By Lowman S. Henry
In Autumn of 1994 Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Mark Singel was cruising to what appeared to be an easy win over Congressman Tom Ridge to succeed Robert P. Casey, Sr. as Governor of Pennsylvania.
Then Reginald McFadden murdered two people, kidnapped and raped a third – and changed the course of the campaign.
In his role as Lieutenant Governor Mark Singel sat on the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons and Parole. McFadden had been serving life in prison for a previous robbery and homicide and appealed to the board for a pardon. In a 4-1 vote, with Singel in the majority, the pardon was granted, and Governor Casey subsequently signed the commutation papers.
Within months McFadden struck again committing the crimes which exploded as a campaign issue. Singel’s lead vanished and Ridge went on to win the election and become Governor. Ridge was subsequently re-elected and served until resigning in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to serve as a homeland security advisor to President George W. Bush.
As a campaign issue the power of crime and public safety cannot be overstated. This year, with the riots of 2020 fresh in voters’ memory and rampant crime overtaking the nation’s cities including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, personal safety remains a key voter concern.
Pennsylvania’s statewide campaigns are primarily focused on other issues. With the nation in a recession triggered by persistent record high inflation, high gasoline prices, and rising food prices the economy is a kitchen table concern for most voters. On the Left the Dobbs abortion decision, and on on the Right election integrity are animating issues for the party bases.
Polls show the races for both Governor and U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania to be close and with the General Election campaigns now in high gear the gaps are closing. In that competitive environment crime and public safety could become the determining issue. This is especially true in the U.S. Senate race where Democrats are vulnerable as the “defund the police” mantra of the radical Left is rightly blamed for skyrocketing crime rates in the nation’s cities.
The Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, current Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, has significant exposure on this issue. Like Singel, he sits on the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons and Parole where he has been an outspoken advocate for mass release of prisoners. The campaign of Republican nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz has put the spotlight on Fetterman’s radical statements in campaign ads.
Understanding the pivotal nature of the issue Fetterman’s campaign has responded with ads featuring the candidate saying stopping crime is why he got involved in politics. He cites the fact during his term as Mayor of Braddock several years went by without anyone being murdered with a gun.
Fetterman may regret bring up his record as mayor. A Fox News article on Fetterman’s tenure found that during those years Braddock had “one of the highest crime rates in the state of Pennsylvania.” It continued: “In 2018, shortly after Fetterman left office, Braddock’s per capita murder rate was higher than in some of the most dangerous countries in the world. Honduras and Belize are safer than Braddock, Pennsylvania.”
On the crime issue Fetterman is captive of his past. Dr. Oz, however, will benefit from the generic Republican advantage on this issue and he has no record upon which he can be attacked other than not having previously served in elective office.
This is one of the many reasons why Fetterman is ducking debates. On crime and many other issues, he has staked out positions far outside of the political mainstream and true issue-focused debates would be revealing. But ranging from our nation’s many global challenges, to the economy, to crime, Pennsylvania voters need to hear from the candidates in a significant forum outside of 30 second television ads and snarky tweets.
Those ads and tweets have largely avoided any serious discussion on important issues centering instead on largely irrelevant topics. As for the crime issue, the bottom line is people don’t care how many houses someone else owns if they don’t feel safe in their own.
It is time to focus on what really matters.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly American Radio Journal and Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.