Meadville Mayor LeRoy Stearns, Herb Riede, Sean Donahue and Jim Roha, four local politicians, visited Allegheny’s campus on Thursday, Oct. 19 for a meet and greet hosted by the Allegheny College Democrats in Schultz East Alcove. Community members had the opportunity to mingle with the four candidates while they discussed their ongoing political campaigns.
The College Democrats’ mission is to engage with students and encourage them to participate in politics both on and off Allegheny’s campus, according to Jesse Tomkiewicz, ’20, the vice president of the club. Tomkiewicz has worked on political campaigns in the past and continues to do political work through the College Democrats.
“I like working in the Meadville area,” Tomkiewicz said. “That’s why I focus on it so much because I am from a rural area, and I know it is a hard message to get to places that don’t want you there. I think it is a valiant cause.”
Tomkiewicz said he thinks the meet and greet was helpful to both students and the politicians who attended the event because it provided them with an opportunity to discuss plans and concerns.
“The general idea behind the meet and greet was to get students involved in local politics because it definitely matters,” Tomkiewicz said. “Often, especially for Democrats, they think they can sit out certain elections, and they really can’t. There is no off-season when it comes to the current administration, and all politics are local. You work from the ground up, and this is the ground floor.”
Stearns is seeking a second term as Meadville’s mayor, campaigning with the slogan, “Make Meadville Fun Again.” Prior to the meet and greet, Stearns said he had the chance to speak with Allegheny College President James Mullen. They discussed the college and its relationship with Meadville. Stearns said he wants to be good neighbors with the school.
“We encourage students to be active in local politics because it is important. In fact it’s probably the most directly impactful,” Tomkiewicz said. “I believe the lights up North Main were part of LeRoy Stearns working with the college to put those lights in, so it’s safer for us crossing the street, especially when it’s dark.”
Running as a Democrat, Herb Riede is looking to be elected to the Meadville City Council and said he plans to push for a split property tax because he believes it will help solve Meadville’s budget problems, taking some burden off of taxpayers and lowering the cost of housing.
“It doesn’t take many to sway an election,” Tomkiewicz said. “Students on this campus, their vote actually really means something. In the primaries, Sean Donahue, when he was running for mayor, he only missed out by like ten votes.”
Sean Donahue is campaigning for re-election to city council and is running as a candidate on the Democrat ticket.
The only Republican at the meet and greet was Jim Roha who is seeking a seat on Meadville’s City Council. Madeline Hernstrom-Hill, ’18, is the president of the College Democrats, and she invited Roha to come to the event when she ran into him putting up a campaign sign in a community member’s lawn. She said there is not as much of a political divide within the local community.
“I didn’t feel there was a divide,” Hernstrom-Hill said. “We all have to live together.”
Melanie Torres Cabrera, ’21, said even though Roha was the only Republican at the event, it showed how willing the political officials of Meadville are and how they want to talk and listen to what Allegheny students have to say, specifically Stearn’s campaign.
“It’s a campaign not just about fun,” Cabrera said. “It’s about helping all members of the community.”
Cabrera said she felt more comfortable within the Meadville community after having the chance to meet with local political candidates.
Tomkiewicz spoke aboutcriticism Allegheny students are subject to by Meadville residents who resent student votes because they are only in Meadville for educational purposes.
“I think [Meadville residents] don’t give Allegheny students enough credit. A lot of us work very well within the community around us,” Tomkiewicz said. “A lot of students do so much community service, we are a part of this community. I work at the library, and I pay a local tax. What we do is incredibly important. We participate in the town.”
Hernstrom-Hill said it is important for students to get involved in politics, and the College Democrats aim to encourage students to engage in politics as well as maintain a civil tone, even when dealing with various parties.
“This is our community,” Hernstrom-Hill said.
The College Democrats are working with the College Republicans to plan a debate to be held on Dec. 6.