Q-and-A: Erin Molchany for 22nd District Primary
Molchany is one of three Democrats competing on April 24 for a spot on November's ballot.
22nd House District Democratic Primary
Democrats Erin Molchany, Shawn Lunny and Martin Michael Schmotzer will compete during an April 24 primary for the right to represent their party in November's general election for Pennsylvania's 22nd House District seat.
UPDATE: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided on April 13 that Shawn Lunny's name is to be removed from the ballot of April 24's Democratic primary election for Pennsylvania's 22nd House District seat. Story here.
The entirety of the 22nd District includes at least parts of Whitehall Borough, Baldwin Township and Castle Shannon Borough and the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Overbrook, Brookline, Mount Washington, Beechview, Duquesne Heights, Manchester, Sheraden and Esplen.
Click here to see if you reside in the 22nd District.
The Baldwin-Whitehall Patch published a biography of and interview with Schmotzer on April 2, and today, is releasing the following biography and interview with Molchany.
Similar information for Lunny will run as soon as possible. UPDATE: Here is the Lunny interview.
Molchany, 34, and a lifelong Democrat, has lived on Mount Washington for more than 15 years and has owned her home there on Bertha Street since December 2007. She is a native of the Allentown area of eastern Pennsylvania and graduated from Parkland High School there in 1995 before finishing a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism with a minor in business administration from Duquesne University in 1999.
Until Feb. 14, Molchany spent the past six-and-a-half years as the executive director of the nonprofit Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP), having resigned to pursue the 22nd District's House seat full-time. "I didn't want to present a conflict of interest to this nonprofit that I had felt really comfortable and really proud of having nurtured for six-and-a-half years," she said. "I'm planning on winning this."
PUMP's mission, Molchany said, is to "attract and retain young professionals and inspire them to get involved in the community through civic engagement, professional development and social networking." PUMP is responsible for the Pittsburgh Sports League (PSL) and a number of other efforts.
Molchany said that she doubled PUMP's operating budget in her time there.
"Public service and serving in government seems like a natural next step," she said. "The sky's the limit."
She did earn election to the Allegheny County Democratic Committee after that, though, and served on that committee for four years. While a committeewoman, she was appointed (and later reelected) as a local judge of elections.
Recently, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development named Molchany as a nominee for an ATHENA Young Professional Award, and she was also recognized as a Woman of Achievement at a Celebrate & Share, Women of Achievement event.
Baldwin-Whitehall Patch: Why are you qualified to represent the 22nd House District of Pennsylvania?
Erin Molchany: I've spent 12 years in community service working in the not-for-profit sector, and I feel that those qualifications and those networks and the things that I've learned and built through that work make me the most qualified candidate in this race to go on to public service. In public service, there are so many opportunities for government and the nonprofit sector and the business community across the board to come together and really serve the community in a purposeful way, and I've been a part of those things. So, that's where my qualifications lie—a demonstrated commitment to community and transferring that to public service to fight for things that our community cares about: transportation, education, bringing integrity and trust back into government. That's what I'm committed to through this race.
BWP: What are the biggest issues facing the 22nd District, and how would you prioritize addressing them?
EM: I would prioritize according to what the people of this district care about the most, and from my experience knocking on doors (and) talking to voters—engaging people in this campaign—it's transportation ... shifting the focus and forcing attention to be paid at the state level to transportation. We need a comprehensive solution—a sustainable funding source for transportation, and that's not just the Port Authority of Allegheny County. That's roads, bridges, highways, transit systems in the commonwealth. It all is a package that we as Pennsylvanians invest in. At a very micro-level, I will tell you the biggest concern of people in the 22nd Legislative District is the potential to lose their bus and their way to work and their way to get to their doctors and their access to downtown (Pittsburgh) and just being connected to other communities. That's the most important issue in this district. The governor (Tom Corbett) put together the Transit Funding Advisory Commission (TFAC), and the TFAC report is now sitting on a shelf collecting dust with refusal to deal with it. I would make that a priority. We have to start talking about that at the state level.
BWP: How do you feel about Marcellus Shale drilling in the 22nd District?
EM: My thoughts on Marcellus Shale drilling are that, as a legislator, I believe it's our responsibility to uphold the Pennsylvania State Constitution, which guarantees Pennsylvanians the right—the right—to clean air and clean water. I believe that, as a legislator, if we abide by the constitution, there's also a provision that all of Pennsylvania's resources belong to Pennsylvanians, so I think that, while, at a micro-level, there have to be regulations around close proximity to residences, for instance, we also have to make sure that the things provided in that constitution are upheld to the highest standard. So, in terms of drilling locally—I look at Marcellus Shale as more of a (statewide) issue in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians cannot leave Pennsylvania. It's a resource that exists under our feet, so therefore, we all own it. And we all own the consequences of it. My first inclination is (to) ensure (and) guarantee that the residents in Baldwin-Whitehall or anywhere around the state of Pennsylvania have clean air and clean water and that their quality of life is not impacted. I also feel that it's a really amazing opportunity for Pennsylvania in terms of workforce development (and) economic development opportunities, and we should be maximizing that. I mean we shouldn't be sacrificing one thing to bolster another part of that. Marcellus Shale exists, and we should figure out a way so that we all rise on all fronts and really capitalize on it. So, that means jobs for people in the 22nd District and beyond, clean air and water for people in the 22nd District and beyond, working with the rest of the legislature to treat this as a Pennsylvania resource that we all own. It's making sure that clean air and clean water are priority No. 1 and that that is upheld both in the boroughs and at the state level.
BWP: How do you feel about Corbett's performance so far as Pennsylvania's governor?
EM: I'm disappointed that we're not paying attention to issues that I think are critical to the quality of life of Pennsylvanians—transportation (and) public education. These are investments. These are investments we all make as taxpayers. These are investments that improve our quality of life. These are investments that give our kids a chance to succeed in life and be contributing members of the workforce. I think the focus is off. I'm disappointed that we're focusing on voter ID bills when we should be focusing on tackling transportation issues (and) education issues in the commonwealth. In my mind, things like voter ID bills are a complete distraction. Not only do they disenfranchise voters, but it's a distraction from what we really need to focus on and roll up our sleeves and work on.
BWP: Should the 22nd District move to eastern Pennsylvania?
EM: I don't know that that's necessarily my call, but I do think that, with the size of the legislature that we have, every person in every district should be getting the highest quality services for what they pay for. I will tell you that I thought it was egregious the way that (Pittsburgh's) 19th Ward was split up during the first (district) reapportionment. With assets like the trolley system running almost exclusively through this district and, really, a big potential for economic development along that transit corridor, I think it's a disservice to the people of this community, and frankly, to the city, as well, to break up the district in a way that means that four legislators have their hands now in this transit-oriented development plan when that's four people with four different agendas and four different points of view that don't necessarily always come together under one banner for transit-oriented development. I'm not gonna comment on whether it's a good idea or a bad idea to move (the district). That's the way the law is written currently, so I think that's just the way. I think examining why that is is probably a good conversation to start having. But also, I think we have to start to look at how we can improve this transit system, how we can leverage our tourism dollars with Mount Washington being in the district. The (Rivers) Casino's in the district. There's just so many assets in this district that I think it would be a disservice to the 22nd Legislative District to go away and lose the consistent leadership in pushing some of these workforce development issues forward and the job creation and the transit-oriented development. I think keeping the district focused on that is really important, so I'd be disappointed to see the 22nd be broken up in a way that doesn't allow for that.
BWP: How do you feel about the Brookline Boulevard redevelopment project? How could you help small business owners and local shoppers over the course of that project?
EM: As a legislator, I would do what I can to support the local businesses. I come into Cannon Coffee (on the boulevard) almost every day and talk to Nate (Mallory, co-owner), so I understand how anything would affect the local businesses—keeping your pulse on this community, keeping your pulse on what's going on on the boulevard. I've been to the Brookline Chamber of Commerce meetings and the Brookline Community Council meetings, and I will tell you that there is going to be a lot of attention paid to bolstering the boulevard business district during that process. I think being a part of us all working together to make sure that businesses don't lose out during that time frame is being really creative about things. I know one idea that was floated at a chamber of commerce meeting was, "Is there a way, when the dry cleaner's affected and maybe blocked off a little bit because of the reconstruction, that there are alternative pickup locations for people's dry cleaning with other businesses on the boulevard?" So, that's just a creative solution to a short-term issue. But I think redeveloping the Brookline Boulevard business district and main street has been on the docket for a long time. I think it's really exciting—the plans that have been announced and that this community is coming together about making sure that each other is protected during that time frame. I welcome the opportunity to be a part of those creative solutions. And that's just one idea that's been floated. It could be a really good opportunity.
BWP: What are your thoughts on school realignment in Pittsburgh?
EM: I will tell you I think this really stems from the fact that, at the state level, we have to be paying closer attention to how budget cuts are impacting local schools, and I think that not enough attention's being paid about how that's going to impact families (and) students. And this just goes back to transportation, too. With the school district realignment coupled with the proposed cuts to transit here locally—Pittsburgh Public Schools don't guarantee transportation to students to get to school. There are buses provided in some instances—and I think the public schools do a good job of trying to mitigate that—but it's a recipe for disaster. And it's impacting our kids. That's the person it's hurting the most. We have to make sure that attention's being paid to this and that school district realignment isn't creating situations that put our children behind—and further behind. Public education is a hallmark of American society. I went to public schools growing up. (I'm for) making sure that our kids have access to every opportunity to succeed, and that begins with education. And it begins with early education. I think the school district realignment has to be done in a way that doesn't impact kids negatively. You can't split up siblings, for instance. We have to account for things like that that could happen during the realignment. Parents are very concerned, and as a legislator, I want to make sure that the kids are at the forefront of this decision-making and their ability to succeed, so that's what I can provide to the conversation.
BWP: If elected, where would you open your constituents office(s)?
EM: One of things that I would do is I would definitely fight to have an office in Brookline. Brookline is literally the heart of the district. And I think one of the things that I would explore, as well—and this is something I've seen in eastern Pennsylvania that I think is worth looking into—is co-locating office space with the senator for the district. I think providing constituent services as a team would be more cost-effective and helpful to both of our offices. That's something I would like to explore doing. I know (state) Sen. Wayne Fontana has an office just down the street (from the current 22nd House District office on Brookline Boulevard). I think that we could really do a service to the community and to the district by potentially co-locating and providing services that affect all of our constituents. So, that's something I would definitely like to do and that I would like to see happen. Seems like a no-brainer to me. I'm not opposed to sharing space. It's cost-effective, and providing constituent services on the ground should be done in the most cost-effective way possible. It's something that I would love to explore. I don't see an issue with it. Maybe we would differ on issues or be different parties; it doesn't preclude us from providing excellent, high-quality services to the constituents we all serve—things like providing tax forms and information on where to file (and) the deadlines, serving our seniors, serving homeowners who have questions. That's things that we should be providing together.
BWP: In 1997, Schmotzer was accused of taking $50,000 from taxpayers (and paying the money back—with interest) while serving as a deputy clerk of courts for Allegheny County, according to this 2007 article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Schmotzer pled guilty, but later, he withdrew his guilty plea. And after initially being convicted of theft, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania dismissed his charges on appeal and cleared his record. How do you feel that Schmotzer's past affects his candidacy?
EM: I read about his past in several publications, and I will tell you that my thoughts on his past are this: I believe that, when someone has admitted and pled guilty to embezzling $50,000 in taxpayer (money), it's not only a betrayal of public trust—huge betrayal of public trust—but, in my mind, also a disqualification for public service.
BWP: Do you have any notable community service or volunteer experience that you feel merits mention for you as a candidate?
EM: In my own community, other than serving as judge of elections and being elected to the (county) democratic committee for a term, I also served on the board of the Mount Washington CDC (Community Development Corporation)—first, getting involved on the Mainstreets Committee there and then being appointed to that board of directors. I served a two-year term (on that board). Other than that, in the community, I've been very active. I served on the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership's Public Policy Committee, doing advocacy on behalf of the sector as a whole. I spent 12 years working in the not-for-profit sector, and while the missions were so different and diverse that I had worked for, it was really wonderful for organizations like PUMP to be partnering with organizations like The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Health & Human Services Corporation under the common umbrella that we are all 501(c)(3) organizations that provide really critical services to the quality of life of so many of our residents here in southwestern Pennsylvania. And therefore, we should have a voice. So, we went to Harrisburg and did a lot of education around what the nonprofit sector looks like in terms of employment, who we serve, how many people we serve, what it means for legislators to pass a budget on time and how critical that is to making sure that some of these smaller nonprofits—who maybe have a small subsidy of government support, and frankly, provide a service that government can't—(can function). The government's not gonna open up a neighborhood day care center, but it's really important that that neighborhood day care center's there. Because then, it means that maybe a single parent can drop their child off and have access to day care while they go to work. So, passing a budget on time means that that mother or father can get to work on time and be able to support the family. And not passing a budget on time means that day care center could potentially close, which means that that parent can't get to work every day. So, it's just really interesting work. I really appreciated that. So, I've served on that committee, and I've served on the Regional Investors Council. I did two years on that with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development through my work at PUMP. I've served on other various committees. The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania has their Magic of Mentoring event. I served on that committee. I've served on the League of Women Voters' selection committee for the Good Government Award since 2005, which was really exciting. I definitely became as involved as possible in not only making our communities better but also recognizing those people who do amazing things to contribute to the vibrancy of our community. It's been exciting. I think I bring that experience into this role. My dad always said, "You have to wake up every day and do something, so you'd better make it count."
BWP: Have you received any major endorsements? If so, from whom?
From Molchany's Office: Yes: Iron Workers Local Union No. 3, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC, Stonewall Democrats, Gertrude Stein Political Club of Greater Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, Progress Pittsburgh PAC, Equality Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Councilman Bruce Kraus, Democracy for Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, Sierra Club, Democracy for America and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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