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Credit: Caroline Gibson

Penn students gathered on April 11 to hear about the political platforms of candidates running to represent the newly-drawn fifth congressional district of Pennsylvania.  

This November, 435 congressional district elections will take place across the country to determine the members of the 116th Congress. Among these elections is that of Pennsylvania’s fifth congressional district, where the ballot is stacked with Democrats hoping to implement change under the Trump administration. 

The set of candidates at the panel event was diverse. It included public school teacher Larry Arata, former Morgan Stanley wealth manager Lindy Li, biochemist Molly Sheehan, journalist David Wertime, and attorneys Ashley Lunkenheimer and Mary Gay Scanlon. 

The event, organized by a number of Penn groups including Penn Democrats and the Penn Government and Politics Association, focused on how candidates will address representation of the diverse region, and how they expect the redistricting to influence local politics and the election. The candidates present also ended up discussing their stances on issues such as universal health care, gun violence, and the opioid crisis.

Credit: Caroline Gibson

The fifth congressional district was redefined following the redrawing of the congressional map in March due to concerns of gerrymandering. The district was previously a smaller part of the seventh district represented by former Rep. Patrick Meehan, who retired following the announcement of his sexual harassment settlement. The new district encompasses all of Delaware County and a large part of South Philadelphia. 

In terms of whether it is possible to represent the diversity of the constituency that spans Delaware County and South Philadelphia, all the candidates said that the issues at hand cross boundaries. Sheehan added that empathy and “lived-experience” cannot be underrated.

The discussion also raised the question of how the race would be affected by the splits among the Delaware County Democrats, who have not been able to reach consensus on which candidate to endorse.

The candidates also weighed in on the overall state of the Democratic party following Hillary Clinton's loss in the 2016 election. Several candidates expressed their visions for a “new-wave” progressivism lead by the younger generation. 

“We need more progressive leadership. We need Congress to act like adults instead of screaming at each other and not getting anything done,” Scanlon said. 

Credit: Caroline Gibson

Swarthmore sophomore Cassandra Stone, who is deputy field manager for Scanlon, emphasized the importance of student engagement in these elections. 

“As college students who go to left-leaning schools, it’s sometimes difficult to see the greater context of America’s political climate,” Stone said. 

While Stone said she has a lot of hope for turning Congress from majority Republican in the upcoming midterm election, she added that sending a message to the president is just as critical. “People who haven’t been as critical or involved are now getting ready to take America back,” she said. 

In addition to Stone, other students present at the event said they were happy with the quality and diversity of the candidates represented by the Democratic Party. 

“All the candidates are pretty qualified. It was nice to get a sense of their stances,” said College freshman Sarah Jones. While she doesn’t know who she supports yet, she added that, as a member of the LGBTQ community, she enjoyed Sheehan’s platform, as well as her emphasis on representation of science expertise within government. 

College sophomore Gabrielle Fink agreed, adding a note on how important it was to hear the candidates in person, given how “torn” the race is. 

“Penn isn’t in the district, but it’s important we do everything we can to help Democrats in the Philly area,” she said. 

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