Sights, Sounds…and Signatures

t’s been a month since we officially kicked off the campaign, so it seems like a good time to share with you what’s been happening out on the campaign trail. I am really honored by the positive feedback I am getting and the efforts to help with the campaign – beginning with nearly 1,500 signatures to get my name on the ballot.

Now I know that the amount of signatures on nominating petitions means nothing come Election Day, but I was really impressed by how many signatures we got (we only needed 250). More impressive than the sheer number, to me, was the fact that we got people to sign petitions from practically every community in the county. The network of volunteers we had throughout the county is a good indication of the kind of campaign we are running. We are not counting on any one area of the county in order to win. This is truly a countywide campaign.

In addition to circulating petitions, for me it’s been a busy, educational, entertaining and, definitely tiring month.

For starters I have spent more time at fire halls than I’ve ever had, and that’s a good thing. First, I am happy to support their fundraising efforts, knowing how difficult it is to fund these volunteer departments. But mostly it’s been a real eye-opener for me seeing how hard these volunteer men and women work to keep their departments operational financially. And this is in addition to their duties of fighting fires and responding to emergencies. What a remarkable, dedicated and hard-working bunch. What would we possibly do without them?

I’ve been to cash bashes, gun bashes, golf bashes and nights at the races in Crabtree, Turkeytown, Marguerite, and more. It’s also a great refresher course on county geography and the really unique community names we have in this area.

As far as “official business” goes it’s been great for me to begin building stronger personal relationships with the members of the Westmoreland Fire Chiefs Association and the Westmoreland Firefighters’ Association. I’m proud of the county’s relationship with these groups, and I truly value their input in making sure that our Department of Public Safety is doing what it can to respond to their concerns.

Anyone who worries too much about the next generation should visit Mr. Ken Stough’s Project 18 class at Hempfield Area High School. The students are learning about all levels of government and how to be active citizens in our democracy. I had the pleasure of speaking to their class, and I was really impressed by not only their level of knowledge, but also their curiosity and intellect. Rest assured, everyone, that there are more than capable leaders among our youth who will serve our nation well in the decades to come.

Speaking of youth, I was a guest at a Penn State Extension 4-H leadership dinner. This group does such a great job of building character among young people and building future leaders. And in case there are still some uninitiated out there, 4-H is definitely about more than agriculture. Kudos to all the adult mentors we honored that night for their involvement with young people and helping to build stronger communities.

Another group doing great work with young people is Big Brothers Big Sisters. For one of their recent fundraisers I served as guest bartender, along with Tay Waltenbaugh from Westmoreland Community Action, Kirk Utzinger from the Westmoreland Community Foundation, Mike Langer from the Westmoreland Trust and Jennifer Miele from WTAE-TV. All tips went to the organization, and my fellow bartenders and I competed to raise money that night. A rematch is in the works for the evening of March 23 at Solstice in Southwest Greensburg. Stop in and show your support for BBBS (and help me beat Miele!)

A much more serious occasion was the 20th anniversary of the Scud attack on the 14th Quartermaster from Greensburg that killed local soldiers during the first Gulf War. I was a senior in high school in 1991, and for me it was the first time that war hit home. It was really a wakeup call for me that people from our own county could be casualties of war a world away. The memorial celebration I attended was both somber and poignant. May the families of these fallen heroes continue to find peace and comfort in their memories.

March is Intellectual Disability Awareness Month, and we’ve had a number of events to celebrate it. Events included a day-long “Disability is Natural” presentation by renowned advocate Kathie Snow, an End the “R” Word Rally at Westmoreland Mall, and a concert by the CLC Choir which is made up entirely of singers with intellectual disabilities. As you know, advocating for people with developmental disabilities is very important to me, and I am so glad that so many good people in this county share that passion. And one last plea – let’s end the R word once and for all.

In the past few weeks, we’ve had “meet-and-greets” in Herminie and Latrobe. We had one previously in Rostraver, and two more and being planned in Vandergrift and New Kensington. The attendance has been outstanding. I know I am new to this because I am still completely blown away that people actually show up to meet me. It is really an honor. We have a lot of fun too. Stay tuned to the website for details of future events, and please feel free to stop in. The best way for me to do my job is to meet people and hear what’s on their mind. I think it also helps a lot when people actually get to know their elected officials.

Of course there’s also been political rallies, meet the candidates nights and fundraisers for other candidates. I am grateful that nearly all of them have included me in their events. We are fortunate to have really good people running for office in our Democratic primary. I look forward to a spirited primary where everyone works hard and does their best. But if we are to be the party we need to be, we need to close ranks and pull together as a unified team come May 18th.

Speaking of the party, I am so appreciative of those faithful Democrats and committee people who stay active and involved. I’ve visited with Democratic clubs in North Huntingdon and Murrysville, Monessen and Hempfield, and it’s good to know that people are still committed to grassroots politics. To those looking to get involved in politics, your local club is great place to start. They are all always looking for fresh faces and fresh ideas.

This month I’ve also received my first endorsements. And I am so proud to have the support of working people, including the Pittsburgh Building Trades Council/AFL-CIO, the Electrical Workers, Carpenters Union, Operating Engineers and UFCW. Labor is not only an important part of our Democratic Party, it is the backbone of our country. These days, sadly, this seems to have been forgotten, or for whatever reason some seem downright hostile toward workers.

You know, there was a time not long ago when people rightfully criticized employers for not providing benefits to their employees. Now, that anger seems to have shifted to the workers who have good benefits. And you know who’s laughing at all this? The moneyed interests who continue to live large while we fight for scraps.

The most enjoyable part of this past month has definitely been all the good people I’ve met – people from all over the county, from all kinds of backgrounds, with all kinds of stories. I really appreciate everyone’s kindness towards me. It’s been a blast so far, and I am looking forward to the rest of the campaign. I hope to see you soon.