ABOVE PHOTO: Councilman-elect Andre Horton
By Kiarra Solomon
Councilman-elect Andre Horton is the first African American ever elected to a county position in Erie, PA in the county’s 200+ year history.
On Nov. 5, he won a very tight election beating Republican Ned Smith (a 32-year incumbent), and a write-in Democratic candidate, Lisa Austin, with 46
percent of the vote. Horton was told he had lost the election Tuesday night, but by Friday was declared the winner.
“I come from a family of community servants”, said Horton, 53, the youngest of 11 children. “My parents left us a name, and a legacy,and a mind to work. I
think we are making them proud.” Prior to winning this election Horton was the President of the Erie NAACP branch, a position his mother held in the 1970s.
A well-known community advocate, he recently helped organize a coalition of men to provide safe passages for children traveling to and from school (similar
to Philadelphia’s Safe Corridors).
Councilman Smith’s decision to vote against a community college in Erie prompted Horton to run for election. As he looks forward to being sworn in this
January, Horton says he’s looking forward to building partnerships between the public and private sectors and the unions to invest in vocational training
for Erie’s youth. His goal is to ultimately diversify the workforce. “I’m hoping that the county will invest in blue-green jobs to help deal with some of
the debt that we are accruing a record pace. Over the years, the county has given tax breaks to various private entities under the promise of bringing in
more jobs. If we are going to invest in any promise, it should be the promise of our children”, he said.
Horton will be coming into office at a very crucial time in Erie. According to recent statistics, Erie has the highest poverty rate for children in the
state (about 43 percent). More than 30 percent of the total population is living below the poverty line, with that number being at about 45 percent for
African Americans. These numbers are a drastically higher than Pennsylvania’s average 13 percent poverty rate.
Crime is at an all-time high, and police-community relations are at an all-time low. Horton will also face the issues of Marcellus Shale and fracturing
during his first term. And while Councilman Elect Horton understands that it will take compromise among the seven Council members to effect change in Erie,
he is equally aware there is a paradigm shift that is taking place. Voters elected three new Council members this election. They also overwhelmingly
supported the proposition to limit County Council members to three 4-year terms.
In regards to next year’s gubernatorial election, Horton is clear that Gov. Tom Corbett must not be reelected, “He is the absolute worst governor in the
history of this state, and I say that unapologetically.”
With a heavy burden to bear, not just for the African American community of Erie, but for all of those living in poverty, Horton is hopeful about working
to bring drastic changes to Erie. “I am aware of the responsibility that the people have charged me with, and I do not take it lightly. It’s actually very
humbling.” Although building partnerships and compromising are ringing terms of Councilman-elect Horton’s agenda, he is clear that his goal is not to
maintain the status quo.
“One of two things happens to every elected official: they will either change the atmosphere, or let the atmosphere change them. Regardless of race, gender
or income level, all of the people of Erie should be expecting one thing of me: that I will go into Council Chambers to represent their best interests, and
that I will change that atmosphere.”