As cranes stretched high into the air at the new PPL Arena and convention center behind him and construction trades workers scurried to complete the high-rise office buildings in front of him, Mayor Ed Pawlowski officially kicked off his bid for the 2014 Democratic nomination for governor of Pennsylvania Monday morning at 7th and Hamilton streets.
The arena and the new high-rises, which will bring thousands of jobs to Allentown within the next year, are the centerpieces of an eight-year urban revitalization drive led by Pawlowski in conjunction with regional business and community leaders and elected officials from both the Democratic and Republican parties.
“This is an exciting time,” Pawlowski told a crowd of more than 150 supporters. “I always get chills standing here in the midst of this great development. Our downtown is literally being reinvented. This project here in Allentown is truly becoming a model for redevelopment for cities across the Commonwealth and even across the country to emulate.”
Pawlowski first announced his decision Sunday on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on the MSNBC cable network and today he made it official during the morning rally, where he was endorsed by state legislators, city and county officials and mayors from throughout the region. The rally also kicked off a nine-day statewide tour in which he will visit 23 counties to meet with voters and discuss the issues facing the Commonwealth.
Immediately after the rally Pawlowski left for visits to Harrisburg, where he will speak in the Capitol Rotunda about accountability and bipartisanship, and Philadelphia where he will speak about the need to restore funding for public education.
A Quinnipiac Poll earlier this year identified Pawlowski as the most likely of the current declared candidates statewide to convincingly beat incumbent Tom Corbett in a head-to-head race.
Pawlowski is supported by state Reps. Michael Schlossberg and Dan McNeill; former Lehigh County Executive and former Secretary of the Department of General Services; Easton May Sal Panto; Allentown Council President Julio Guridy and Councilman Peter Schweyer; and several other regional and local officials.
During the eight years since Pawlowski took office, Allentown has reversed an $8 million budget deficit, added 80 officers to its police force and reduced crime almost 30 percent, implemented a variety of neighborhood improvement projects that have helped restore vacant or deteriorating properties, and worked with local, state and federal officials to revitalize a downtown core once devastated by the loss of major retailers and locally owned businesses.
Pawlowski also led the recent effort to lease the city’s water-sewer facilities to Lehigh County Authority for $214 million – money that will be invested to offset the city’s pension fund obligations – making Allentown one of the only cities in the Commonwealth to successfully address its pension obligations while protecting retirees and current employees.
In addition, the Pawlowski Administration has leveraged local, state and federal funding to rebuild or refurbish three major bridges – including the American Parkway bridge, the only bridge now under construction in Pennsylvania funded solely through federal dollars.
Once-blighted neighborhoods and public housing projects have been rebuilt or rehabilitated into attractive communities, a new firehouse is under construction in the city’s East Side, parks have been refurbished and modernized and major streets in the city have been reconstructed to address 21st Century traffic issues.
“Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has gone in an entirely different direction. Our economy is in shambles,” Pawlowski said. “Pennsylvania was 7th in job creation when he took office and in three years we have dropped to 49th, coming just ahead of Wyoming. Yes, I said Wyoming!
“Under this Governor our schools have fared even worse than our job seekers. He has cut education by $1 billion since in 2011,” he continued. “Folks, these cuts are real and they are beginning to decimate public education in our cities. They are putting our children and future generations of children at risk.”
Calling for new leadership with innovative ideas and the proven ability to get things done by reaching across party lines, Pawlowski said he was running because he could no longer sit idle and watch the state and its residents continue to suffer.
“We need to believe in a state in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone. We believe in the fact that we are all in this together. We believe that if we work collectively together we can solve our problems,” he said, “And we don’t just believe this we have proven this over and over again.”
Pawlowski has a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and Public Policy from the University of Illinois. He began his career as a community organizer on Chicago’s southwest side and became Executive Director of Windows of Opportunity, a non-profit subsidiary of the Chicago Housing Authority, where he supervised the development of special programs and self-sufficiency projects created to help Chicago’s public housing residents, which at the time numbered more than 100,000.
In 1996 he became Executive Director of Lehigh Housing Development Corporation, which under his leadership expanded to six counties, becoming a regional community development corporation now known as Alliance for Building Communities.
Due to his success in reviving and strengthening this organization, he was recruited to work for the City of Allentown as the Director of Community and Economic Development before being elected and sworn in as the 41st Mayor of the City of Allentown in January 2006.
Pawlowski and his wife, Lisa, a community activist and licensed social worker, live in Center City Allentown. They have two children, Mercy and Alex, who attend Allentown public schools.