Candidates speak at CACLV luncheon
A few weeks ago, CACLV’s Alan Jennings hosted a Congressional forum on WDIY’s Lehigh Valley Discourse for Libertarian Tim Silfies, Republican Marty Nothstein and Democrat Susan Wild. Instead of speaking in sound bites, each candidate was able to answer well-researched questions in detail. Each candidate shined. What happened Sept. 26 may have been even better.
All three candidates were guests at CACLV’s annual luncheon, attended by 175 people at the Renaissance Hotel in Allentown. Jennings gave each of them 10 minutes “to tell us whether and how they will address the fact 13 percent of our neighbors in Lehigh County and 9 percent of our Northampton County neighbors (more than 75,000 people) have incomes below the poverty level, which is just $24,600 for a family of four. $24,600! Tens of thousands are just barely above that.”
Silfies, who is from Bethlehem, joked that his political career at this point is limited to being president of Liberty HS’s Grenadier Band. He grew up around PBS-39, where his parents first met. His mom is Shelley Brown, executive director at Easton’s State Theatre. His father, Kerwin Silfies, is the director of WWE’s live programming. Silfies ended up in television, too, and spent about 15 years as a business reporter at Fox network and WFMZ-TV69.
He was the sole candidate to speak without notes.
“I feel we need something outside the two major parties, which is why I’m doing this,” he said of his candidacy. “We need something different.”
In response to Jennings, Silfies noted that, over the past 25 years, over a billion people have been lifted out poverty. “What we don’t want are people leaving impoverished neighborhoods,” he said. “We want people staying and building them up.” He argues the best way to do this is by creating business friendly environments in which small businesses can grow. His recipe for this is low taxes, “sensible” regulation and wage laws and the empowerment of community banks.
He said governments can hurt small entrepreneurs, citing as an example a hair braider who was put out of business because she had no license.
He is critical of the nationalist and protectionist ideas that have emerged with President Donald Trump. He also slammed tariffs as another kind of tax. He disagrees with Trump’s approach to immigration. “We want entrepreneurial people coming here, we want people who want to work,” he declared.
Silfies also discussed what he called “the failed war on drugs,” saying it has an adverse impact on the poor.
Like Silfies, Nothstein is a Lehigh Valley product. At one time, the fastest man in the world on a bike, he became a national champion at age 16, world champion at 23, Olympic silver medalist in 1996, and four years later, won the coveted gold medal in Sydney.
As his cycling career ended, Nothstein started his own car-washing business. He also owns and operates his family’s farm. He was elected to Lehigh County’s Board of Commissioners three years ago and has chaired it the last two years. He is proud of a $68 million investment in Cedarbrook, the county-owned nursing home. “We’re going to take care of our senior citizens at the highest level,” he pledged. He has also championed Lehigh County’s Open Space and Farmland Preservation programs.
Nothstein calls welfare “an important safety net for our poorest citizens.” He added there is a “moral obligation” to make sure citizens have food, clothing and shelter. He noted that 46 million people, including one of every five children, live in poverty. “That’s absolutely unacceptable, folks, not in this society anymore.” He acknowledged that Washington has spent trillions to end poverty, “but if you were born poor, you’re just as likely to stay poor as you were 50 years ago.”
According to Nothstein, one reason why the poor stay poor is the “waste, fraud and abuse” in our current system. He said it amounts to 10 percent of all welfare payments, which is more than the total budget for several programs that serve the needy.
Nothstein would like to see more money allocated for homeless veterans and children. But he opposes handouts “to well-funded organizations that host festivals and parties.”
He also criticized the current welfare system as one that is “rigged to replace work, not encourage work. The system traps families in a cycle of poverty.
“A job is the best form of assistance anyone can receive,” he declared. If elected, he said he will promote skill-based mentorships, apprenticeship programs and education.
A product of a military family, Wild’s roots are in the Lehigh Valley. She said her father grew up in poverty, and even after he became successful, never stopped thinking about money. Just like her father, she said many Lehigh Valley people stress about money, and gave Angela as an example.
Angela is a secretary who recently learned that her annual water bill has doubled, which has blown her budget.Wild said that when she talks to her, “I hear fear and despair in her voice, every single time.”
Wild said there are thousands like Angela. “She and they have not seen a penny of the $3 trillion added to the deficit by the Republicans’ tax bill.”
She accused Republicans of scheming to cut job training and infrastructure investments that create jobs. “The booming economy is not trickling down to these people,” she charged, referring to everyday workers. “The rich are getting richer, and everyday workers are continuing to struggle with stagnant wages and expensive healthcare.”
Wild supports raising the the minimum wage to $15 per hour (it is currently $7.25 in Pa.). She will also support legislation that strengthens unions and allows workers to organize.
Like Nothstein, she supports apprenticeships that provide good employment to young people with no desire to go to college.
Wild argued that cuts to veterans’ homelessness programs have effectively shut down Allentown’s Hope for Veterans program. She added that HUD cuts to senior housing will make it impossible for seniors to pay their rent. She argued it’s time to fix our housing crisis, “not make it worse.”
Though one of every six families is hungry, Wild charged that Republicans plan to strip “critical food assistance to those who need it most, the unemployed and underemployed.”
She ended by discussing institutional racism. “The system we currently have favors some of us while discriminating against others. Wealth in this country is unequally distributed by race.”