Chamber candidate forum addresses business concerns

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With most of the gubernatorial candidates having participated in multiple public forums prior to the African American Chamber of Commerce event April 29, there was little chance anyone would hear something new.

But independent candidate Robert Mansfield, an African-American U.S. Army veteran from Phila­delphia, took that little chance and ran with it as far as he could, which led to a few raised eyebrows from those previously unexposed to Libertarian viewpoints.

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AIRING DIFFERENCES—State gubernatorial candidates prepare to make opening statements during the candidates’ forum at the Rivers Club. From left: Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, independent candidate Robert Mansfield, state Auditor General Jack Wagner, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams and state Attorney General Tom Corbett.

“The old way is over. We need a ‘new normal,’” he said. “We need less regulation and less tax. We should phase out business taxes by 2016.”

Joining Mansfield were four candidates running in the Democratic primary: Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, state Auditor General Jack Wagner, state Sen. Anthony Williams and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel. Of those vying for the Republican nomination, only state Attorney General Tom Corbett attended.

“This is the culmination of several weeks’ work,” said chamber president and CEO Doris Carson Williams during her welcoming remarks. “This is designed to allow small business owners to hear what you can do for small business. She then introduced Rod Doss, New Pittsburgh Courier editor and publisher, who served as moderator for the forum. He began by asking what each of the candidates had done, and would do, to improve opportunities for African-Americans.

All condemned the perennial Harrisburg practice of giving no-bid contracts to favored companies and each said they would end it as governor.

Onorato touted his appointing African-Americans to head county authorities and boards, and establishing loan funds to provide bonding for small and minority-owned businesses. Hoeffel and Wagner also touted their hiring of African-Americans, with Wagner noting two of his four regional offices are led by Blacks.

Williams, the only other African-American on the panel, spoke of his experience as a former business executive and small business owner, and said he would make sure contracts went to small and minority owned firms because putting Blacks in (top) positions isn’t enough.

“It’s not having the position—it’s doing something with it,” he said.

On the subject of Pennsylvania’s rate of Black-on-Black homicides, the highest in the nation in 2007-2008—all blamed easy access to illegal guns and a lack of educational opportunities, though differed on solutions.

All the Democrats called for various levels of gun-rights restrictions, while Corbett said he would continue working with federal and local authorities to corral straw buyers who resell guns to criminals. Mansfield said only that he is a strict supporter of the 2nd Amendment (the right to bear arms).

“No government should keep me from being able to defend myself and my family from harm,” he said.

And while all agreed that greater educational opportunities were needed for all students to reduce violence and provide the workforce needed to fuel the state’s recovery, only Williams and Mansfield said they would support vouchers for families to move their kids from failing schools to private schools if needed.

“I support public schools, charter, magnate, as long as they work,” said Williams. “But when they don’t people need options, including vouchers.

Mansfield was more direct.

“I support vouchers,” he said. “Not to do so is racist.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Hoeffel who said vouchers would destroy public school systems. He—and everyone but Mansfield—also said replacing property taxes with sales taxes was a bad idea.

Likewise, none of the Democratic candidates favored privatizing the State Store system because they don’t believe the private sector owners would generate as much revenue as the government.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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