On key campaign swing, Corbett finds jeers, cheers

Protesters outside an American Legion post in Fox Chase assail Gov. Corbett, saying he has neglected the city, minorities, and schools.
Protesters outside an American Legion post in Fox Chase assail Gov. Corbett, saying he has neglected the city, minorities, and schools. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 09, 2013

Gov. Corbett's campaign swung through Philadelphia and its suburbs Thursday, and in a span of hours, showed why the state's southeastern corner could be critical to his bid for a second term.

At an American Legion post in the city's Fox Chase neighborhood, the governor's visit drew as many protesters as supporters, including critics who accused him of neglecting the city, minorities, and schools.

"He took $1 billion from our education," said Benny Ramos, 17, adding that he will be old enough to vote against Corbett next November.

Hours later, the Republican governor found a warmer reception in Montgomery County.

A jazz band greeted Corbett as he entered a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Willow Grove. He posed for photographs with supporters and then delivered a 20-minute speech, drawing respectful applause. He was interrupted just once - by an opponent of natural gas drilling - but as the shouting woman was escorted from the hall, the rest of the crowd began chanting their support for Corbett.

"Four more years! Four more years!" they said.

The stops came on the second day of Corbett's "Promises Kept" tour, a weeklong statewide trip in which the incumbent hopes to boost his sagging popularity.

Last week, only 20 percent of respondents in a Franklin and Marshall poll of 628 registered voters said Corbett deserved a second term. At least eight Democrats have lined up for the chance to challenge him next year.

Some supporters have said that Corbett is particularly vulnerable in the state's vote-rich southeastern corner because his cuts to public education in his first year played out dramatically in cash-strapped Philadelphia, which has been forced to lay off thousands of teachers and staffers.

The governor has insisted that the education budget had been propped up artificially by $1 billion in federal stimulus funds, and that when that money ran out, it seemed as if he had cut education.

In his stump speech, Corbett argued that 40 percent of the state budget is devoted to education spending. He also cited his recent release of $45 million to Philadelphia public schools as an example of his working hard to help the city's struggling public school system.

He maintains that the state's share of basic education funding for public schools has increased under his watch.

While technically true, school districts across the state are still feeling the effects of the $1 billion loss, and many were forced to cut popular programs or services to make ends meet. And his critics have argued that the administration could have softened the blow of education-funding cuts by cutting money elsewhere in the budget.

At the Fox Chase event, Ramos said he skipped classes at Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts to join more than 100 protesters. They criticized the governor on issues ranging from school funding to his support for natural gas drilling.

Corbett "didn't do anything in the years he was in office," said Ron Schaffer, 75, of South Philadelphia. "We want more for our children."

Others held anti-Corbett posters containing phrases such as "Stop closing our schools" and cheering "Hey hey, ho ho, Gov. Corbett has got to go!"

The protests in Philadelphia were much bigger and louder than those that greeted Corbett on Wednesday when he kicked off his campaign with stops in Pittsburgh and Luzerne County.

"There's a party going on outside," Corbett's wife, Susan, told the Fox Chase crowd.

There and at Willow Grove, Corbett said he had reduced state government spending and grew the private-sector labor workforce without raising taxes.

"We were $4.2 billion in the hole before I walked in," he said at the Philadelphia rally.

"I believe Pennsylvania's best days are ahead," he said in Willow Grove.

When asked about the protesters, the governor said: "They were exercising their First Amendment rights."

Corbett remains in the area Friday, campaigning in Bucks County, the home turf of Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, and then in West Chester.

As for the polls and pundits that have called him among the nation's most vulnerable governors, Corbett noted that he's been the underdog every time he ran for office.

He said he always comes out on top.

"We're going to outwork whoever our opponent is," Corbett said. "I love when people say, 'He can't win.'

"We're going to win."


SAbdur-Rahman@phillynews.com

610-313-8112 @sabdurr

Staff writer Angela Couloumbis contributed to this report.

 

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