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Mercyhurst hosts unique faith-based forum to introduce mayoral candidates to Erie community

Monday, March 27, 2017

“The painful and often uncivil divisions that mark our national politics do not need to define the Erie community; rather, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr: ‘We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.’”

That’s how Mercyhurst University Campus Ministry Director Greg Baker conceptualizes the faith-based platform on which the university will host “Erie’s Next Mayor: Candidates Respond to Voices of Faith.” Baker said the forum marks the first time Erie City voters will have the opportunity to hear from the nine mayoral candidates, all of whom have been invited to address the 7 p.m. gathering on Monday, March 27, at the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center.

In addition, Mercyhurst University will host two political forums organized by the Erie Times-News and Erie News Now, through which news personalities will moderate a Q & A format to delve deeper into the pressing issues facing the city and Erie’s next mayor. Those forums are slated for the evenings of May 3 and 4, also in the Performing Arts Center. Details will follow as the dates near. Meanwhile, all forums are free and open to the public.

Representatives of four faith groups: African American Concerned Clergy, Inter-Church Ministries of Erie County, One Table: Erie’s Interfaith and Multicultural Bridge Builders, and Erie’s Women’s Religious Communities; will open the March 27 forum with prepared statements. The candidates will have read the remarks in advance and will be asked to respond, each identifying two concerns or priorities from the statements that they hold as essential to their platforms. Representatives of Mercyhurst Student Government will also take part in the event.

“It is up to political leaders to figure out how to carry the Erie community forward, but our religious communities and our young people want to claim their important role in setting a high moral bar and determining which voices and values are privileged as this campaign begins,” Baker said.

The format for the program grew out of discussions among the leadership of Inter-Church Ministries about how to become more engaged in local politics during this important moment in Erie’s history, he explained. The event also coincides with a focus by Mercyhurst’s Mission Committee to include in its annual spring Mercy Week celebration an event that could support the local community during this election year. 

“The city is weakened by poverty, violence, racism, a public school funding crisis, conflicting ideas about welcoming and including refugees and immigrants and many other pressing social issues,” Baker said. “Our diverse faith communities have strong moral convictions about these issues and are already engaged in local actions to address them. We wanted to provide a way for underrepresented and marginalized people to be heard and to have their needs addressed by those who would be the future leaders of our city.”

Finally, Baker said, the forum is intended to seek accountability in both directions. “The faith communities look to our political leadership to show us a path forward that gives due diligence to deep ethical concerns of our people,” he said. “At the same time, members of these faith communities and others need to acknowledge their role as engaged citizens and their collective responsibility to work together in addressing our community’s most important concerns.” 

Doors open at 6:15 p.m. Signs and literature of any sort are prohibited at all three events. 

For more information on the March 27 forum, contact Greg Baker at gbaker@mercyhurst.edu; phone, 814-824-2301.

Democratic candidates who have indicated their intention to attend the May 27 forum are: Edinboro University of Pennsylvania Professor Lisa Austin; Erie County Councilman Jay Breneman; Almitra Clerkin, executive director of the Erie Playhouse; former Erie Bureau of Police Chief Steve Franklin; Erie City Councilman Bob Merski; former City Councilwoman Rubye Jenkins-Husband, and Joe Schember, a former city councilman and retired PNC Bank vice president. Republican candidates who are expected to attend include Atty. John Persinger and Jon Whaley, a businessman and former aide to Mayor Joe Sinnott.