Dems Pick Schwank; Berks County Now at Center of PA Politics
The Berks County Democrats unanimously recommended former County Commissioner Judy Schwank as their candidate for the March 15 special election to replace the late State Senator Mike O’Pake.
In a packed room in Sinking Spring, over 100 Berks County Democrats gathered to support Schwank.
Schwank was nominated by State Rep. Tomas Caltaglirone and seconded by Rita Banning, a committeewoman and former Commissioner of Montgomery County.
Berks County Commissioner from 1999-2007, Schwank retired to serve as President of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, a state-wide non-profit aimed at redevelopment. She presently serves as Dean of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Delaware Valley College.
In her acceptance speech, Schwank remembered the man who’s seat she is seeking.
“No one can fill Senator O’Pake’s shoes,” Schwank said. “But I will do my best to match his hard work representing Berks County and excellent constituent service.”
Schwank sounded a moderate note, cited her record of working with both parties as Commissioner. She said that agriculture and business experience makes her well-qualified to serve the people of the 11th, which includes the City of Reading as well as several farming communities.
“I’m practical, and pragmatic. I’m idealistic, but I’m not an ideologue.”
The special election puts Berks County at the center of attention in Pennsylvania politics as both sides have to see whether they’re going to continue the trend of the 2010 elections, with either continued Republican momentum or whether Democrats will be able to stand their ground in a district that trends in their favor.
Underscoring the importance of the race, Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn and other state party officials attended the nomination meeting, following up on a fundraiser for the Berks County Democrats last night.
“This is our first significant race since November. We want to show folks that we’re organized, we’re prepared, and that we’re going to win this one, and more races in the future,” said Burn. “Republicans had better not underestimate the energy of Democrats in Reading or in Pennsylvania.”
There had been behind-the-scenes discussion about which Democrat would be the strongest candidate for the seat that included names like State Rep. Dante Santoni and former congressional candidate Manan Trivedi. PoliticsPA reported in December that Schwank was the front runner for the nomination.
But in the end, Democrats rallied around Schwank, who Berks County Democratic Chairman Tom Herman called well-liked, well-respected, and especially popular among Berks County’s agriculture community.
“Slam dunk. We’re going to win. We’re going to retain the 11th,” predicted Herman.
Herman cited a poll commissioned by the State Senate Democratic Campaign Committee that showed Schwank “head and shoulders,” ahead of each prospective Republican candidate, which Herman defined as a lead in the area of 20 points.
The DSSCC confirmed Herman’s account, including his characterizations of Schwank’s strong numbers, but said they were not ready to release the full results of the poll.
The Berks County Democrats are correspondingly very enthusiastic. Trivedi was in attendance and said the he plans to put his full weight behind Schwank, including his sizable Reading field operation and some campaign funds.
“As soon as I heard that Judy was running, I called her and offered her my full support.” he said. “Judy represents the best parts of the Democratic Party, she cares about all people.”
Schwank said that she would turn over all of her leftover County Commissioner campaign funds, last reported to be over $24,000, to the special election.
Schwank said her strategy is straightforward: get out the vote. The City of Reading is heavily Democratic, and Schwank said she also enjoys support from farmers in the 11th district.
The Berks Democrats’ recommendation of Schwank will now go to Executive Committee of the Democratic State Party, which is widely expected to approve her nomination, according to Burn and Herman. Herman added that as a member of the Executive Committee, he had never seen the recommendation of a local party overturned
The Berks County GOP is meeting tonight to decide their candidate. Unlike the Democrats, the Republican nominee won’t require state party approval.
Berks County Republican Chairman Andrew Fick said his party wasn’t focused on Schwank.
“I’m focused on our nominating process,” he said. “We’re going to pick the person best suited to serve the people of the 11th District and Berks County, no matter who is chosen by the Democrat Party.”
PoliticsPA will report the Republican nominee later this evening.