Baldwin-Whitehall Patch interviewed in time for the special election. Read those interviews below. Interviews with Shawn Lunny and Erin Molchany will run later this week.
Baldwin-Whitehall Patch: Why are you qualified to represent the 22nd House District of Pennsylvania?
Chris Cratsley: I think the strongest asset I have is that I've lived here (in the 22nd District) for my entire life. Like many people, I own a home here; I've been a resident here. I have to live with the things that we have here, especially since, working with BNY Mellon, I take the bus everyday to work. I know what it's like to get up in the morning, get to your bus stop, and the bus is full. You wait for the next one, and it's full, too. And it's just one of those things where there's been a lot of trouble that's going on out there. Not a lot of trouble—there's things that are coming back, like Brookline Boulevard is going to be redeveloped starting next year—but there's a lot of areas where I think there needs to be a lot of help. I think the biggest thing in the area, and this is going to be my main point, is Port Authority transit. Despite what anybody has to say, I think are really just devastating for what they are. Even for what they've already put through, they're still just tough cuts. And that would be the one thing that I'm gonna fight in Harrisburg for: Make sure that we get Port Authority funded, so that these cuts that are coming in September aren't gonna go through. There's not a lot of stuff that you can change and make drastic changes with that really will impact people's lives in the immediate sense, but I think this is one of them. In fact, I don't think it is; I know it is.
Martin Michael Schmotzer: I think I'm the most qualified candidate running in this race because I do not need any on-the-job training to hold this seat. This seat was set to be eliminated until Justice (Ronald D.) Castille (of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court) overturned the (Legislative) Reapportionment Commission, and he also is the justice that went against his own party to set the special elections. Now, I worked with the lawyers, both on the reapportionment commission lawsuit and the lawyers who filed the case for the special elections. I have a passion to serve and a passion to go up to Harrisburg and fight—fight for people, fight for labor, fight for children, fight for causes. I think that, sometimes, some of our elected Democratic officials are just happy to collect a check, and I'm not sure they're fighting hard enough. And I know they're in the minority (power-wise), but sometimes, being in the minority can get you more of an opportunity to fight for your causes and fight for your people.
BWP: What are the biggest issues facing the 22nd District? And how would you prioritize those issues in case the 22nd District ever leaves western Pennsylvania?
MMS: The issues that I will fight hard for are jobs, jobs, jobs, education, transportation, , senior citizens and health care, and I have a good story and a good personal story that relates to each and every one of those. I think that encompasses not all the needs, but certainly, the majority of the needs that we have in the 22nd and all throughout Pennsylvania. But I'm not looking to be a career legislator; I want to be a citizen legislator, whether it's eight months, whether it's two years and eight months—whatever the case may be. I believe in term limits. I believe very strongly in term limits. I think people get too comfortable in elected positions. They think the seats are theirs, and they're not. I will not accept a state car. I will not accept state car insurance. I will not accept state health insurance. I'm looking to be a citizen legislator. That's how this whole thing started out many, many, many years ago. And I'll tell you another thing: We should absolutely cut the size of the state Legislature. I didn't particularly like working with nine people on a school board. That's too many. And to have 203 legislators and 50 state senators, that's ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous. That's a legislative body that's set up to fail—with that many people, with that many egos and personalities involved. I believe that we should go back to the way that it was founded—again, a citizen legislature, both on a state and federal level. That's why they were set up to be two-year terms, so the merchant, the farmer, the banker—people could go to Harrisburg, go to Washington, DC, (and) serve their constituency. And a lot of people, years and years ago, only served one term because they couldn't afford that time away from their farms or their businesses or their family. And now, you've got people who get in these offices who are way too young, they have no life experiences, and they're up there for 30, 40, 50 years—both in Harrisburg and DC. And you know what? It's not a good situation. I would strongly support a cutting of the legislature and term limits. You know that we have the largest and most expensive legislature in the entire country? The largest and the most expensive.
CC: The Port Authority is definitely going to be a priority. Anybody who's in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, it has to be a priority. There's a lot of people out there who question Port Authority and some of the decisions that have been made, and they have the right to do so. There's been a lot of questionable activity with the finances, with the pension plans that are going on. Over the years, it's just been proven that they're not financially sound. But at the same time, what we're seeing is that these decisions that were made over 10, 20, 30 years ago—we're now gonna start seeing people who live today and rely on these systems basically being punished for it. In terms of funding, I think the state could pull up the money. I think that there could be a lot of (other) things that we could cut from the budget. I'd like to see a lot more prioritization in the state budget. In the short term, I think there could be some beautification projects that could be cut from the budget. Basically, safety and public transportation should be more important than planting trees along the side of the highway. In terms of a second issue, or another big issue—definitely, education is one of my bigger issues. that a lot of people are pushing through—I happen to disagree with it. I don't believe that the state money, especially the local school district money, should be redirected to private education or to other schools instead of where the money is actually collected or intended for. I don't see the bill as solving the problems that it's intending to solve. I think that there are some families that would like to put their students into private schools or schools that are outside their neighborhoods, and I think that using scholarships for those families from the state would be fine. But I don't believe that taking the actual tax money that's collected from the schools to go to those particular schools (is a good idea). Taxes that are collected for the Pittsburgh Public Schools (for example,) should stay with the city schools. If the parents choose to want to send their kids to somewhere that's not in the city, then there should be means like grants or finding other financing through those private schools themselves who usually offer some sort of assistance. They should go through those routes to do so.
BWP: How do you feel about Tom Corbett's performance so far as Pennsylvania's governor?
MMS: As someone who loves education and was a school director, and when it comes to education, I'm kind of a policy wonk—he's been a terrible governor for education. He took $2 million (in campaign financing) from the Marcellus Shale (drilling groups) and didn't want to tax them. He took $200,000 from The Second Mile group while . I don't know. Obviously, the people elected him, but I think there's some buyer's remorse on a lot of people's heart.
CC: Like every governor, there's good things, and there's bad things. Maybe not good or bad, but there's things I like and things I don't. I feel that there's been a lot of cuts to the education side of the budget. I would rather not have seen those; however, I am supportive of the castle doctrine that passed. I believe in the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as (Article 1, Section 21) in the state constitution, where the citizens have the right to bear arms. It shouldn't be questioned. I think that there's a lot of rights that have been held up and are being supported (by Corbett), but at the same time, it's a tough time, too, with the budget, because we did have to cut a lot of things out of it. I would have liked to have seen those cuts come from somewhere other than the educational side, but it's one of those things I'll fight for when I get in there. Overall, though, I feel that the state is on an even course. I don't feel like we're going downhill. But I don't think that we're going uphill, and there's things that we could improve on.
BWP: Should the 22nd District move to eastern Pennsylvania?
CC: The lines that —those lines made a little bit more sense to me. The 22nd District is not a bad line, but it seems weird that the 15 streets that are near the North Shore (and part of the current 22nd District) wouldn't actually have been put into a district that's more fully involved in representing the North Shore. They would be more localized in understanding those issues a little bit better. The 22nd, at the end of the day, is just a name. I've heard a couple of people say that before, when being asked how they feel about moving the 22nd District. "It's just a name at the end of the day." What matters to me is that, the lines that are drawn here, do they make sense for the communities that are here? And I felt that the lines that were drawn (and eventually rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court), at least just focusing on our area in western Pennsylvania—especially what would have been the district I was in—I felt that those lines were more fair and probably encompassed a better grouping of people that lived in that area than the current 22nd line that is drawn.
MMS: (The 22nd District) is going to stay here, and I will absolutely fight as hard as I can for this seat not to move to Reading or Allentown or out east at all. This reapportionment plan—and again, I give a lot of credit to Justice Castille—this reapportionment plan was horrific for the 22nd. Not only were we losing our Democratic legislative seat, but they were dividing the communities. Not only were they dividing (Pittsburgh's) 19th Ward with three different legislators, but they were dividing the community of Beechview with three separate legislators. And that absolutely should not happen and cannot happen. And that's one of the things that I will definitely fight, just like I've been working with the lawyers to fight for the reapportionment case that was successfully overturned. And I fought for the special elections to be held, because basically, it was taxation without representation for six different areas throughout Pennsylvania. And the governor and the speaker of the House (Sam Smith) and everybody else thought that was OK. Well, it's not OK. I pay state taxes; most people pay state taxes. We have a right to representation.
BWP: How do you feel about the ? How could you help small business owners and local shoppers over the course of that project?
MMS: I've seen it happen in other communities where the businesses are absolutely gonna take a hit. I saw it on McNeilly Road. I saw it on Potomac Avenue. When these redevelopment projects take place, the end result's very good, but there's a lot of suffering and a lot of pain during the process. Obviously, you've got to take that block by block and be as sensitive to the business people and the shoppers in those areas as you can. It's gonna take a while to complete the project. It's going to be beautiful when it's done. I love Brookline Boulevard. I played basketball all throughout my high school and college days in Brookline, so I love the boulevard. I love the community. The basketball courts—I played for hours and hours and days and days. The business people are absolutely gonna take a hit, and I think they have to weigh a couple things. They're gonna have to suffer short-term for a long-term benefit. Certainly, whatever we can do to make it easier on them and the shoppers, that's what we have to be sensitive to.
CC: I do think the project should work, especially with Brookline Boulevard being—anyone who's familiar with it will know—probably the single-most dangerous road in the South Hills of Pittsburgh for pedestrians. In the short term—I did go to a project development meeting they had a couple of weeks ago at the —it is going to be a lot of headaches throughout the year. But I feel that the city and the planners are at least trying to do it in one season, which is good. And it's kind of chunked up, so it'll affect different people at different times. But nobody will be affected for the entire time in terms of having the project done in front of their property. But for the long-term benefits, I think it's great. I think they should really look forward to it. Brookline Boulevard and Broadway in Beechview are two neighborhoods where they've seen a lot of increases in the number of businesses along those main business streets, and I think this'll turn Brookline into more of a local community, a walking community. It should be. Personally, I love going up to Brookline Boulevard and walking. We (he and his family) park on the boulevard somewhere, we walk to the boulevard ice cream store, get ice cream, and come back down. I think that it's great, and I think this redevelopment project will really start to revitalize that and make it more of a local community, especially when you're trying to compete with a lot of developments like (The Mall at) Robinson and The Waterfront. They're always building these huge strip malls and shopping centers outside of the urban areas, and it's driving a lot of business (out from) where people could be shopping here in the Brookline area for this project, for example. But they're going out more because they enjoy going out and walking to the malls or to the different department stores. We don't have the department stores, but in terms of having the ability to walk around and shop in little local stores such as (one would at) a mall, I think it's a great development.
BWP: What are your thoughts on ?
CC: I honestly couldn't tell you a thing about the city realignment at the moment. If it's recent, I'll be honest; the last couple of weeks, I've been knocking door to door. I haven't been keeping up with the realignment. I do know that there are, overall, in terms of realignment for the city, it's one of those hard things where you're losing a lot of your local schools … I don't necessarily have a problem with them closing schools and realigning them. You are gonna have to face the problem with class sizes. I think that's something the city's gonna have to figure out. I don't know what kind of size classroom that Brashear (High School) has; I never actually went to Brashear. When you're dealing with a district the size of the city—like when they closed Peabody and Schenley (high schools) and transferred them into Westinghouse (High School)—you do start getting kids going from areas that are even further and further away from that school, where the parents are that much further away. This is something that my wife brought up to me. A lot of times, with the parents, they don't live in the same city neighborhood as the high school, and they don't have reliable means of transportation to get to the school. So, in order to—if their kids are kept after class or something—a lot of times, you have other family members, like grandparents or aunts and uncles, end up having to go get the kids from school and bringing them back. It's a problem with budgeting, though. There's not much you can do about it. The city needs to educate the kids, and if that means that they're going to have a few less facilities to do it, then that's just something that they'll have to deal with. But I would agree that they would need to do a class-size adjustment, and at least keep the class sizes at a minimum. Just as a side note, my wife was teaching at Westinghouse. She, at one time, had almost 30 kids in the class, and she was the only teacher in the room. And it's completely ineffective to try to teach 30 kids in a classroom. I can tell you that just because of what she was able to accomplish, which was closer to nothing. But once they got problems resolved in that school, and they were able to bring those class sizes down, her classes were much easier to teach because it's more manageable. You only have an average of between 17 and 20 kids then. In terms of the Brashear school, I think that's something that the school board needs to decide, and we need to work on. Probably a lot of the problems—going back to the education thing—a lot of these kids are probably gonna start being taken out. That's the reason why I don't support the Senate ("vouchers") bill at the moment, because I don't want to see those tax dollars that this school is already trying to work with have that reduced even more by sending these kids to other schools outside of there. It'll help some of those students to get them out of there, but a lot of the other students who would also be leaving maybe wouldn't have the same home environments. And it's not gonna solve the problem. The problem is you need to reduce the class sizes. But if they can reduce the class sizes while going into a single facility, I would support that.
MMS: One of the reasons Mt. Lebanon has always, always kept their property values high is because of these neighborhood schools—where you can walk to them. Each ward in Mt. Lebanon has their own elementary school. I'm a real advocate of public education, but I think making schools bigger is not always the answer. I know in , years ago, we created —which was a K-2 center, and now it's K-1—but when you can have smaller schools and smaller classrooms and class sizes, it just helps the learning process so much better for the children. So, I know what's going on. I think the (Pittsburgh) School Board and the administration, they have to weigh the cost to the educational benefits or deficits that they're going to create by what they're doing.
BWP: Martin, what's your side of the story regarding charges against you stemming from your time as the deputy clerk of courts in Allegheny County?
MMS: I was the deputy clerk of courts for 15 months, and in that time, I turned over $257,000—me and I had a great staff—through cost-savings and through interest investments. We turned over $257,000 to the Allegheny County Treasurer's Office that absolutely wouldn't have been there if it weren't for our efforts. We worked like dogs. And not every "i" was dotted, and not every "t" was crossed. And it was something that happened 16 years ago, and it took nine years of my life to clear my name. And the Superior Court of Pennsylvania dismissed that case. And for the last seven years, I have not been hiding in a closet. My name's been on the ballot five times, and I've been successful in all five elections. And that's what I want to say about that.
BWP: Chris, how do you feel that Schmotzer's past affects his candidacy?
CC: No comment.
BWP: Do you have any notable community service or volunteer experience that you feel merits mention for you as a candidate?
CC: For several years, I volunteered with the Edgewood Community Center—for the basketball leagues (including coaching) or for the soccer leagues. For about a year and a half, I was volunteering for the Humane Society.
MMS: The couple jobs in my past which really lend itself to this race is, when I was first out of college, I was an employment counselor for a year. And I interviewed people. And from then on, it became like a lifelong vocation to try to place people into jobs. And I do this all free of charge. It's a volunteer thing that I do. There's about 100 people that get up everyday and go to work in the Pittsburgh area into good-paying jobs. And the reason they do it is because I network, I get their résumés, and I try to find a good fit for them. And this is both to the public sector and the private sector. And it's kind of a hobby of mine. I literally spend a couple hours a day doing that to help people because it's like the old line: "Give a man a fish; he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish; he eats for a lifetime." I see the problems when families don't have jobs. There's problems among the adults. It filters down to the children. Not only is unemployment so high—it's much higher than the numbers that are broadcast—but underemployment is even a bigger problem. There's people with master's degrees making minimum wage, and that's not what the American Dream promised. The American Dream said, "If you work hard and get a good education, there'll be a job waiting for you." Well, that's not the case today. This (volunteering to find people jobs) is something that I learned from this employment agency: the value of a job and the value of helping people. Of course, the employment agency was a for-profit company, but I left the employment agency and got a much-better-paying job when I went to work in a warehouse as a Teamster. And I did that for over a year. I was a really good Teamster guy until they told me I had to go drive a forklift, and that pretty much ended my union career. We (he and his family) volunteer at the Jubilee Kitchen. We donate to the Little Sisters of the Poor. We volunteer in different charity organizations and things like that. And, obviously, we're members of our local parishes. We do different things there also, just like everybody else does.
BWP: Have you received any major endorsements? If so, from whom?
MMS: I've only been running for this office for two months. Some people in the race have been running for two years. And I'm really happy with the support—obviously, from the Democratic Party. I'm the endorsed Democratic candidate for the two-year term, and I'm the Democratic nominee for the eight-month term. But also, the unions: I'm recommended by the Allegheny County Labor Council, the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council, the Teamsters, the Constables Association and many, many other organizations that are related to the Democratic Party and to the labor groups.
CC: The Republican Committee of Allegheny County (endorsed him for the special election). I've gone to several groups. I've had several meetings with some of them. I've been told that I should hear (soon) from several of them in terms of an endorsement. From a lot of them, it was a little bit weird because when I went to them for an endorsement, they're still just trying to get through the endorsements looking toward the general race in November. Even for a couple of them, they didn't know that there was a special election for the April primary. It's kind of weird. I never actually dealt with this process before, either, in terms of trying to work to get the endorsements and filling out the surveys. A lot of them now are just still pending. I don't know if that's a good sign or a bad sign. It's my first time around.