what he was trying to push — that he has good values because of where he came from and Scranton was a big part of that."
Cognetti, the city’s first elected female mayor, held her baby daughter, Sloane, and said Biden’s win proves “it is true you can be anything you want to be. This little girl can be anything she wants to be. All you little girls and boys out there, anyone who has ever lived in Scranton as a kid.”
“Anyone who knows Joe Biden knows his heart is full of gratitude for the fact that he grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania," Casey said. "It’s not contrived, it’s not a sentiment of recent vintage. It’s what he’s been saying for years. Messaging is most effective when it’s both authentic and strategic.”
Trump — and many of his supporters — scoffed at Biden’s claims to the Electric City, given that he spent only a fraction of his 77 years living here. During rallies in Pennsylvania, Trump made a point of saying Biden had “abandoned” Scranton.
But Biden has returned consistently over the years, visiting during summers as a youth, on his way to Syracuse Law School, and, later in life, to stay connected to friends and local politicians.
Even the moment Biden had to leave Scranton became an oft-told story of American perseverance on the campaign trail. His father came home one night and walked up the steps to tell his family that he’d lost his job and that they’d have to move to Wilmington for another opportunity.
“The measure of success is not whether you get knocked down but whether you get back up,” Biden said at a Scranton rally in October.
On Friday, as it became more clear he would become president-elect, neighbors on his old block shared stories of the times he’d come to town and the places he always visits.
“It’s not even so much that he’s from here — I think he’s just a wonderful representative of the values that we have in this area and in so many towns that are like Scranton," said Helen Giannetta, 68, a retired schoolteacher. “Honesty, decency, empathy, integrity.”
Scrantononians are used to being wooed by politicians eager to show off their working-class street cred. While the city has struggled financially since coal mining left the region, it’s also become a symbol of a particular slice of the electorate: moderate, working-class Americans in a town that keeps having to reinvent itself.
“We were known for coal and then we transferred to manufacturing and then we were known for garment manufacturing and now we’re transitioning to meds and eds,” said Virginia McGregor, a Biden backer and fundraiser in Scranton. “Like Joe Biden I think we have staying power. It hasn’t been easy for us, but we don’t give up.”
McGregor also lives on North Washington Avenue, where Biden grew up. That street is also where Casey grew up, and where his father, once governor of Pennsylvania, was born. It will now lay claim to a governor, a senator, and a president.
“Northeast Pennsylvania makes a lot of lists,” McGregor added. “This is a good list to be on as the birthplace and former home of the president of the United States. I think it makes us walk a little taller, with a little more steam in our step. He makes us feel better about ourselves.”
On Election Day, word spread around the neighborhood that Biden was coming to visit the old homestead and to chat with Anne Kearns, who purchased it from his family in 1962. He visits Kearny nearly every time he’s in town.
About 100 neighbors lined up to see his motorcade roll in, among them nuns from the order who’d taught him as a boy, young families, and Marge Grady, 95, who still lives across the street. When Biden arrived his eyes lit up as he pointed at Grady.
“I couldn’t believe he came here on Election Day,” Grady said later. “He knew we’d be behind him," she said of the neighborhood.
Biden took his granddaughters inside for a tour. He signed a spot on the wall: “From this house to the White House, by the grace of God.”
Before Biden left, a reporter asked what he was thinking about on a day he could be elected president of the United States, as he stood on the lawn of his old home.
He answered: “My mom.”