Six Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, including Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, greeted and spoke frankly with voters Wednesday night at Lehigh University's Iacocca Hall in a unique campaign format.
Candidates who attended the forum, sponsored by the Lehigh County Democratic Committee, included Tom Hanger and Katie McGinty, who both served as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection under former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
York County businessman Tom Wolf, Cumberland County minister Max Myers and longtime Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz rounded out the candidates in attendance.
Conspicuous in their absence were U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and state Treasurer Rob McCord, who are two of the presumed front-runners for the Democratic gubernatorial nod.
The forum's format consisted of the six candidates engaging voters for 15 minutes each at different tables, addressing questions on labor, senior citizens issues, education, environment, equality and reproductive rights.
The environmental table was the busiest, as a large group who campaigned against fracking in the first floor lobby prior to the forum, peppered all six candidates with their concerns.
However, the theme of the evening "how to unseat Republican Gov. Tom Corbett" became clear when each of the candidates made parting remarks to the crowd of more than 150 people.
Pawlowski, in his second term as Allentown's chief executive, vowed to "win the battle against Corbett."
"My platform is simple. Win the battle against Corbett and bring back common sense to a place that doesn't always have common sense," Pawlowski said. He said education, economic development and working across party lines are keys to his campaign.
"I'm the only mayor in the race. The only executive. The only candidate to run a government, balance a budget and solve a pension problem." Pawlowski said. He told voters at the equality table he supports gay marriage and vowed to fix inequality in schools.
Wolf said he wanted Pennsylvania to become an "economic dynamo of entrepreneurship that will set the table for a great future."
Wolf said improving transportation, telecommunications and infrastructure are key points and added the advancement of shale is very important.
Hanger said the key to defeating Corbett in November is to push for the legalization and taxation of medical marijuana, which he said will help expand the Democratic voting base. Hanger also noted that he supports raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour and that workers should become engaged in joining unions.
"We must stop bashing teachers. I don't support funding failing charter schools or cyber charters," he said.
McGinty took a hard swipe at Corbett, calling him a tea partier who has given working families a punch in the gut.
"We need to take Corbett's cuts out of business to grow this economy. His fiscal mismanagement has destroyed this economy," she said.
Litz, with 15 years of experience as a county commissioner, was much more low-key. Litz said she didn't support a full ban on fracking, but vowed to pull the licenses of violators.
Myers, a minister, said he would fight the state's poverty problems and work for more LGBT rights.
Meanwhile two Republican representatives released statements to press following the forum.
Corbett-Cawley campaign manager, Mike Barley said, “The Democratic candidates continue to prove they all represent a return to the same failed tax-and-spend policies that led Pennsylvania to high unemployment and a $4.2 billion deficit. While absent, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz won’t be able to hide from her record authoring ObamaCare and the havoc and higher costs wreaked on Pennsylvania’s small businesses, taxpayers and families.”
His statement continued, “While the rest of the candidates continue their ‘Who Is More Liberal 2014’ tour, they won’t be able to con Pennsylvanians into adopting the same Obama policies that are failing us in Washington, DC.”
Republican Party of Pa. chairman, Rob Gleason, also released a statement on the forum to the press.
It read, “Tonight, the Democrat gubernatorial candidates tried to sell the people of the Lehigh Valley an extreme liberal agenda they simply cannot afford. For months, this lackluster group of candidates has tried to win the race to the left by pushing for job-killing taxes, increased government spending and an expansion of ObamaCare in Pennsylvania. The people of the Lehigh Valley do not deserve to be left holding the check for the Democrats’ spending spree."
It will be up to voters to decide which camp best represents their views come election time.