SCRANTON, Pa. – If you pass through Courthouse Square on Adams Avenue here downtown and then go up Washington Avenue, you will eventually arrive at Green Ridge, a neighborhood seemingly preserved in 1950s America. "It's a Norman Rockwell scene," said Sarah Piccini, assistant director of the Lackawanna Historical Society.
Indeed, stately old residences line this leafy stretch of North Washington Avenue, where signs with & # 39; Scranton Loves Joe & # 39; lawns adorn and a large, decorative easel – clearly a tribute to the Democratic Party – runs the front porch of a colonial revival home. There is no doubt about the politics of this section, where President-elect Joe Biden spent his early childhood. “Where Biden grew up in Green Ridge, the Irish Catholic Democrat was a conjoined word,” said Austin Burke, former president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. Even today, that political, if not tribal, loyalty remains intact – especially with an indigenous son on the cusp of ascending to the White House.
Next Wednesday, Biden will become the 46th US president amid nightmarish conditions including a pandemic, economic devastation, increasing urban crime, and cultural unrest. Things only got worse last week when a violent mob stormed the Capitol, not long after President Trump's divisive rally – the height of post-election discontent. The nation's chaotic state is the ultimate test for Biden, who has presented himself as a loyal Democrat as well as a unifying, centrist figure for decades.
Biden & # 39; s persona is undoubtedly shaped by his Scranton roots, which he proudly referred to even before the 2020 campaign. It is important to understand that the former Vice President is a product of the Electric City, where politics is still a kind of local industry. "Biden formed for years as a being of Washington, but before that he was a being of Scranton," said Christopher Borick, a resident of nearby Throop and director of Muhlenberg College's Institute of Public Opinion.
Although Biden lived in Scranton only until the age of 10, the city's political and cultural past is in his DNA. Tim Hinton, a Scranton attorney and distant relative, noted that the president-elect has "deep, widespread roots (among) very prominent people who did a lot to shape Scranton and help build the city, or now it's about designing roads, inspecting mines or serving in the senate. ”
Indeed, Biden & # 39; s maternal great-grandfather, Patrick Blewitt, left County Mayo, Ireland, 170 years ago this month and settled with his parents in Scranton, then a center for iron and railways. At the time, the community of 1,000 – nestled in the wilderness of the Lackawanna Valley – was turning into an industrial empire fed by the area's anthracite coal mines. During this period, Patrick, who became a local engineer, much planned from the streets of Scranton as the region experienced explosive population growth driven largely by Irish immigration.
By 1880, when Scranton reached a population of 45,000 – at one point it was one of America's fastest growing cities – the Irish had weakened the political clout of the Welsh Methodist Republicans, who often worked as mining superintendents. Biden & # 39; s maternal great-grandfather, Edward F. Blewitt, was among the Irish Catholics who climbed the town's democratic hierarchy. Blewitt – Scranton's city engineer under Mayor Terence Powderly, later head of the Knights of Labor – served in the Pennsylvania Senate from 1907 to 1910. a local political force.
When Blewitt died in 1926, The Scranton Republican recognized the Green Ridge resident's more than 40 years of experience in local politics. Blewitt, the paper reported, "made friends easily and had the ability to keep them." So did the opposing party: "Although he was a Democrat, Blewitt became a warm personal friend of the late United States Senator Boies Penrose," a powerful Philadelphia Republican who controlled state politics. Meanwhile, The Scranton Times described Blewitt as an & # 39; Democrat of the old school & # 39 ;. (…) He had endeared himself here to a legion of acquaintances and friends because of his many excellent qualities. "
Scranton's ubiquitous Irish Catholic Democratic culture, which dictated Blewitt's career, was not intensified until after his death. "The Irish were always in control of the city," noted Michael DeMichele, a retired historian from the University of Scranton who taught a course in regional ethnic studies for decades. Born on Scranton's South Side, DeMichele shared how he worked in playgrounds when City Hall was controlled by James Hanlon, who was mayor from 1946 to 1962. During that period, Irish political leaders had ethnically diverse tickets to maintain control of the melting pot town. . “People used to vote for the straight ticket for Democrats,” DeMichele noted.
Biden was born into this world in 1942, not long after Scranton's population peaked at 143,000. At the time, Irish elite dominated Green Ridge, designed to be one of Scranton's earliest suburbs. In those early years, Biden & # 39; s family lived with his maternal grandparents in a three-story house located at the end of North Washington Avenue near Marywood University, then a Catholic women's school. Even then, Green Ridge was a dramatic contrast to Scranton's West Side or Minooka, both Irish working-class strongholds. "Green Ridge has always been seen as the way up," said Borick. And as an Irish Catholic, lawyer or politician was a calling and a path forward.
Of course, other Scrantonians, including the non-Irish, followed this calling ahead of Biden. In the summer of 1964, prior to Biden & # 39; s senior year at the University of Delaware, William Scranton – the namesake of the town's patrician, a liberal Republican and then-Pennsylvania governor – made a last-minute effort to the GOP nomination from Barry Goldwater, Arizona. conservative US senator. At the time, Bob Casey Sr., the father of current United States Senator Bob Casey, was the Senator from Scranton. In 1986, Casey Sr., a Green Ridge resident, defeated William Scranton's son, Bill, in what was considered a governmental prank.
On St. Patrick's Day 1973, Biden, following his great-grandfather's political path, was America's youngest United States Senator to represent Delaware. On that day, not long after the tragic death of his wife and daughter, Biden spoke at the annual dinner hosted by the local Friendly Sons, who helped form Blewitt. Among those in attendance was Eugene Peters, who was a Republican mayor from 1970 to 1978. The son of Lebanese immigrants and a lifelong resident of Scranton's Hyde Park, Peters vividly recalled Biden's comments. & # 39; I said he could one day become president, & # 39 ;, Peters told me.
Now, almost 48 years later, Biden will fill that role. Of course, Scranton, like the nation, has changed dramatically since 1973. New immigrant groups, including Nepali-Bhutanese and Hispanics, live in neighborhoods such as South Side. In addition, nearly half of Scranton's Ethnic Catholic parishes have been closed or consolidated since the late 2000s – a trend likely accelerated by abuse scandals in the Diocese of Scranton, which prominent in a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report. Meanwhile, City Hall confronts Scrantons economic challenges. The current mayor, Paige Cognetti – an Oregon native and alum of the Obama administration – won election as an independent in 2019, not long after the previous Democratic mayor Resigned on charges of federal corruption.
Likewise, the Democratic Party no longer exerts the regional influence it enjoyed during Biden's childhood or, decades later, the Obama era. While Scranton remains democratic – every district favored Biden in November – northeastern Pennsylvania is starting to become Republican. In 2016, the anthracite coal region – particularly neighboring Luzerne County – played a critical role in Trump's statewide victory. That year, Trump lost Lackawanna County by about 3,500 votes to Hillary Clinton, whose father, a Republican, grew up in Scranton. It was an unimaginable scenario for Democrats, once a driving force behind the workers' movement in the region.
In 2020 Biden Lackawanna won with almost 10,000 votes. “If you had told me years ago that Biden, or someone from Scranton, was running for president, I would think he would get 80% of the vote in Lackawanna,” said Borick.
Although Lackawanna is Pennsylvania's second most democratic county, Republicans have continued to book voter registration. According to Lance Stange, a Scranton-born and GOP chairman of Lackawanna, the county's Republican Party has grown 11% since 2016, while Democratic registration has declined about 6%. "Republicans have gained ground in about 75% of the counties in Lackawanna County, including Scranton," said Stange. "The Democrats really only grow in the wealthiest parts of Lackawanna County." This is part of a broader trend in the coal region, where many old Democrats came to the GOP during Trump's presidency. However, it remains unclear whether they will continue to favor Republicans – or simply stay at home – in future elections.
Amid the changing politics in the region, Green Ridge remains frozen in time. Austin Burke, now one local artist, told how a former president, after spending more than a year in the Abingtons – an affluent suburban area – returned to Green Ridge. "He moved back to be with his own," said Burke, noting what the current residents' children look like to buy neighborhood homes.
One afternoon last week, a trio of kids climbed – after passing a historic state mark for the late Casey Sr. – up a hill from North Washington Avenue to Hank & # 39; s Hoagies, a lunch break where a life-size carved figure of Biden greets customers. A few blocks away, a St. Bernard rested on a porch as people passed by. The neighborhood was calm, even idyllic, and a parallel universe to the national state of affairs.
It remains to be seen how Biden – a native of this culture – can serve as a calming, if temporary force in this dark age, fueled in part by extremist forces in both political parties. "I have a lot of faith in Biden," said Peters, the former GOP mayor who worked with a Democratic city council. "I've tried to serve all people – that's my philosophy in government – and I believe Biden will have a similar approach."
. (tagsToTranslate) Joe Biden (t) Scranton