Biden Supporters In Pennsylvania Look Ahead To A 'Traditional Presidency'

Nov 23, 2020
Originally published on November 24, 2020 4:26 am

Even as President Trump continues to undermine the election results that made Joe Biden the president-elect, states have begun certifying their votes.

In some places, it's been controversial, as in Wayne County in Michigan, where the canvassing board initially deadlocked 2-2 along party lines, before the Republican members reversed course and certified the election results.

There were no such problems last week in Erie County, Pennsylvania.

The election was close there — Biden won by just 1,424 votes, flipping the county back to Democrats — but the local board of elections praised the vote as being well-run and organized. And the seven-member board, made up of four Democrats and three Republicans, voted unanimously to approve the result and send it to the state.

So with the books now closed on the election in Erie, we decided to check in with some Biden supporters in the county whom we'd encountered earlier in the campaign.

To a person, the tension has melted away — even with Trump refusing to concede.

"Walking on sunshine, man"

Take Michael Keys, a city councilor in Erie. When we first met after Labor Day, he was a bit stressed. Now, with the election over, his greeting is beyond effusive.

"I'm walking on sunshine, man!" he says as he greets me in the lobby of the Booker T. Washington Community Center in Erie. We're both wearing masks. His has a message in big, bold letters stretched across his mouth. It reads: "VOTERS DECIDE."

Michael Keys is a city councilor in Erie.
Don Gonyea / NPR

In September, Keys was working hard to turn out the African American vote in the city of Erie. Now he's quoting the lyric of that pop song from the 1980s, and he's full of optimism.

He says right off that he doesn't expect Biden to fix everything. But he does see a path for the new president to not only spread some hope, but also opportunity.

"It's my hope we'll be able to foster more inclusion and more equitable policies," Keys says. "We have to have equity, you know; that's one of the things that the Trump plan left out was equity."

Another big hope for Keys is that there'll be investment in America's cities, to create jobs and to reform police departments. He says the issues raised by the killings of George Floyd and others must be addressed, and that he expects Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to be committed to that.

He then mentions the 1994 crime bill, which then-Sen. Biden authored, and which sent so many African Americans to prison, often with long, mandatory sentences.

"You know," he says, "it would be ironic that the same people who put together the '94 crime bill, and worked under the '94 crime bill, would be the same people who dismantle it. That would be my dream."

A vote for governing from the center

Maryann Frontino is a 65-year-old lifelong Republican who left the party and switched her registration to independent this summer, because of Trump.

Maryann Frontino left the Republican Party this year.
Don Gonyea / NPR

Looking ahead to Jan. 20, when Biden is sworn in, she thinks the change will be dramatic.

"It's probably going to feel more like a traditional presidency where we have friendly relations with our allies instead of combative relationships with them," she says. Frontino adds that she expects the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, and to resume productive dialogue across the Atlantic.

As for Washington politics, she acknowledges that hardcore partisanship and gridlock will persist. She adds, however: "My expectation is that it's going to be, at least on [Biden's] part, a kinder, friendlier and more professional presidency."

Frontino says she hopes Biden will govern from the center, and that maybe, she says, "at least a few Republicans will be willing to work with him." And she hopes progressive Democrats give the new president room to find compromise.

"I think it is bigger than Joe Biden"

In talking to Biden voters, you often hear hope but not much confidence that there really is an opportunity for the new president to unify the country.

Scott Slawson heads the United Electrical Local 506 union in Erie. His members work at the WABTEC locomotive assembly plant where, according to Slawson, you can see the political divisions even on the shop floor.

He applauds Biden for talking about unity, and about addressing the deep distrust people often have of those who vote differently than they do.

"I strongly believe that it's something that we have to fix," says the union leader. "We have to figure out how we unite as individuals, as families, as a country."

It's something Trump never even attempted, he says. He says Biden is certainly more suited to the task, but then Slawson says, "You know, I think it is bigger than Joe Biden, but it takes somebody to start that, that sparks start that flame. Right?"

Slawson says it's important Biden doesn't give up on the challenge of bringing the country together.

And given the pandemic and the economic struggles as a result of it, he says the incentive should be there for people to want to find solutions and to want the new president to succeed.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

During the campaign, we traveled with NPR's Don Gonyea to Erie County, Pa. President Trump won there in 2016 but not this time. Don returned to Erie to hear what voters want from a Biden presidency.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Erie County is hotly contested turf. Donald Trump barely carried it four years ago. This year, it was a narrow win for Joe Biden. Just days ago, a Zoom call made the 2020 vote official.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARL ANDERSON III: Mr. Clerk, are you ready?

DOUGLAS SMITH: I am.

ANDERSON: Then we will call the Erie County Board of Elections meeting to order.

GONYEA: What followed actually stood out just for being routine, even mundane. The four Democrats and three Republicans on the board in Erie each praised how smoothly things went. Then came time to certify the result.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SMITH: Mrs. Clear.

KIMBERLY CLEAR: Yes.

SMITH: Mr. Horton.

ANDRE HORTON: Yes.

SMITH: Mr. Rastetter.

SCOTT RASTETTER: Yes.

SMITH: Mrs. Rennie.

MARY RENNIE: Yes.

GONYEA: No drama, no controversy and a 7-0 bipartisan vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDERSON: Election board meeting is adjourned.

GONYEA: So the books are closed on the election here. What's next? I decided to check in with some Biden supporters in Erie whom I'd met months earlier. For each, the tension of the campaign has melted away, even with the president refusing to concede. Take Michael Keys. He's a city councilman in Erie. When we first talked after Labor Day, he was a bit stressed, shall we say, but now...

MICHAEL KEYS: Hey, Don.

GONYEA: Hey, how are you, sir?

KEYS: Good.

GONYEA: So how've you been?

KEYS: I've been walking on sunshine, man.

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: "Walking On Sunshine" - he's singing that pop song from the 1980s because he's optimistic, not that President-elect Biden will fix everything but that there is an opportunity.

KEYS: It's my hope that they're able to foster more inclusion and equitable policies. We have to have equity. That's one of the things that the Trump plan left out.

GONYEA: Another big hope for Keys is that there'll be an investment in American cities to create jobs and to reform police departments. And he singled out that 1994 crime bill, which Senator Joe Biden authored and which sent so many African Americans to prison, often with long mandatory sentences.

KEYS: You know, it would be ironic that the same people who put together the 1994 crime bill would be the same people who dismantle it. That would be my dream.

GONYEA: Michael Keys is a Democrat; not so Maryann Frontino, a 65-year-old lifelong Republican who left the party and switched her registration to Independent this summer because of Donald Trump.

MARYANN FRONTINO: It's probably going to feel more like a traditional presidency where we have friendly relations with our allies instead of combative relationships with them.

GONYEA: She also expects a more organized and scientific approach to the pandemic. She acknowledges that hardcore partisanship will persist. But...

FRONTINO: My expectation is it's going to be a kinder, friendlier and more professional presidency (laughter).

GONYEA: It sounds, too, like you're saying is even if there's still gridlock...

FRONTINO: Yes.

GONYEA: ...Your expectation is that there's going to be a lot of good just in how normal it is.

FRONTINO: Yes, absolutely.

GONYEA: Frontino thinks Biden will govern from the center and maybe she says at least a few Republicans will be willing to work with him. And she says she hopes progressive Democrats give Biden the room to find compromise. You also hear hope but not much confidence that there truly is an opportunity for a President Biden to unify the country. Scott Slawson heads the local United Electrical union in Erie. His members work at the locomotive assembly plant in town where there's political division even on the shop floor.

SCOTT SLAWSON: I strongly believe that it's something that we have to fix. We have to figure out how we unite as individuals, as families, as a country.

GONYEA: So does Joe Biden seem to be a president who's kind of suited to that task or is it even bigger than him?

SLAWSON: You know, I think it is bigger than than Joe Biden, but it takes somebody to start that spark, start that flame, right? It's bigger than any one person.

GONYEA: And given the pandemic, he says, the incentives should be there for people to want to find solutions and to want the new president to succeed. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Erie, Pa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.