Back-to-back events kick off the presidential race in earnest in Chester County
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
WEST CHESTER — As the cool rainy morning gave way to July sunshine, an impressive display of red hot political rhetoric signaled that the local version of the 2012 presidential race was in full swing — after dueling events first praised President Barack Obama for his handling of small business, then a second group lambasted the president for excessive regulation and high taxes of small business.
Both events took place Thursday midday on the steps of the old county courthouse as local surrogates for President Obama and his GOP challenger Mitt Romney took turns taking potshots at one another.
First up was an intimate gathering of local Democrats, headlined by congressional candidate George Badey, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan in the 7th District, and West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta, who blasted Romney for taking Obama’s comments on small business out of context.
The county’s Republicans managed a more robust gathering immediately following, led by county GOP chair Val DiGiorgio and keynoted by Chester County Romney Campaign chair (and county commissioner) Ryan Costello, and then featured a couple of southeastern Pennsylvania small business owners, who said they took personal offense at Obama’s comments at an event in Roanoke, Va., two weeks ago, suggesting that small business owners did not create their companies alone, that existing infrastructure provided by government had helped.
In front of a small, but vocal group of supporters, Democrats kicked off the local version of the presidential race first blasting the former Massachusetts governor for editing Obama’s comments to just “You didn’t build that.”
Badey said it was “reprehensible” that the Romney campaign chose to “deceptively” edit the president’s comments.
He then went on to blast Romney’s record as governor.
“He’s done nothing, nothing to create solid jobs for the middle class,” Badey said.
Although he took a bit of time to blast Meehan, his opponent, suggesting that his opponent wanted to “end Medicare as we know it, and broke his 2010 pledge to protect the program by twice voting for the budget proposals of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Ill) that would have turned it, Badey said, into little more than a “voucher program,” the congressional candidate quickly pivoted back to Romney, noting that Massachusetts was fourth from last in job creation while Romney was governor.
“And we’re supposed to believe it will be different if he were elected president?” he asked.
And again, he took Romney to task for quoting the president out of context.
“That’s just plain wrong,” Badey said. “And it’s an indication of what’s wrong with American politics.”
For the record, the entire Obama quote is as follows:
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Later in the day, DiGiorgio read the entire quote, seeking to refute the argument that the quote was taken out of context, despite the Democrats’ claims otherwise.
Comitta, who in addition to serving as mayor of West Chester, runs a real estate development company with her husband, said Obama’s time in office has been good for her business.
“You often hear that government exists to help individuals do what they cannot do alone,” she said. “And small business is all about people. For us, it’s been a help. We secured a Small Business Administration Loan and we’ve benefited from some of the tax breaks that the Obama Administration has put into place.”
Comitta said she thought people would understand what the president was saying, that as a society, citizens work together to build up the essential infrastructure that allows for individuals to create opportunity and small businesses — and that people would figure out that Romney and other Republicans were intentionally twisting his words.
“People are not stupid,” she said. “People know when something is a fact. Romney is taking the facts and distorting them.”
Not surprisingly, local Republicans do not agree, and a large contingent arrived moments later to make their points.
A few minutes after the handful of Democrats — and no county party officials appeared to be in attendance — dispersed, the local GOP, led by its chair, DiGiorgio, descended on the courthouse steps in number, quickly erected a podium and sound system, and the Romney tour bus pulled up on nearby Market Street, before kicking off an event attended by nearly 100 party members and Romney supporters.
“President Obama told business owners ‘You didn’t build that,’ “ DiGiorgio said, noting that again the president had disappointed small business owners. “Let me say: Yes, we did build that,” which prompted a roar from the crowd.
DiGiorgio said that Obama’s comments represent “his collectivist view.” He cited how small business owners “use hard work, dedication and sacrifice to create something,” which he said that the president just doesn’t understand.
Costello suggested that Obama is “out of touch” and that if reelected, would increase taxes and spending. He also chided the president, making note of stats that suggest more people were working in 2000 than currently do, despite an increase in population in that period.
The GOP then introduced a pair of small business owners, both of whom said they felt Obama was hurtful to small business.
Therodore DelGazio, president of Main Line Engineering of Exton said he thought that the president’s comments were out of line.
“I was insulted by the president’s comments,” DelGazio said. “I thought he was mocking small business owners like myself. It’s not about government, it’s about individuals.”
DelGazio said that up until this year, he had been able to offer fully paid health care to his employees, but facing a 33% increase from insurers, he was forced to, for the first time ever, share the burden with his employees — and attributed that spike in premiums to Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Sam Cohen, vice president of M.Cohen & Sons in Broomall (best known locally as The Iron Shop) echoed many of DelGazio’s points after telling the story of how his grandfather started the business in Philadelphia in the 1930s and how it has been forced to change and adapt to the times in order to continue to thrive.
“It certainly wasn’t the president who told us to shift direction,” Cohen said. “But Romney has been here to visit us twice, and he simply gets it. He understands what it means to take a risk.”
Although both business owners may feel that less government is good for business, both availed themselves of the opportunity to register to do business with the U.S. government.
A search of the federal contractor database shows that both companies have been registered as federal contractors, although it is unclear whether either did any business with the government. The Iron Shop (M.Cohen & Sons) has been a registered contractor since 2010. Main Line Engineering was a registered federal contractor between 2002 and 2004.