Northeastern Pennsylvanians talk about their concerns and hopes for the 2016 presidential race
Presidential races often garner a lot of media attention, but with a bombastic front-runner in the Republican race and a so-called socialist competing against a former first lady in the Democratic primary, sensationalism is bound to happen.
Ratings, spin and party affiliations aside, when the noise stops, real Americans with serious concerns and sincere hopes are at the heart of the conversation.
With less than a year until we elect a new United States president, there’s a long road ahead. Candidates will drop out and issues will appear to continually change dialogue.
We spoke to Northeastern Pennsylvanians about issues most important to them and what qualities they seek in a presidential candidate.
We took the conversation out of the hands of the national media and gave it to people in our own communities.
Among eight people approached, five people contributed opinions. The majority of those cited the state of the economy as a primary issue of concern.
“I’m looking for an honest president, number one, but one that can put the economy back on its feet,” Bruce Parker of Scranton said.
The 59-year-old said he does not care if the next president is male or female, nor does he care from what cultural background a candidate comes “as long as it’s not Donald Trump.”
Scranton resident Marlene Vitaletti, 66, said economics is the most important issue.
“I feel that, as a senior citizen, I don’t really know how we are going to survive for as long as we’re going to live, because there just doesn’t seem to be anything working for the average person, retired or not retired,” she said.
Vitaletti said transparency and true concern for the little people, not big business, are among ideal qualities in a president.
“Taking care of the economy and the middle class people,” Sandi Kuchwara said. The 57-year-old from Dickson City is hoping for a leader who follows through on promises made during campaigning.
Scranton resident Jesse Ciccone, 26, doesn’t invest much time in politics.
“I really don’t have that many political opinions,” Ciccone said. “I don’t feel like if I voice anything, it’s really going to have an affect.”
Ciccone likes Trump’s business savvy when it comes to saving the country money but can’t support his statements concerning race.
Bob Wanamaker, 32, of Scranton, said, “The biggest thing is the financial stability of the country.” He said he is steadfastly pro-life, because he is Christian. He understands unfortunate circumstances come up, but he believes there are options other than abortion.
“I like to see honesty,” Wanamaker said. “I like to see a man of integrity, a man of honor.”
In the borough of Dallas, five people lent their voices to the conversation and 11 people declined to comment. The issues addressed varied, ranging from tax reform to immigration to funding for education and the discussion broadened in scope.
Bob Lucas, 67, of Harveys Lake, said his biggest concern is the economy but quickly turned the conversation to immigration.
“I don’t think we should have an open cover to allow anybody just to come in,” Lucas said. “My parents came over on the boat and they had to be sponsored and they had to have a job in advance.”
Lucas said his ideal candidate needs to be outspoken, diplomatic and capable of standing his or her ground.
Dale Houck is concerned with homeland security. The 59-year-old Wyoming resident who works in Dallas said, “I think we’ve listened to so many years of presidential approval, financial approvals from a president, foreign policy.”
“I think at this particular juncture, America is afraid of itself,” Houck said. “There’s so many school shootings and convenient store shootings, police shootings … I think as much as foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East is important, I think we need more security at home.”
Houck said his ideal candidate would have both business and military experience.
Chris Ferrara, 44, a Dallas resident and business owner, said, “Between property taxes, income taxes and everything else, to me, that’s the biggest thing in this country, tax reform,” he said, citing the difficulties Harveys Lake residents have had keeping their homes.
Ferrara would support a plan to make taxes uniform for everyone. He said, in a candidate, he’d like to see someone who cares about the country and its people.
Kim Pettigrew expressed the concerns of a younger America worried about its financial future. “We need to be more financially secure,” she said. “I know my generation is really worried about Social Security still being available when we retire.” The 32-year-old Kingston mother is worried about the drug epidemic and the close proximity of crime to residential areas.
She noted her ideal candidate would have concern for the well-being of American citizens, especially those who work hard and their children.
Christina Scott takes issue with education and thinks something needs to be done about tuition rates for colleges and a lack of funding in public schools. Her ideal candidate would be someone from the working class and a moderate thinker, rather than too conservative or liberal.
“People, especially in this area, are getting degrees and paying for student loans and can’t find a job in their field,” Scott said. “The job market, too, that needs improvement.”
In the downtown area of the city, five people weighed in on the discussion and five people declined to comment. Concerns ranged from government intervention to depleting benefits to foreign policy, and Pittston provided a wide spectrum of ages as people from 29 to 80 spoke with us.
Carroll Smith said he’s interested in,”The government representing us a little more and not sticking their nose so much into our business. Free market enterprise, I believe in. I think that works.”
Smith said a candidate with a strong religious foundation and a military background will get his vote.
“I’m 80,” said Tony Morreale. “I want to make sure that Medicare stays the way it is. Social Security, I want to preserve that.” The Exeter resident is concerned about the continued conflict in the Middle East and hates to see young Americans lose their lives without reason.
Morreale is looking for a candidate who can unite Congress.
“I voted for Obama, and I can’t understand why Congress can’t cooperate a little bit with the guy,” he said.
Andrew LaFratte, of Hughestown, takes issue with the “cost of living” that’s used to evaluate people on Social Security and pension. “They came out with the comment that the gasoline prices did not escalate this year and, for that reason, there’s no increase in Social Security,” he said. “That’s wrong.”
The 79-year-old noted prices are still rising in most aspects of the economy. He said a good candidate will have the diplomacy to work with a philosophically divided House of Representatives.
Cherie Rychleski, a 29-year-old Wyoming resident, wants to see improvements in the job market and an increase in pay rates for working people. “We’ve got to get out of this war,” she added. “This war is pathetic.”
Rychleski said her candidate needs to be a good person willing to help others and she’d love to see a woman take office.
A person’s age and lifestyle proved to be pertinent in determining what residents of the Greater Nanticoke area seek in a presidential candidate. In this region, six people declined to talk politics before four were willing to sound off.
Shelby Goss, of Nanticoke, a 19-year-old nursing student at Luzerne County Community College, is looking for a candidate who will help make it easier to get a college education.
“It’s important to me that students won’t have to pay off college loans for the rest of their lives,” she said. “It’s not just me. I see my classmates struggling to get their next loan. It shouldn’t be so hard for people to try to better themselves. The more educated people we have in our country, the more we’ll progress as a nation.”
For William Lahr, of Shamokin, Social Security is an issue he wants tackled. The 67-year-old said, “People my age gave their time, all their life, to help and pay taxes, so they should be taken care of. Prices keep going up, but Social Security isn’t being increased.”
Some focus on the character of a candidate who could be the next commander-in-chief.
Tyler Lewis, 28, of Shavertown, wants a president with military experience. “I feel people in the military already have experience at putting their country first,” he said. “Someone who just came from money doesn’t have that mindset.”
Adrianne Wood, 35, of Nanticoke, is looking for a candidate who has stuck to his or her word.
“I want someone in office who has a history of following through with their promises,” Wood said. “Some people just say what they think will get them elected, and then nothing really gets done. You know they mean what they’re promising if they have a history of following through with their word.”
For the people in this section of the Electric City, immigration is the biggest concern.
Ralph Raviell0, 50, of Scranton, wants a candidate smart enough to tax the immigrants we have to boost our economy.
“They’re already here,” he said. “Just make them pay like the rest of us.”
Harold Bauman, 80, of Scranton, shared similar sentiments.
“This is the land of opportunity,” he said. “We’re known for welcoming immigrants so they can have a chance to live the American dream. It’s just important that we have someone in office who will figure out a way to control the way they get here.”
Another issue addressed was minimum wage. Christine Barron, 29, of Scranton, said the standard pay should increase.
“I used to have a job where I made just a little more than minimum wage. I made $8 an hour. I was able to pay rent, but I wasn’t able to afford a car payment,” she said. “I can’t imagine trying to raise a family on minimum wage today. It would just be too hard to get by. For people who work full-time and work really hard, it shouldn’t be such a struggle to pay bills.”
So what qualities could solve these issues? Chanel Fields, 38, said a candidate who shows “attentiveness” to voters could have the best chance at solving the issues.
“I like when whoever is running goes out and meets real people. They shake their hands. They give them hugs. They hear their stories,” she said. “That’s how they know what we need, by getting to know the voters and paying attention to them.”
The people in downtown Scranton are concerned about the economy. Other things came up, but every person interviewed made it a point to mention money.
“I would like to think that we’re a microcosm of everything so I think we would be concerned about the economy,” David Romeo Jr. said. “Around here, there has been lack of job creation.”
“Well, our economy has been strengthening quite a bit under Obama,” retired teacher Don Banks said. “I obviously want to see a continuation in the pickup in the economy. It all comes down to money, so the economy is the big thing. This area is always generally the last to pick up and it’s always usually the first to feel something when the economy starts to go down the shoots.”
That’s not to say Scranton is single-minded; healthcare is also a common concern. Meaghan Hudy, 20, thinks we needed to elect a president who can make changes to the current state of health care, while Banks is a proponent of President Obama’s health care reforms. On the diplomacy side, Romeo said global issues are still important to him, but stimulating the area’s economy is his number one priority.
“This area’s been in a depressed state for decades now,” Romeo said. “We take one step forward and two steps back.”
If the election were held today, Donald Trump would win Kingston’s support.
“As despicable as Donald Trump is, at least he speaks his mind,” Chris Ormando, 38, said. “I like an honest candidate. Lack of hyperbole, honest answers … things that aren’t just said for shock value or mud slinging.”
Ormando said economics and foreign relations are his main concerns when considering a candidate. Immigration doesn’t concern him; he sees it as a non-issue because the same argument has been repeated since the country’s infancy. Frankie DeViva, who recently reached voting age and is a student at Wyoming Valley West High School, disagreed.
“We need to figure out how to get the illegal immigrants who are in the country and either have them get the right papers or, if they don’t want to get the right papers, they need to leave,” DeViva said. He said he would vote for Trump because he’s a businessman.
“Most important is the economy,” DeViva said. “I want Trump to win. What I feel is most important is we need to boost our economy, lower taxes and work on boarder control.”
Most areas had a prevailing theme, one topic that repeated during our interactions in a certain place. Downtown Wilkes-Barre proved to be a mixed bag, ranging from global warming to gun control.
“Climate change is an issue for me because I have young children,” Heather Abrams, 36, said. “My two children will be entering school soon, so education is a priority to me. Health care, obviously. Again, I have a growing family.
Nicholas Martinez, 34, is concerned about Trump’s policies on immigration and the argument-heavy debates that have aired on television.
“I feel that, instead of targeting each other and playing each other down, they should really focus on the issues,” Martinez said. “Instead of Mr. Trump talking about where he’s going to put everybody, shouldn’t he do what Obama was doing — give illegals the right to stay and work here? They’re already here.”
Joe Schwartz’s concerns are many. He’d like term limits in the House of Representatives and Senate, a limit on political pensions and fair punishment for public figures. He is also passionate about gun control.
“Liberals right now are trying to trash everything in regards to that aspect,” Schwartz, who is in his mid-40s, said. “We have the right to own guns and the right to protect ourselves. Why should we have someone commit treason and trash something that has been sitting for over 200 years?”
If it seems like the people in downtown Wilkes-Barre are concerned about everything, maybe they are.
“I just think, as a country, we’re going in the very wrong direction,” Abrams said. “Everything is an issue at this point.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or [email protected].
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts
Reach Justin Adam Brown at 570-991-6652
Jeb Bush: Governor of Florida
Ben Carson: Retired neurosugeon … 1 vote
Chris Christie: Governor of New Jersey
Ted Cruz: U.S. Senator from Texas … 1 vote
Carly Fiorina: Former businesswoman and CEO
Jim Gilmore: Former Governor of Virginia
Lindsey Graham: U.S. Senator from South Carolina
Mike Huckabee: Former Governor of Arkansas
Bobby Jindal: Governor of Louisianna
John Kasich: Governor of Ohio
George Pataki: Governor of New York
Rand Paul: Former U.S. Senator from Kentucky
Marco Rubio: U.S. Senator from Florida … 1 vote
Rick Santorum: Former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania
Donald Trump: Real estate developer and television personality … 4 votes
Larry Lessig: Harvard Law Professor
Bernie Sanders: U.S. Senator from Vermont
Martin O’Malley: Former Governor of Maryland
Hillary Clinton: Former U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady … 5 votes