Beto O’Rourke comes to Erie, addresses school system struggles, new Americans, more

Category:  News
Friday, October 4th, 2019 at 11:50 AM
Beto O’Rourke comes to Erie, addresses school system struggles, new Americans, more by Shayma Musa
Beto O’Rouke talks to Erie residents on a recent campaign visit. | Photo: Jamie Heinrich

Lavery Brewing Company was packed by 11:30 a.m. The elderly, and those unable to stand, had long ago claimed chairs, benches, tables, a window ledge and any sitting room available. Penn State Behrend students had staked out the left side of the room, holding up “Behrend for Beto” signs. A group of local high school students from Mercyhurst Prep held up a proposal: “Homecoming Beto?” And outside, Pro-Trump protesters had set up camp, their signs reading: “Never tyranny, protect the constitution.”

On Sept. 26, one of the 19 democratic candidates still on the ticket for the 2020 presidential election, Beto O’Rourke, stopped in Erie during the Pennsylvania leg of his nationwide tour of the U.S. The town hall meeting took place at Lavery’s West 12th Street location.

O’Rourke was first introduced by state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro: “I think that if you look at all the candidates collectively, you look at what they stand for, you might not agree with them on individual policies, but if you look at everything — their policy platforms — this guys ‘it’ right here. He knows how to get our economy moving, he knows how to take care of the environment, he’s got a great plan for immigration. This is our guy here, Erie.”

2020 is also an important year for Bizzaro who is coming up for re-election.

“I need someone at the top of the ticket that can get democrats out to vote, and it’s this guy Beto O’Rourke,” he stated.

Early in his preliminary address, O’Rourke said: “I want to introduce myself, but I want to turn the mic over to you and bring as many people into the conversation as possible. I have no hope of representing the genius of Erie, of being able to serve this community if I haven’t stood here and had the chance to hear you.”

He continued: “The day that I got into this race, all the way back in March, representative Bizzarro reached out to me and said, ‘we don’t have any connection except that I really think that you need to come to Erie if you’re serious about the future of this country.’ This community holds so many of the answers to the problems in America right now and no one is working harder on these issues than you are (citizens of Pennsylvania) and your representative Ryan Bizzarro.’”

O’Rourke’s address was aimed directly at Erie voters. He offered insight on the local battle for a community college in Erie. “We need to invest in a community college right here in Erie, Pennsylvania, but we cannot do that at the expense of those who do not want to go to college. We need to invest in unions and bringing back more young people to this community. It is all about jobs, it is all about jobs with pay, jobs with dignity, jobs that allow people to live in the community that they live in.”

He also touched on the struggles that the Erie School District is facing, saying that Erie must begin “Making sure that we have world class public schools, getting behind the public school educators who work their hardest, [and] making sure that they are paid measurably enough.”

He also spoke about “new Americans” in Erie. “Just like Erie is a magical place, you all are a port of entry here, and we are a land port of entry down there (El Paso). We are the crossroads for so much of the Americas, and I am so proud of that community, so grateful to share with you that we are one of, if not the safest cities in America, not despite, but because we are a city of immigrants. And the sons and daughters of immigrants. And asylum seekers. And refugees from the world over. What if as Americans first before anything else, we rewrite America’s immigration laws in the image of Erie, in the image of El Paso, in the image of America…[to] give people a legal and safe path into America.”

Commenting on the current storm of allegations facing President Donald Trump and the recently announced impeachment inquiry, O’Rourke said: “We have a president who is inviting the involvement of foreign powers into our elections, not once like he did in 2016 and then tried to cover up for every year thereafter, but in this very year 2019, asking the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on a potential political rival to potentially prolong his political career. Now, whether you are a democrat, or republican, or independent, whether you voted for Trump, or you voted for Hillary, or you couldn’t stomach either of them and you didn’t vote at all, you understand that this democracy, our country is on the line at this moment. If we set the precedent that some people are above the law because of the position of power they hold, we will lose this democracy that we have. There must be consequences. There must be accountability. There must be judgment.”

In a press conference after the town hall, O’Rourke answered a question from The Spectator regarding the college vote, saying: “I talked a lot today about making sure that college education is affordable, about making sure that those who have accrued student loan debt can more easily repay that, or have it wiped clean if they dedicate their life to service. We talked about making the first two years of college free, not just tuition but also room and board, and all the costs of education. We also talked about elevating the role of unions. So that’s something that I have heard from college students and from people who are aspiring to go to college, or to have a career that will allow them to stay in Erie.”

During the town hall, one figure stood out from the crowd, dressed in a “Beto 2020” T-shirt, clutching a thin sheath of papers. Denise Whitney moved with the crowd as it rearranged to make room for Bizzarro and O’Rourke, staying within the congressman’s line of sight throughout his remarks to the crowd.

“Beto has done something to me that I haven’t seen in years, he puts the fire in me,” she explained. “I have a copy of Bobby Kennedy’s apartheid speech, and I’m going to give it to him for his birthday gift. America needs somebody that we can get behind.”

Other supporters brought O’Rourke baked goods and cards. The day of the town hall was the candidate’s birthday.

During the town hall, opposition supporters protested O’Rourke’s visit. Barbara Shannon was one of those protesters. “I am here first to support my President Trump. Second, I am here to support the gun owners of America and to support our right to own and carry guns. The third reason I am here is to support the pro-life movement [and] that abortion is murder.”

O’Rourke is currently on the road for a nationwide tour. The next democratic debate will take place on Oct. 15.

The Spectator does not endorse any political candidate. Coverage of political events does not seek to drive our readers in any direction.

Additional Photos:

Beto O’Rouke talks to Erie residents on a recent campaign visit. | Photo: Jamie HeinrichProtesters against Trump. | Photo: Jamie HeinrichProtesters against Beto. | Photo: Jamie HeinrichPhoto: Jamie Heinrich

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