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Chester County Press

Candidates given forum at chamber luncheon

10/25/2022 01:42PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Richard L. Gaw                    Several area political candidates were given a forum to share their messages at the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce’s Fall Luncheon, held at the Hartefeld National Golf Club on Oct. 20.

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

Six candidates vying for election to political offices in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. shared their history, their platforms and their vision at the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce’s (SCCCC) annual Fall Luncheon on Oct. 20 at Hartefeld National Golf Club.

Entitled “Election Perspectives: Legislative Candidates Business Forumand held before more than 100 local business leaders, the one-hour event began with introductory remarks by each candidate, several of whom directed their addresses to the business community as they wrap up their campaigns before the Nov. 8 election.

Calling herself a “bipartisan representative,” U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, who is campaigning for reelection to Pennsylvania’s 6th District against Republican Guy Ciarrocchi, told the audience that she has spent some of her first term initiating events to bring increasing awareness to the economic opportunities in Chester County. Recently, she invited Japanese diplomats to Longwood Gardens as a way to increase economic ties between the U.S. and Japan. In addition, she toured Constellation Energy to gauge the impact of the federal funds provided to the company through the bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act, and discuss energy independence. Houlahan said that she also supported the passage of the Cares Act and the Cares II Act, which provided emergency funds to local businesses, non-profits, and resources to municipalities, schools and hospitals, as well as co-founded the New Democratic Coalition Inflation Working Group, whose plan has been called by Forbes “the best inflation fighting blueprint to come out of Congress.”

“I know that many of you here today were able to participate in many of those conversations and you were able to provide us with a valuable feedback loop as well, to make our federal response the best it could be,” he said. “I hope that we are somewhat more optimistic today than we were before – that we are here now and headed in a better direction, but there is much more work to be done.”

‘Spinning out of control’

Ciarrocchi, who is focusing a portion of his campaign on establishing the U.S. as energy independent and whittling down the size of the federal government, said he began his campaign when he saw that the federal government had become both very powerful, very expensive and “was spinning out of control.”

Ciarrocchi pointed to rising inflation, an increased crime rate, lowered student academic performance and skyrocketing drug abuse as other separate factors that have inspired him to address if elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Despite these issues, Ciarrocchi said he remains hopeful.

“The mess has been created,” he said. “The question is whether we accept the mess and decide that that’s the new normal or that we do better – that we try to fix it. I believe that there are common sense principles that we can come together on to deal with energy, to deal with crime, to deal with small business, to deal with making us feel more secure.

“This is election is a referendum,” he added. “If you think that things are good the way they are and you are content with the direction we are going in, you know what to do. If you are convinced that we can do better and fulfill the American Dream and put our children in a better place than us, then I am the right guy for the job.”

Seeking reelection to his post as State Rep. for the 13th Legislative District against challenger David Cunningham, John Lawrence said he originally ran for office after he “saw things in the Capitol that I didn’t like, so I stood up and ran for office and I am proud to have cut my own cloth and keep that reform-minded mentality during my time in Harrisburg.”

Lawrence told the audience that he serves on seven legislative committees in Harrisburg that have separately benefitted the mushroom industry; addressed the state’s budget during a period of rising inflation; helped save $8 billion in state funding; and pushed six bipartisan bills through the House as well as 16 amendments, 14 of which were bipartisan.  

“I know that we live in a time when it seems there is nothing but political division, but I try very hard to move common sense policy and work with folks on both sides of the aisle to get stuff done,” he said.

Lawrence also called the establishment of ChristianaCare at the former site of the Jennersville Hospital “a generational impact for the people of this community. Long after John Lawrence is forgotten about, people will be going to that hospital for acute medical care and emergency services, and I couldn’t be more pleased with that outcome,” he said.

Cunningham said that he is running against Lawrence to better prepare the future for individuals and families, businesses and communities throughout the 13th Legislative District.

“You deserve a representative that will cause that kind of future, in businesses with costs that you can afford, in a supply chain that works, in a sufficient labor force, where you get support for innovation and expansion, where you have an infrastructure that is expandable, and the future where rights and freedoms are being protected, so that all women you love can see that they will have the freedom of choice if it ever comes time for them to make that most difficult decision,” he said.

Cunningham’s platform, he said, stands for quality and effective education and the support of teachers, first responders and police and voting rights.

“I have spent my whole life in advocacy and leadership, and now, I am prepared to become your representative,” Cunningham said. “What I am committed to with my life now is to advocate for you, so that you can do what you love, which is to cause prosperity for your families, for your employees and your communities.”

In support of broadband infrastructure

Campaigning for her third term as Pa. Rep. for the 158th Legislative District against Republican challenger Leon Spencer, Christina Sappey said that she is confident that the state has the ability create a “sustainable, modern economy that works for everyone.” Active in Harrisburg, she serves on several committees, was elected by her colleagues as the Chester County House Democratic Delegation Chair, and served on the Southern Chester Chamber Community & Government Relations Committee.

Sappey told the audience about the “critical, economic importance” of the local agriculture on the Chester County economy, some of which she said went unnoticed during COVID-19 by her colleagues in Harrisburg. To provide the county with a better imprint on the state as a whole, Sappey said she has hosted several of her colleagues at tourism and educational policy meetings; advocated for the small business and hospitality industry; helped establish a hospitality assistance program; and supported the use of federal funding that provided loans for small businesses.

“While it has been imperative to keep the business community supported over the last few years, it is crucial that we simultaneously foster innovation in our state,” said Sappey, who supports the advancement of wireless, broadband infrastructure. “We are fortunate to have research firms here that are leading the way in electrical vehicle technology, and statewide, it is estimated that the industry contributes to over 15,000 jobs.”

Rather than focus his comments on his career as an elected official – which included serving as the Mayor of Kennett Square for 11 years – Spencer spoke as a former business owner. Six months after opening a music school on North Union Street in Kennett Square in February of 1995, the demand for lessons forced the business to move to a larger location at a local fire hall, and 11 months later, the school’s success demanded yet another move. At its height, the school taught as many as 350 students a week.

Eventually, Spencer said that because music lessons were increasingly becoming a low priority for families, the average weekly student population at the school was cut in half. After a successful rebound, Spencer and his business partner sold the school at the end of 2018 to a former student. Due to the impact of COVID-19, however, the school eventually closed.

“We have all faced business challenges,” Spencer said. “Business is not something for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of energy, ups and downs. That said, in today’s world, [business owners] are faced with major challenges. I seek an opportunity to be in Harrisburg to help you deal with those challenges, and I would hope that my experience in business, as well as other professional and other civic involvement would convince you that my bid to become the representative for the 158th District is worth your vote.”

Moderated by SCCCC Chairman-Elect Doug Doerfler, the forum also included a question-and-answer session involving the candidates. During the 20-minute session, candidates answered questions about topics as far ranging as housing affordability, domestic energy production, staffing shortages in the county, political bipartisanship and infrastructure.

The SCCCC event was sponsored by Kendal-Crosslands Communities, TRUIST, Constellation, IronLinx Logistics & Fulfillment Co., Longwood Gardens and several additional businesses.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].