May 15, 2001

It was primary election day here in Pennsylvania, the day we choose candidates from our respective parties to run against each other in November. This is an off-off-year election for most positions. We just chose a president and some senators and congress members, and we don’t have to choose gubernatorial candidates until next spring for the November 2002 election. Although there was a significant challenge to the candidacy of Harrisburg’s Mayor For Life (he’s served for twenty years and done a fine job, in my opinion — the fact that we are pictured together in my high school yearbook earnestly reviewing copy for some publication has nothing to do with my assessment), I don’t live in the city so I’m not eligible to vote in that.

In November I had to stand in line for nearly half an hour at the community building of the “Senior Living” apartment complex that is my polling place. (Actually, in November, I had to stand in line twice. I’d forgotten that my polling place was no longer my daughter’s former elementary school, and I’d gone there first.) Today there were more election officials and poll watchers than there were voters.

One thing I usually find distasteful is navigating the gauntlet of candidates or candidates’ representatives who stand outside the entrance and try to foist campaign materials on voters as they approach. I’ve been known to snarl at eager minions who get just a little too close, and I once lodged a complaint with a candidate’s staff because a worker actually touched me in order to press a brochure into my hands, and I hadn’t even gone there to vote, but to pick up my daughter.

My object in visiting the polls today was my interest in Josh Wilson, a young man (he’s twenty-four) who became the township commissioner for my ward as an appointee after a brouhaha over a lawsuit led the incumbent to resign. I had a brief conversation with him in November as he worked the waiting line, and recently was quite impressed by his prompt attention to a traffic concern brought to him by people in my neighborhood. (He wrote each petitioner a letter outlining his response and giving his plan of action for studying the problem.) He has consistently voted against some of the controversial development schemes put forth by various carpet bagging business interests (see my piece for March 10, 2000).

As I approached the entrance I could see him standing near the door talking to someone. A woman in a smart checked suit waylaid me just as I stepped onto the walkway.

“Are you a registered Democrat?” she asked. I told her that I was. “Then you can vote for me,” she said. She explained that no Democrat had come forward to seek the office, and she hadn’t known until Thursday that she could still do so, and showed me the instructions for writing in her name as the Democratic candidate for 8th Ward Township Commissioner, so that in November she can run against the “hand-picked Republican” who, it turns out, is Josh Wilson. She offered me a pen, trying to dig into the pocket of her jacket which was still closed with tailors’ tacks. I declined the pen, and felt a little awkward then as I moved to the door and waited for Josh Wilson to be free.

First of all, call me uniformed, but I didn’t know that Josh Wilson was a Republican (and thus I couldn’t vote for him in this primary). But I didn’t tell him that. I introduced myself — he remembered my name from the traffic light petition — and told him how impressed I was with the work he’d been doing and with his accountability to his constituents. He noticed the Millersville University Alumni pin on my hat and mentioned that he was a recent graduate of that very institution. When I asked him what he did for a “day job,” it became clear how he’d found himself the “hand-picked” Republican commissioner for the 8th ward. Having gotten his degree in social studies and political science, he interned for the local Republican state senator while seeking a teaching job. He discovered that he liked the business of legislation, and signed on to the senator’s permanent staff.

He’s being groomed for higher things. His stint as a township commissioner is the first punch on his ticket to (possibly) national prominence.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t think there is any problem with using the bottom rungs of a ladder to aid your climb as long as while you’re on each level you effect positive change for the people you propose to serve. So far I think Josh Wilson has done that. And as I shook his hand I remembered what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to the young Walt Whitman upon his first reading of Leaves of Grass: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.”

I know how easy it is for politicians to get mired in the sometimes smarmy business of building support (or, to use a more cynical phrase, “currying favor”). Pennsylvania recently had nearly a dozen current or former legislators either in prison or under indictment, some of them high profile cases where, as so often happens, it wasn’t the original offense that did them in, but the cover-up. I’ve read about earnest, sincere office holders who quit after only a few terms because they feel sullied by the constant fund raising and kow-towing to special interests. And there are some who are two-faced from the get-go, who will tell you what you want to hear and change stances faster than a piece of litmus paper dipped in a glass of vinegar changes colors. I hope that’s not what Josh Wilson is about.

I learned that even though I am a registered Democrat, I could write his name in on my ballot. He gave me a pencil and, in the voting booth, I pressed the buttons so that a little window opened and I could write his name (using the official “Joshua”) on a roll of paper that then scrolled up with a whir when I pressed my “VOTE” button.

As I left, he called out “Thank you for coming out, Mrs. DeAngelis.” It’s also worth noting that he took off his sun glasses to talk to me. Matronly former English teachers like those little courtesies.

Josh Wilson is at the beginning of a great career, and at least for the foreseeable future, he has my support.

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