From The Editors
With the elections over and done, it's that time again: Time to talk about an Erie Community College.
With the 2013 elections now over, it's that time again: It's time to talk about the possibility of a community college in Erie County. We could revisit the struggle, the fight, the oddly weird opposition that mounted against increasing education and opportunity in Erie County, but you likely remember the backstory. Current Erie County Executive Barry Grossman trotted the idea all over the county — from City Council, to school districts, to County Council, to anyone who would listen — only to have the initiative initially approved then reversed, shot down, abandoned, forgotten. Nearly.
Grossman — for the time being — had lost the fight. But perhaps the initiative won a resurgence the same night Grossman lost his bid for a second term as Erie County Executive to Kathy Dahlkemper back in May.
Dahlkemper, a progressive proponent of education, job opportunity, and business growth in Erie County, defeated Republican challenger Don Tucci in November's General Election and seems like a natural champion for a community college. And institute may have stronger support than when Grossman initially sounded the rally cry nearly alone.
With the additions of both Jay Breneman and Andre Horton to Erie County Council, it seems that the chorus for a community college will be both stronger and more diverse. And, consider that those elected to Erie City Council all — at least to a slightly more than lukewarm reception — also seemed to advocate for a community college. During the most recent Erie Reader Downtown Debate, nary the likes of David Brennan, Curtis Jones, Jr., Kaz Kwitowski, and Jim Winarski opposed the idea of a community college, and all four men were elected to City Council.
So with this election comes some fresh faces — Breneman and Horton — newcomers to the political stage. Then there are those returning — Brennan, Jones, and Winarski — for another round. And Dahlkemper and Kwitowski — those familiar to the process but now in new roles.
And something else happened with this election: Erie overwhelmingly said 'yes' to term limits for both the County Executive seat and Erie County Council seats — with a resounding 80-plus percent of the voter population that hit the polls voting against the notion that someone can remain in an elected office until, well, they're voted out. So no more thirty-plus years of service. No more making of career politicians. No more leaving the guard unchanged.
This election — if the political tea leaves tell us anything — revealed two key things that first began in May: Erie was ready for change, and Erie wants to continue embracing change.
Erie will see its third County Executive in a decade and two Erie County Council incumbents — "Whitey" Cleaver and Joe Giles — were unseated to younger candidates with little to no political experience. And there was also the Groh-over-Kujawa upset out in Millcreek Township. And now elected officials will be limited to the amount of time in which they can accomplish any of their goals.
So with this change-is-in-the-air movement rolling, what bigger change could Erie County also say 'yes' to than a much-needed community college?
Currently, Pennsylvania has 14 community colleges statewide with 12 branch campuses, 122 instructional sites and centers spread throughout 44 counties — save for the northwestern chunk of the state. Yes, Erie County plays home to four universities and a medical school — and we're lucky to have those resources — but that's no reason to say 'no' to a community college, an institution that would serve a different demographic with vastly limited options currently available to it.
Yes, victories should be celebrated, and songs should be sung. And in fact they were. Tuesday tonight at the Dahlkemper campaign party, she took to the stage and welcomed Breneman, Brennan, and Horton to join her. And they did. And they sung "Proud Mary." And they were all happy.
But now it's time to keep that change that Erie voted for rolling. And that change starts with returning to the potential of a community college in Erie County.