I talked with Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O'Brien on Tuesday about his possible run against Democratic Congressman Paul Kanjorski in the 2010 primary for the 11th Congressional District seat.
After reading this we may be able to drop the question mark.
Corey was born and raised in Dunmore, PA and graduated from Dunmore High School. He went on to Penn State and is still a big leader of cheers for the Nittany Lions. He got his law degree from Catholic University in Washington, DC. He told me he is a life long Yankees fan (what is it with these guys?) but likes the Phillies in the National League because we had the AAA team, the Red Barons, located for many years at the Montage Stadium.
What do you think of Arlen Specter’s move today?
I welcome him to the Democratic Party. He has certainly sided with our party and our agenda on some of the hot button issues over the years and we are a party of inclusion. We hope everybody kind of comes over to have somebody of Arlen Specter’s caliber, somebody who’s been a distinguished member of the Senate for over 20 years, this is great for our party so I welcome him with open arms and I am happy to see him come over to the Democratic Party, the party of progress and the party of the future so it’s exciting to see him make that move.
It’s kind of like he got chased out by the Republicans.
Well I think he got wooed in by the Democrats. We’ve wanted to have Arlen Specter as a member of this party for a long time and he’s been courted for many years by the Democratic Party and he’s glad that he’s now aligning himself and joining the Democratic Caucus.
You have all the rumors out there that say you’re going to be running for Congress. Well, are you?
It sounds like a rumor because it’s a rumor, you know that. I’m very seriously considering a run for Congress. I think we need at some point to move forward in the 11th and to have a vision for the future and a vision of really putting everyone on an equal playing field, young and old, wealthy and poor, and people who have a lot and people who have very little. And there’s been a wide discrepancy, I think, in this country and in Washington over the years with respect to that gap and we need to do things in a different way. I mean, I have two young children and I think about their futures and I think that it’s important that we have a member in Congress that’s thinking about the future of children and grandchildren. I don’t know how long Congressman Kanjorski, he’s toward the twilight of his career I think it’s safe to say and I think it’s going to be time soon here to move beyond that and to move forward in a progressive way and I think there are many people who don’t give me much of a chance but I’ve been told that before.
Well my initial reaction was that anyone who takes on Kanjo in a primary, it’s a suicide mission, but the more that I think about it, why not?
I think the math works. There’s been a lot of calculus that has gone into just testing the waters in this race and a lot of people have underestimated what we would be able to do over the years. When I was 17 years old and working to build a community center in Dunmore everybody told me I couldn’t do it, it would never happen, and then we received a federal appropriations of $600,000 from Senator Wofford. I was 17 ½ years old going down to Washington and lobbying to build a community center, making this national model program where you have seniors and youth and Head Start and all these other components that bring them together because as you probably know, back when I was working on this in 1990, 1991 there was no real such thing as a community center. What we had were youth centers and senior centers. What I said to Senator Wofford was we want to put this together and have a concept where we have a co-generational really multi-generational facility and he bought into that idea as a national model and he helped fund that and then it sat on the shelf for 10 years as the political leadership just failed to get the job done on it. And that frustrated me.
Who was your Congressman at that time?
The Congressman at the time was Joe McDade. And at that time it really was a struggle for me in trying to figure out. As a community activist you can only take a project so far but here we are just kind of waiting, waiting, waiting. But that was really my first thought of really running for office was during that period of time where I thought unless you’re an elected official you can’t actually get it done, but we got that done. But then there was a Commissioner’s race. I entered that Commissioner’s race. Look back at it. It’s going to tell you a lot. I had a very difficult time at the beginning of that race. I lost my job. I lost several things in that just through the party politics of things. I’m not born and bred into a political family that has just been given things. For all intents and purposes as an outsider, just a younger person, I’m 35, some people are reporting I’m 36 but I’m still 35. 35 year old, the guy who’s just trying to get it done for our family, for our community, and everybody said, if you look at those early articles, this guy doesn’t have a chance, are you kidding me, then I won and we did fairly well in that race, we won by the largest margin in Lackawanna County history as a matter of fact and I think we proved that we can do that and then Barack Obama comes along and nobody supports Barack Obama and I came out early and supported him. I was on his statewide leadership council. Most people do not know that. There were 7 or 8 of us. If you go and search Obama and Corey O’Brien you’ll find a February 2007 document with my name on it, statewide leadership council, with Franco Harris and about 9 other people throughout the entire state.
Ok , so it can be done?
So that can be done. So I mean I think that people will continue to underestimate me and I like that. I like being in an underdog role.
You said that Congressman Kanjorski is at the twilight of his career. Why not just wait until he retires and run then?
I think I have some philosophical disagreements.
Some disagreements on some votes and I shouldn’t say philosophical disagreements but let me state this differently. You can’t choose timing, timing chooses you to some degree. We have an urgency in this country right now as to where we’re moving. We’re going to make fundamental decisions as to where our country moves in the next 50 years right now over the course of the next 3 years with the stimulus package, with energy independence, with education, with reformatting or formulating our whole health system potentially. There are big ticket items coming up here and I think it’s critically important that that long term vision is articulated now and in 2010. It’s not about Paul Kanjorski and his career. Well, how long does he want to be here? There are significant issues facing our country right now that require bold, I believe, new leadership and new vision for the future. I know what it’s like to balance a budget. I’ve done it. I know what that’s like. I know what counties need. I know what people of Northeastern Pennsylvania need because I go door to door consistently, regularly. I talk to people here. I’m not in Washington. I don’t spend most of my time in Washington. I spend it on the streets right here. I understand what we need as a people here moving forward.
I think Congressman Kanjorski would contend that he’s done a good job helping local government through federal funding over the years.
Over the years is a great way to put it. Over the years in the past. We’re talking about the future.
And will continue to do it.
I’m talking about the future. I don’t know how long Congressman Kanjorski intends to be in office, if it’s 2 years or if it’s 20 years. I could assume that it’s not 20 years, but we need to at some point start moving forward and move in a new direction and I think that that opportunity to move in a new direction may be now, may be sooner rather than later. We need to start going there. The longer you just kind of wait on that the more time it takes so I think there’s a unique opportunity to turn the page, and turn the page on a lot of the things that have been going on in Luzerne County quite frankly. Turn the page on the ethical lapses that we have seen, on the lack of openness and transparency in government. My first day in office we adapted a code of ethics which was covered in the USA Today in the Germany edition, believe it or not, of the USA Today, because it was strong and it was a forceful code of ethics which doesn’t allow me or any member of Lackawanna County government to accept a cup of coffee from somebody. Nothing. No gifts from a county vendor.
So I’m not going to be able to buy you a beer?
No gifts from a county vendor and if you work out a project with a vendor then you’re precluded from working for that vendor for a 2 year period after leaving government. Well you say how do you enforce something like that? Well, that’s easy. Enforce it against the vendor. We just won’t let you do any work for the county for a period of time. So we want to try to take a lot of the ethical issues that have come up, take them off the table now moving forward. It’s a different time. We live by different rules. We’re held to a different standard and we need to start moving beyond that. And I think if you talk to people in Luzerne County I think a lot of them will tell you I don’t want to elect anybody from Luzerne County because of the mess and the things that are going on and it’s been going on for a long time in northeastern Pennsylvania. The era of corruption, the era of secret government secret deals is over. Those days are numbered in Luzerne County and they are over throughout this region and people today I believe have a different philosophy. I think we have already started to usher in a new level of openness and transparency in government which has to continue and has to continue at the congressional level.
You mentioned Congressman Kanjorski and what’s going on in Luzerne County in the same breath, do you think he has any ethical problems?
I’m not going to talk about other potential candidates in 2010. I can just tell you that my record on ethics reform, openness and transparency are very, very clear. I have a strong record with respect to that. Other people can judge his record of ethical considerations and that kind of stuff. I think that there is a clear distinction there between myself and him with respect to that. But that’s for somebody else to talk about. If I get into this race I’m going to be running a campaign based on what I’ve been able to get done and what I want to do going forward and other people can make those comparisons. Some people may say our records differ with respect to openness and transparency.
One of the more liberal bloggers said this about you. (DWT)
But progressive Democrats can cool their heels for now. O'Brien is no champion of progressive values-- In fact, he's a better packaged avatar of social conservatism-- anti-Choice and against equality for gays.
Reaction? I don’t know what your positions are on the hot button social issues.
Wow, I don’t know them. I would venture to guess that they don’t know many of my positions on those issues as well. I can tell you this. I would represent the values of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Those issues and values will be brought forward if I decide to enter the race. I think what they will find is that I’m certainly a progressive Democrat that believes very strongly in universal health care and health care reform. That believes very strongly in energy independence and that energy independence is a national security priority that we need to embrace. And education reform is a critical component to compete in a global economy, especially early childhood development. As you probably know 90% of a person’s brain growth is completed by the age of 5 yet we spend the least amount of dollars by the age of 5. I don’t know why we don’t have programs were we start spending more money on early childhood development, we start spending more money on bilingual education. I don’t why as a sophomore in high school it’s the first time people start taking French or Spanish as I did at Dunmore High School. Why we don’t have a second or a third language from early childhood education through college. But I also think that college should become a right and no longer a privilege and that’s something that I’ll talk about if I end up getting into this race. I think you are going to hear a lot from me about energy independence because my record is strong there. We are replacing our fleet of vehicles in Lackawanna County with hybrids. We will have set of 10 hybrids in a week or two. We are replacing our fleet of COLTS buses with hybrids. With these progressives actions we are now a COOL County, we are only the second COOL County in Pensylvania. Which is guaranteeing a reduction in our carbon emissions to reduce the effects of global warming. So we are taking some significant steps toward energy independence and we are doing them right here in northeastern Pennsylvania. I will talk a lot about energy, education and job creation throughout any kind of campaign.
I asked him about Accountability Now because they contacted me a few weeks ago inquiring about possible Democratic primary challengers to Paul Kanjorski. I threw out a few names including his and they got a hold of him. His response.
A number organizations in Washington and throughout the country have contacted me and I welcome any support that is offered.
After I first broke this story last week a number of national and local news outlets/bloggers picked up on it including: