By Chris Murray
Special to the Sunday Sun
ABOVE PHOTO: Current gubernatorial candidate Sen. Anthony H. Williams chats with State Rep. Dwight Evans.
In his run for the Democratic nomination for governor, state Sen. Anthony Williams’ television commercials portray him as the candidate who thinks out of the box. In fact, he is seen carrying a box to symbolize what he feels is his unorthodox approach to solving the state’s problems.
The cornerstone of Sen. Williams campaign for governor has focused on job creation, education, fiscal responsibility and keeping crime down by getting guns off the street. What might separate Williams from both his Democratic and Republican opponents is his approach.
With the state’s March unemployment rate at nine percent, a failing educational system, and rising gun violence, Williams said solving the state’s problems is not going to be based on coming up with policies that fall along traditional party lines or ideologies.
“I don’t necessarily think in a Democratic or a Republican perspective,” Williams said in a recent phone interview. “I’m not a big liberal or conservative kind of person. I look at the problem and I try to approach it by what I think most people would do and that’s common sense practical experience and apply it there. Sometimes it’s popular and sometimes it’s not popular. But I can guarantee a lot of times it’s the right thing to do whether it’s popular or not.”
According to the Quinnipiac University poll, which surveyed 921 Democratic voters and was released on April 7, shows Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato the front runner for the Democratic nomination at 20 percent, former U.S. Senate candidate Joe Hoeffel at 15 percent, State Auditor General Jack Wagner at 13 percent and Williams getting just five percent of voters surveyed. Forty-seven percent are undecided and 70 percent of those surveyed said they could change their minds by Election Day.
With the primary election coming up on May 18, Williams, who has spent over $1million dollars in televsion ads, said according to his own pollsters he is closing the gap and that it will be a two-man race between him and Onorato. It also helps that Williams has received endorsements from Mayor Michael Nutter, State Rep. Dwight Evans and Rep. Bob Brady.
“I think the ‘thinking out of the box thing has definitely caught on and people are going to my website to find out who this guy is and they really understand my approach and they’re not going to be able to stereotype me based on where I come from, party affiliation, where I live, where I grew up. You have somebody with a perspective much broader than most people who are running for governor.”
How to fix the state’s troubled education system is the one area that has put Williams at odds with traditional liberals with his advocacy of school choice and the use of publicly-funded school vouchers that would allow parents to put their children in either private schools or into another district to have access to a better education.
Williams said vouchers would allow low-income families to have the same kind of options rich families have in the education of their children. He said that would ultimately make neighborhood schools better because they would have to compete with magnet schools, parochial schools, and charter schools for students.
“A poor person deserves the same thing as a person who has money,” Williams said. “If you have money, the marketplace is your net when it comes to education. You choose a private school. You choose a neighborhood school, you choose a parochial school, if you have money. But if you’re poor you don’t.
“Your zip code should not define the kind of education you’re able to receive. If you know the building is dangerous, you should not be required to send your child there. If you know the building is not organized for academic success, you should not be required to send your child there simply because you do not have the means of the middle class or above.”
In Philadelphia, just 48 percent of students are reading at grade level. Even more alarming is that only 46 percent of African American males are graduating from high school.
As governor, Williams said he would be willing to fund those school systems that have programs that are working, but if a particular is not working or not cost effective at a particular school is not working, it’s up to the parents to find the right school to suit the needs of their children. He said it’s up to the governor to come up with policies to set standards for how well schools perform.
“If your school works and your school district works, I’ll continue to support it and fund it so they continue to be excellent,” Williams said. “I believe in all options. I believe in supporting charter schools, magnet, trade schools, home schooling and I also believe in allowing for parental choice.”
During a question and answer session with two classes of seniors taking a social science course that focuses on economics and politics at Central High School in North Philadelphia earlier this week, Williams told students that Pennsylvania needs a well-educated workforce, whether they attend college or not, to compete in a global economy.
“You have an environment where a company can make a profit, have an educated workforce and also control taxes so we don’t tax them out of business,” Williams said. “Those two things are critically important and right now we’re not doing it. If you did those two things, you can design sneakers and you can also return manufacturing not only back to the United States, but to people in Pennsylvania specifically. You’d be able to employ people who are not (at Central) who graduated from high school and have the opportunity to build your business with an educated workforce.”
Williams said the state has the infrastructure to support an emerging bio-science and medical research industry. He said wants to support small business incubators in those industries to expand and create jobs throughout the state.
“There’s just not a plan to have incubators, small businesses, growing companies and growing markets to grow all across Pennsylvania,” Williams said. “If you have those things in the right place, a planning process in the right place, then we can put jobs in places where they currently don’t exist.”
If elected governor, Williams said he would support the state’s colleges, universities and two-year community colleges as well as training programs offered by the private sector. He said this would provide jobs for young people who are not only graduating from four-year collleges and universities, but also from high school.
One of Williams’ accomplishment’s as a state senator was the creation of the Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force back in 2005. The program has removed over 700 illegal firearms and has resulted in 157 convictions of gun-related cases.
In his campaign for governor, Williams wants to expand that program across the state even in the midst of heavy opposition from gun-lobby groups like the National Rifle Association.
“If you legally own the gun, I’m not worried about it,” Williams said. “I’m concerned about illegal guns in the city and in the rural parts of Pennsylvania because they have their problems there, too.”