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Hillary Clinton Campaign Press Release - Gov. Tom Vilsack, PA Mayors Respond To Senator Obama's Recent Characterizations of Pennsylvanians

April 12, 2008

Pennsylvania Mayors joined Keystone State native and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack on a press conference call today responding to Senator Obama's comments at a fundraiser in California this week.

Participants on the call included:

National Campaign Co-chair Tom Vilsack

Mayor Chris Doherty, Scranton, PA

 Mayor Robert Lucas, Sharon, PA

Mayor John Callahan, Bethlehem, PA

Mayor Tom Leighton, Wilkes-Barre, PA

Mayor Steve Reed, Harrisburg, PA

To listen to the conference call, [Click here].

Full remarks follow below:

National Campaign Co-chair and Fmr. Gov. Tom Vilsack: Thanks Phil, and thanks everyone for joining this afternoon. I served as mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, town of 8,000. I served in the State Senate for six years in a Senate district that consisted primarily of small communities and a Governor of a state where for eight years I had the authority and responsibility of taking care of 950 some cities, 800 of which have less than 1,000 people in population. As a person who grew up in Western Pennsylvania, I think I have a good understanding of the thoughts and feelings and motivations and beliefs of those who live in small communities, whether it be in Pennsylvania or in my state in Iowa or for that matter, across the United States. I must say that after reading and reviewing Senator Obama's comments, I have found them to be condescending and disappointing and they reflect in my view a very flawed reading and understanding of people who live in small towns in Pennsylvania and across the United States. Folks who work everyday, play by the rules, and want to do right by their families and their communities.

I found his remarks undercutting his message of hope. He suggests that people are bitter. I think they are frustrated. I think they are anxious because 8 years of the Bush economy has not done what it needs to do. What they want is not a pat on the head from a presidential candidate; they want a pat on the back. They to be told that there is a plan which is a way to make things better, and leaders who are dedicated to making that happen. I think it's one of the reasons why they have been gravitating in small communities in rural areas across this country to Hillary Clinton, in part, because of her understanding of those who live in small towns. Her summers in Scranton helped to form her belief and understanding of folks who work hard and play by the rules.

I think the most glaring misreading and misunderstanding of people in small towns were Senator Obama's comments about God and guns. He suggests that in some way the faith of those who live in small towns is superficial. It's used as a crutch in a time of need. That's not what I know. What I know is that our faith is real and it is rooted. It is the foundation of our values system. It is what defines how we live our lives, and most importantly of all, how we raise our families. It is true. It is genuine. His comment about guns suggests that they are an instrument that we use somehow to protect ourselves from the outside world, to isolate ourselves from the outside world. When in fact, guns are a reflection of what we do with our family and our friends. It's how we pass on, through hunting, family traditions that are strong and how we form friendships that are lifelong.

I know this from my experience in Western Pennsylvania shooting my first Pheasant on a family farm just outside of Somerset. I hunted with my father-in-law and my two sons as they grew up walking the hedge roads of the corn fields of Iowa. It was there that family stories were told and re-told.

I am deeply concerned about these comments because I think it's difficult for a Democratic candidate to be successful in a general election if he misreads and misunderstands people who live in small communities, to the extent as reflected in his comments. If we are to be successful in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and Ohio and Missouri and Iowa and Colorado and other states around this country that are made up of a lot of small towns and a lot of people who believe in God and who enjoy hunting, we're going to have to have someone at the top of our ticket who understands those folks. I am convinced Senator Clinton does and today I have deep reservations about whether Senator Obama does. I think now it's my responsibility to turn it over to Mayor Doherty.

Mayor Chris Doherty, Scranton, PA: Hi, this is Mayor Doherty. I am the Mayor of Scranton. I have been mayor for seven years of a city of 80,000 in Scranton. And I can tell you in Scranton and Northeast Pennsylvania, we're optimistic. We've seen over 400,000 million invested in our city over the last seven years and we're doing real well. It's disappointing that Senator Obama doesn't realize that. He's spent some time here and you could see the changes in our state and how well we are doing.

As to people in our area turning to guns or to God or the perception that things are bad, the truth is what the governor said, people in Northeastern Pennsylvania like to hunt. We have a long tradition of hunters and sportsman in Northeastern Pennsylvania and also, we have a tradition that we go to church. We worship our God regardless of our religion and that doesn't happen in bad times necessarily, it happens as part of who we are, as people from Northeastern Pennsylvania. That tradition was passed down to us from our parents, from our grandparents, people in Pennsylvania have been here for three to four generations. We are a state where we have the highest percentage of people who have stayed here, stayed in our state and haven't left. Those traditions are part of who we are and who defines us. So, we are optimistic in Northeastern Pennsylvania and have traditions of being sportsman and members of the NRA, and also a tradition of people who are God-fearing and we like that. I would like to pass this over to the next mayor.

Mayor Robert Lucas, Sharon, PA: This is Mayor Lucas from the City of Sharon. Where Sharon's at, a small city of 15,000 people right on the Ohio line. When I first heard this this morning when I got up on the internet, I couldn't believe that Senator Obama said it. I actually [inaudible]...for him to say to the people in San Francisco that we are bitter – I have no idea where he came up with that term. I can tell you that I've lived in Pennsylvania all of my life, Western Pennsylvania – the furthest thing from the truth is that we are bitter. To say that we cling to our religion and guns because of that – I can't understand that. In this small city of 15,000, we have over 35 churches. Those churches weren't built because we're bitter and we don't go to church because we are bitter. We don't go up to the mountains to hunt because we are bitter. We're concerned that 7 years of Bush has really hurt us. And we've experienced a lot of job losses. But we're enthusiastic – Sharon is turning a corner. We're working with Governor Rendell, we're making great strides. I cannot understand – he spent a lot of time in this state of ours, and for him to say that - I don't know, maybe he's planning on well that's why he lost Pennsylvania. Because we're bitter people. I can tell you the people of Sharon and western PA isn't bitter and if you're going to stand for us, you should us understand us – where we're coming from. That's why I'm supporting Hillary because she's been in this fight. She understands where we're at and what needs to be done. I'll turn it now over to Mayor Callahan.

Mayor John Callahan, Bethlehem, PA: Thank you, Mayor. This is John Callahan, Mayor of the City of Bethlehem. I had the opportunity to be mayor for about 5 and half years now. Senator Obama's comments concern me as well. We need a president in my mind who is going to get things done, someone who's not going to make comments that are necessarily critical, or condescending, or to pile on. We are the Bethlehem of Bethlehem steel. In many ways, the quintessential mill town. Sure it's been tough for us. We have lost thousands of high-paying blue collar, family-sustaining jobs. But we're still here and we're still fighting to make our cities and our neighborhoods strong. In many ways, like Scranton, like Sharon, we're thriving. We have $1.8 million of investment going on in our city, we're making Money Magazine's America's best places to live, or best places to raise a family. Despite the hard times, we are working. We're blue collar folks, we have a lot of pride, and we're not bitter. We've got a sense of faith, we've got to fight and we need someone who is going to fight on our side. That really at the end of the day – that's what we see in Senator Clinton. Someone who understands that it is tough to make ends meet. And that it is tough to find a way to afford to send our kids to school or to afford health care. Not someone who is going to make us feel bad about that, but someone who is going to roll up their sleeves and help us get there. With that, I'll turn it over as well.

Mayor Tom Leighton, Wilkes-Barre, PA: This is Mayor Tom Leighton from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I was offended and both disappointed when I heard about the comments that the Senator had made relative to small towns in Pennsylvania. Today's the first day of fishing, and fishing and hunting brings families together. It allows time for fathers to spend time with their children. On top of other things that go on, whether it's soccer or going to church, the people of Wilkes-Barre and the surrounding community have a strong faith and attend mass and their congregation daily. On top of that, the city of Wilkes-Barre in the last three and a half years, has invested over $150 million in economic development. Cities like Wilkes-Barre, Bethlehem, Scranton – those that the mayors that are on this conference - we've all experienced great opportunities to improve our economic development in the city Wilkes-Barre, which ultimately has a great impact on the economy. It's disappointing knowing that the Mayor of a small midtown city, population 43,000, when things are tough – we need leadership in this country to help us get through tough times, not put us down. People of Wilkes-Barre, I can tell you, are not bitter. They are very optimistic about the future of this city and it's because of the cooperation that we've received from the Governor and from our state reps, and our state senators. Good things are going to continue in these mid-size cities across Pennsylvania. We need leadership that is going to help us improve things here, not put us down. I can tell you that people of Wilkes-Barre and the greater [inaudible] area are very happy and very supportive of what's going on in this region and that's because of the cooperation with our leadership at the top of our state, the Governor, along with the mayors who work hand in hand. We need leadership that's going to help us move these cities forward. And I want to be part of that working with Senator Clinton when she becomes our next President. I will turn this over now to Mayor Reed of Harrisburg.

Mayor Steve Reed, Harrisburg, PA: Thanks very much, Mayor. Just for way of background, I've been the Mayor of Harrisburg now - I'm in my 27th year. Born and raised here in Pennsylvania. Born and raised in a small town as a matter of fact. The irony about Pennsylvania is that we really only have two large towns. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Just about every other place could be classified as a small town or a borough, or a township, or whatever. We happen to like our small town values. We think they're the bedrock of the American values that have built this nation and the people of our towns embrace their religions out of faith, not out of bitterness or frustration. I have found our small town citizens to be decent. They are hardworking. They are friendly. They are giving. They are caring. They are patriotic. Frankly, they don't deserve to be categorized as they were in the remarks made out in California. It's a very unfortunate stereotype of the citizens of our towns in this state, and in every state across the nation, to have them unfairly categorized as they were. Frankly, the remarks of Senator Obama lacked judgment. They lack understanding. Frankly the remarks are condescending, they are negative, they are hurtful. I found it to be most revealing of what the candidate really thinks of us. And it's telling to me that these remarks were made several thousand miles away from us at a very expensive fundraising campaign event in a very upscale location when he did not think that any of us were ever going to hear what he had to say. All of this in my mind invites the question of what else does this candidate think about all of the different people who make up our rather diverse nation. His remarks – I was listening to CNN last night with different commentators – Ed Rollins for example, and others and so forth – they are licking their chops. This is perfect ammunition for them to use in the fall campaign. They will eviscerate Senator Obama if he became the nominee with comments like this. It will play all across America. Midwest, West, East, South. Frankly, I think they were ill advised remarks. They lacked judgment. And they're condescending. And most of all, they are very divisive, which is in complete contrast to the rhetoric we hear from him at the public events when he knows the cameras are running. I'm supporting Hillary Clinton. I do so without hesitation. Her roots are in Pennsylvania. She understands the people of this state. She understands small town values. She'd make a terrific president. She'll bring us together.

Hillary Clinton, Hillary Clinton Campaign Press Release - Gov. Tom Vilsack, PA Mayors Respond To Senator Obama's Recent Characterizations of Pennsylvanians Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/315823

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