Harrisburg, PA: A capacity crowd gathered at the Camp Curtin YMCA in Harrisburg on Tuesday evening to hear attorney, author, and Democratic candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania’s Tenth Congressional District, Tom Brier, speak about his vision for Central Pennsylvania. By the end of the 90-minute town hall, the standing-room-only audience was on its feet.
“I feel as though my generation has failed to keep ourselves aware of the political problems around us,” said Pedro Rodriguez, a freshman at Penn State Harrisburg and member of the men’s basketball team. “Tom not only spoke on important topics, but he made them clear and understandable. He seemed very different than all the other political people I’ve been around. He’s real, relatable, and trustworthy.”
The event opened with a free-flowing conversation between Brier and moderator Ron Chapel, who challenged Brier to explain why he was the most qualified candidate to represent all the people of the district. In response, Brier highlighted his extensive legal background and his publication of a book about the Constitution.
But above all, Brier emphasized his willingness to listen to the voters about the issues that matter to them. “I’m here to listen and for you to hold me accountable,” Brier said. “And I’ll be holding a town hall every quarter so you can tell me . . . when you disagree with me.”
After fielding questions from Chapel, Brier opened the floor to the audience, who proceeded for the next 60 minutes to pepper Brier with a host of policy questions.
Asked how he would address the ongoing crisis of gun violence, Brier advocated for the reinstatement of an assault weapons ban and emphasized the need to address the diseases of despair that are plaguing our communities.
In response to a question about criminal justice reform, Brier stressed the need to end the cradle-to-prison pipeline that continues to inhibit minorities from getting ahead. He also called for a reduction of the 18:1 ratio of crack-cocaine versus powder cocaine disparity in the federal sentencing guidelines and pledged his support for the legalization of marijuana as a way to reduce the disproportionately high number of young black men who are in jail for drug crimes.
On student loans, Brier called for the creation of service-oriented student loan forgiveness programs and strict caps on interest rates.
Discussing the rising costs healthcare – access to which, he said, “should be a universal right” – Brier underscored the need to address the discriminatory impact that healthcare costs are having on people of color, who not only lack equal access to primary care, but are unfairly afflicted with lifestyles of poverty.
In addition to policy, Brier also called on the next generation to become engaged members of the community. “We can change the nature of politics not only in this District, but in this country. That’s power.” But to do so, he said, “We have to vote. And we have to encourage our friends to vote.”
By the end of the Q&A session, the crowd reacted with enthusiastic support: “When’s the last time you heard a 27-year-old spit like this guy?” asked Reginald A. Guy, Jr., co-founder of the MLK Institute. Lifelong Harrisburg resident, Gina Johnson Roberson, agreed. “You’re young. But you’re ready,” she said to a round of applause.
“I came away so impressed with his vision,” said Don Friday, head coach of the men’s basketball team at Penn State Harrisburg. “Tom is articulate and authentic, but most importantly, he understands the issues. He’s focused on finding solutions. The Tenth District and the city of Harrisburg will be better served with Tom in office.”
At the end of the two-hour session, Mr. Guy, referencing Brier’s primary opponent, Eugene DePasquale, said, “I’ll tell you this: I’ll take my chances on a 27-year-old rising intellectual with a heart for African Americans…who knows how to put together a diverse coalition of supporters [and] who has financial ethical principles than a 48-year-old guy whose been in politics for 15 to 20 years … but doesn’t have a relationship with the black community in York or Harrisburg.”
The audience seemed to agree. By the end of the night, the crowd was on their feet.