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Erie, seeking revitalization, goes all in on opportunity zones

  • Ed Mahon
A tribute to President John F. Kennedy greets visitors at the entrance to Erie’s city hall on Sept. 12, 2019.

 Ed Mahon / PA Post

A tribute to President John F. Kennedy greets visitors at the entrance to Erie’s city hall on Sept. 12, 2019.

We have a different format for today’s newsletter, similar to a change-up we made a few weeks ago. Below, I expand on my latest story, which is about the city of Erie’s embrace of a special federal tax credit to boost economic growth. As always, feedback, questions and suggestions are welcome through the Listening Post.. –Ed Mahon, PA Post reporter

Could provision in Trump tax law reverse city’s decline?

JFK bust in Erie city hall

Ed Mahon / PA Post

A tribute to President John F. Kennedy greets visitors at the entrance to Erie’s city hall on Sept. 12, 2019. (Ed Mahon / PA Post)

A bust of John F. Kennedy, the nation’s only Catholic president, sits in the entrance of Erie’s city hall.

“Back in the day, Erie — there was like a church on practically every corner,” Kathleen Schaaf,  an Erie City Council member and former full-time Catholic school teacher, told me. “I know my grandfather was just like really big into JFK.”

The Kennedy tribute struck me as interesting for a few different reasons.

For one, when I was a kid, whenever I visited my Grandmom Nora’s house on Rundale Avenue in Yeadon, Delaware County, I always saw a bust of the nation’s 35th president.

Back when the Democratic senator from Massachusetts was elected president in 1960, Erie had about 140,000 people. Now it has about 96,000.

That population loss came up in interview after interview during my trip to Erie last month. I made the five-hour-plus drive for two stories.

The first one looked at how a bunch of people teamed up to put pressure on a polluting coke plant and the state officials charged with regulating it.

The second story, published online this morning, looks at how elected officials, business leaders and others teamed up to attract new investment into the city.

Two different topics — but both highlight a community’s mission to reinvent Erie.

(For more context on the second story, check out Spotlight PA reporter Charlotte Keith’s story that explains why so many communities are not benefitting from the new tax incentive.)

And here’s one other reason the Kennedy bust caught my attention. Back in 2016, Erie County flipped in favor of Republican Donald Trump.

Two years ago, the city of Erie came closer than usual to voting for a Republican for mayor. John Persinger “brought a viable Republican challenge to the Erie mayor’s race for the first time in decades,” reported.

Now, Persinger is the CEO of the Erie Downtown Development Corporation. He and the city’s Democratic mayor, Joe Schember, are working together to lure investors.

“They were opponents, but they were the right kind of opponents,” Rick Jacobs, who has worked with both men as the CEO of Accelerator for America, told me. “They opposed each other based on their approach to a job, not based on personality. And I think there’s a lot to be said for Erie in that ethos that a lot of us could learn from.” — Ed Mahon

Best of the rest

Michele Buck

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Hershey Company President & CEO Michele Buck poses with candy mascots before ringing the New York Stock Exchange closing bell, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the company’s founding. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • Michele Buck, the president and CEO of the Hershey Company, is the new chairman of the board for the company. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Buck describes growing up in south central Pennsylvania, what she learned after working at a halfway house and creating a fifth holiday for the Cool Whip brand.

  • WITF’s Katie Meyer latest “State of the State” podcast looks back at some of the meatier stories filed last week. Topics covered include: Marsy’s Law, redistricting, compensation funds for clergy abuse survivors, and the impact of climate change on Pa. birds. Listen here.

  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Julian Routh looks at what members of the LGBTQ+ community are saying about the Democratic presidential candidates. Routh spent time with a few dozen people as they watched last week’s CNN forum on the topic.

  • Republican Lisa Scheller plans to challenge Congresswoman Susan Wild, a Lehigh Valley Democrat who was first elected last year. Scheller, a former Lehigh County commissioner, put out an online ad that describes her experience leading a family manufacturing business — and her own struggle with drug addiction many years ago. WITF’s Brett Sholtis spoke to her about the latter back in 2018 for a story that focused on a coffee house Scheller opened as a way of welcoming people in recovery.

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