On November 8, 2022, Pennsylvanians will go to the polls to choose a new Governor to lead the state. Among those with aspirations to lead the Commonwealth is Republican Guy Ciarrocchi (pronounced sure-ROCK-ee). With his campaign tag line of “Guy for Governor,” he is working to distinguish himself from other Republican candidates in the months leading to the primary election on May 17, 2022. Guy recently visited Hunting Park, came to Impacto’s offices and sat down with Impacto to talk about why he is running and what vision he has for Pennsylvania. Guy will return in January to hold a meeting with the Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.
We’ll start with the basics. Why do you want to run for this office, and what ties do you have to Philadelphia?
My wife grew up in the northeast, and I grew up in South Philly. We got married here in 1991. Our ties to Philadelphia are strong, but there are several reasons I am interested in leading at a statewide level: First, the economy has been crushed for everybody in the last two years. Prior to this, I served as the President of the Chester County Chamber of Commerce for 8 years. Chester County is the wealthiest in the Commonwealth, with the highest average income, lowest unemployment rate, and most college graduates. During the pandemic, in two months our county’s unemployment rate went from 2.9% to 11.9%, with hundreds of thousands of people out of work. This was something they had never experienced before. And I realized that if the unemployment rate had spiked to almost 12% in Chester County, then in rural Pennsylvania and struggling inner-city areas, the situation was far worse. So I am committed, first and foremost, to get the economy back up and running, and growing – and frankly, doing better than it was before the pandemic.
The second driver for my campaign is education. As someone who has focused on school choice for decades, now is the time to address education in Pennsylvania. It’s vital to our economic growth, and the last two years have set many children back, across the state. The past 18 months have seen the greatest migration of children within the school system, with children moving to homeschool, cyber schools, charter schools, religious schools, and so on. There was a sense among parents that the schools were not working for their children.
I approach both issues – education and the economy – with a plan to fix it. The goal is not to patch the roof or plug the hole, but to fully repair the systems for the long term and make them work well. These ideas motivate me. The disaster has happened, and we need to recover, but we also need to grow. What separates my campaign is that mine is a campaign built on hope. We all know how bad it is, but I want to look to the future.
You decided to run for Governor during a global pandemic. What do you see as far as Covid impacts and recovery for Pennsylvania?
Like everybody else in March 2020, I reacted to the pandemic without knowing how it would unfold. The Chamber did what everyone was doing – we closed for two weeks to flatten the curve and told our members to do the same. We worried about our employees and customers and tried to keep the enterprise running. As a Chamber leader, I decided to run for Governor because I became frustrated for my member businesses and their employees. It became apparent to us by April or May that this would not be a short-term shutdown, and I sensed there was no plan to get people back to work. In Pennsylvania, even when could look to what other states were doing, we didn’t have our own plan. I felt the current Governor let us down. He didn’t multitask. There was such an obsession about safety from the virus, without any attention paid to our economic health and mental health. I became more of an advocate and more outspoken about the need for people to get back to work – both for their livelihoods, but also for their mental health.
The data show there are 1.2 jobs for every person looking. So there are viable paths forward. How do you take on a large, complicated project? One step at a time. At 22 months into this pandemic, we should be less focused on how big a relief check we’re going to give to each person, and more on how we’re enabling people to succeed on their own. The first step is to set the bar for able-bodied people who can and should go back to work. Secondly, if there are people who can’t find jobs because the job they had no longer exists, we need to make sure our technical schools, community colleges, and career centers are helping people. And we need to make sure our children are learning. We have too many students that have fallen through the cracks. If our current Governor won’t look at that because it’s too complicated, messy, or controversial, then somebody needs to look at it and begin to address it. I’ve talked to people who say it’s just too overwhelming; but we can’t just “hope for the best” for tens of thousands of kids.
I come into this race as a leader, but also as a human being, as a parent and son, as someone who had to move his 80-year-old mother into his home due to the pandemic. I enter the race with eyes wide open about the challenges we face, but with the understanding that we have to find a path forward. We must get people back to work. There are lessons to be learned from other states and from our own lives. It’s time to go back to our lives.
Pennsylvania has so much diversity, in geography, politics, and community contexts. What’s your perspective on how to approach this diversity, perhaps even bring people together who wouldn’t normally work together?
Of course, you don’t have to run for Governor to understand the differences across the state. Even within the same city, communities have differences. In Philly, you can walk two blocks and the neighborhood will look and feel different. Certainly, there will be dramatic differences between rural, urban, and suburban areas.
What has struck me– prior to running for Governor, but especially in the last 100 days as a candidate – are the similarities between communities. When you strip away the visual or surface differences, people’s concerns are the same. If you run a family restaurant in a small town, you’re asking the same questions as every other business owner – how will I pay my employees, and will the customers ever come back? The pizza shop my wife and I go to is closed two days a week because they can’t find workers, and they’ve had to raise all their prices as supplies became more expensive. When I go back to my old neighborhood on Passyunk Ave, the problems are the same. Our core values and desires are also the same. We all want economic opportunity, and our kids to have a good future. Also, across the state people are feeling forced to move to find opportunity. In Philadelphia, if parents can’t afford private schools and don’t win the lottery (literally!) for a charter school, they often feel they have no option but to move to the suburbs. In northern Pennsylvania near the New York border, young people feel the need to leave the state to go to college and begin careers, because there are no jobs for college graduates in their counties. Another widespread similarity is the struggle with lack of digital access. When the pandemic hit, we were all forced to live online. But in low-income urban areas, people can’t afford computers and internet, and in rural farming communities, there is no physical infrastructure for internet. When schools shut down, parents in both settings had to load up the car and drive to a Starbucks parking lot for internet access.
I’ve been struck by these commonalities. One thing I’ve done as a candidate is try to break down these preconceptions we have about each other, while still acknowledging our differences. A large part of my campaign has been to recognize cultural differences, but also to remind people that many of our challenges are the same, and our goals and hopes are the same too.
What would you want to say to the average community member in this neighborhood about engaging the political process, if they haven’t understood why that’s so important for them?
If elected officials think voters don’t care, and don’t think they’re watching, then bad things happen. If we as voters are not engaged by voting, going to meetings, talking to elected officials, sending notes or emails, then the people in elected offices become detached from us. I live in the real world, and I know what people see on the news. Violent crime is in the news every day. School districts have problems. The economy is in trouble. It may seem to some like everything is on fire. But if everyone’s response is to give up or walk away, then nothing will change. I guarantee if people don’t stay engaged, voice their opinions, offer solutions – nothing will change. If people are engaged, speaking participating, complaining when things are bad, and offering solutions, there’s a chance – and lots of history to show – things can get better. That’s the best way I can put it: If you don’t care, bad things happen. If you don’t try change anything, it won’t change. What we offer in this country is the opportunity for your voice to be heard and for you to be engaged. You are literally allowed to send an email to the Mayor of Philadelphia or even the President of the United States to voice your opinion, and you should do that. Particularly when it comes to your neighborhood, your safety, your school, your job, and your family, you need to speak up. You can’t assume anyone else will do it for you, and you can’t assume the people who are running things are paying attention. The most important thing you have is your voice, and if you don’t use it, you’re missing that opportunity. My premise in running for Governor is that we know what works, I just need a coalition of people who want to shift things from how they are to how they could be.