Last week, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz stood with fellow elected officials and others to mark the groundbreaking of a 1.5-mile trail along the Delaware River in Port Richmond.
Joe Rooney, Schwartz’s Republican opponent in Tuesday’s election, wasn’t too impressed.
“We’re celebrating a walking path? We need some of these industries back,” he said.
Rooney, 54, on Sunday told guests at a candidates’ forum at Congregations of Shaare Shamayim in Bustleton that the election is about “the economy, the economy, the economy.”
A married father of five, Rooney spent 23 years in the Marine Corps on both active and Reserve duties. He’s been a pilot for Delta Air Lines since 1990. In fact, he has an early-morning flight the morning after the election.
Rooney, citing the $16 trillion national debt, said he is running to bring “sanity” back to Washington, D.C. He favors a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
“We’ve got to get toward a balanced budget and live within our means,” he said.
Schwartz, 64, a Democrat and married mother of two, is seeking her fifth term representing the 13th Congressional District. She previously spent 14 years as a state senator.
As for the aforementioned trail, Schwartz said she is proud to have delivered federal funds for various initiatives along the waterfront.
Open space is important to many people, she said, and the federal government can assist that effort by providing funds for recreation.
“It’s an important part of what we do,” she said.
Schwartz said she will continue to supports efforts to revitalize the waterfront, even though Rep. Bob Brady grabbed much of the area east of Frankford Avenue in redistricting.
“I still represent most of the Northeast,” she said.
At the same time, Schwartz said the economy is tops on people’s minds.
The incumbent said she has supported policies that have turned the job losses of early 2009 into job gains for the last few years. She also pointed to the relatively healthy 2.0-percent expansion in the gross domestic product in the third quarter of this year.
“It’s a direction we ought to continue to move in,” she said.
Rooney has a different view of the economy, pointing to the budget deficit, high gasoline prices and a high unemployment rate. He thinks a start would be to cut the budget for congressional staffs.
“I think we should cut their pay, but we’re never going to get these people to cut their pay,” he said.
Rooney was also never able to get Schwartz to debate. The incumbent said voters have had a chance to see both candidates at forums.
“They’re supposed to be public servants,” Rooney said.
The challenger has raised about $160,000 in his campaign. He’s knocked on doors, operated phone banks and is targeting independents and occasional Republicans and Democrats in mailings as he tries to pull off the upset. He’s also counting on the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney and the U.S. Senate campaign of Tom Smith to bring out the Republican base.
Rooney knows he will be hurt by a lot of straight-party voting near areas of the district in Olney and Feltonville, where supporters of President Barack Obama will likely turn out in heavy numbers.
In trying to appeal to voters, Rooney often mentions his background, work and family.
“I went to Bishop McDevitt High School. I was in the Marine Corps. I have a wife and five kids, and two of the kids are in the military. I’m a twenty-two-year union member. Allyson Schwartz has none of those connections with people,” he said. “I’m reaching out to as many people as I can with the resources that I have.”
Rooney is also counting on the support of Catholic voters, especially in the Northeast, based on his pro-life views. He criticizes Schwartz, who is pro-choice, for supporting partial-birth abortion and abortion even for the gender selection of the baby.
“There’s a clear contrast on almost every issue,” he said. “I’m a fiscal conservative. She’s not. Socially, she’s as far left as they get.”
The Republican thinks Schwartz has her eyes on a higher office. He predicts she will challenge GOP Sen. Pat Toomey in 2016. He’s enjoyed his challenge to Schwartz.
“It’s been a great experience. It’s like graduate-level education,” he said.
Schwartz, in her remarks to the crowd at Shaare Shamayim, lamented the difficulty in finding common ground in Washington.
In the Pennsylvanian congressional delegation, Schwartz is the only woman. The daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she is also the state’s only Jewish member. No woman or Jew is expected to join her in the state’s delegation after Tuesday.
In the House, she is the second-ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. She is also a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee at a time of volatility across the globe.
In Schwartz’s view, America’s tough sanctions against Iran are working.
“We will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapon capability,” she said.
On other foreign affairs matters, she is happy with the winding down of decade-old wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. military’s killing of Osama bin Laden. She is looking forward to 2014, when forces in Afghanistan will take over security of their country, but she knows the U.S. must keep an eye on hotspots around the world.
“Defending our nation is our first priority and our basic obligation,” she said.
Schwartz last week traveled to Penn State Abington to discuss college loans and debt. Pennsylvania ranks second behind New Hampshire in student loan debt.
The congresswoman encourages students and families to seek federal loans because she said they offer lower interest rates and greater consumer protections than private loans. She has also backed increases in Pell grants and provided funding for expansion at Community College of Philadelphia’s Northeast Regional Center.
“We need very good basic education and access to higher education to compete for jobs in the twenty-first century,” she said.
In general, Schwartz said she works to strengthen the lives of senior citizens, the middle class and veterans.
Schwartz sponsored a bill that became law that gives tax credits to businesses that hire veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She and her office have also worked on replacing lost medals for veterans and having veterans tell their stories to schoolchildren, with the interviews archived in the Library of Congress.
Congress, in her opinion, needs to spend more time addressing roads, bridges, rail transportation and education and less time looking for ways to offer tax cuts to the wealthy.
Schwartz is looking forward to seeing Teva Pharmaceuticals move into ground on Red Lion Road in Somerton. The company recently had a management change and is assessing its entire operation, including expansion plans.
“I’d like to see them get that building built,” Schwartz said.
While in the House, Schwartz has delivered funding for improvements to the commercial corridors on Frankford and Torresdale avenues and to the Frankford Arsenal Business Center for further redevelopment. She’s also funded various measures to improve safety for pedestrians and motorists on Roosevelt Boulevard, including the popular countdown timers.
“I’ve done the work on the ground and on the broader questions,” she said. “I’m very accessible to the constituents of Northeast Philadelphia.”
If re-elected, Schwartz plans to move her office that is currently located at 7219 Frankford Ave. That site is now in the district of Rep. Bob Brady.
Politically, she is predicting that Democrats will win seats in the House, though few neutral observers believe the party can wrest control from Republicans. She also thinks Democrats can win a couple of Senate seats. She expects President Obama to carry Pennsylvania on his way to re-election.
As for her future, Schwartz said it’s too early to talk about the races for governor in 2014 or Senate in 2016. She could also move into House leadership, especially if Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi retires after the election, and Democrats start scrambling to replace her and fill other spots. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org