Voters Guide

Candidates for Erie County Executive, Erie County Council, Erie City Mayor, and Erie City Council were asked about their positions on GLBT issues. Their responses appear below.

This was the question asked for all races:

What would you like our readers to know about you related to LGBT issues?

County Executive

Not Responding: Thomas Loftus (R), Art Oligeri (R), Tim Sonney (R)

Joseph K Curlett (D)

Gay people and gay lifestyle are not foreign, nor new, to this candidate, running to win the County Executive seat, for the citizenry of Erie County. I've had, and have, and lived with family members who have elected the gay lifestyle for themselves. The gay habits, new norms and frustrations, they must face each and every day. I can appreciate, how it must be challenging to be who one its, when most people don't care, too try, too understand.

Gay issues are people issues, and therefore, deserve to be heard, aired, discussed and amicably resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. The framing of any gay argument is key, and absolutely necessary, in order to, gain the ends expected and desired. Since most gay issues speak to, and surround acceptance, integration and equal human decency rights, this melting pot society should not deny the gay population, those free privileges, enjoyed by others.

Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Incumbent)

I am a firm believer that the rights afforded us as Americans must be protected and equal for all citizens. This has not been the case for much of our country's history and one group that has experienced this inequity is the LGBT community. I have been proud to support some of the significant changes that have occurred to end this discrimination. While a member of the U.S. Congress, I voted to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" legislation. Although my jurisdiction over these issues is limited to the internal operations of county government, as County Executive I have made it a priority that my administration ensures equal benefits for employees, including those who are part of the LGBT community. I have supported efforts to legalize same sex marriage in Pennsylvania and advocated for nondiscrimination policies broadly. As the mother of a gay man, I know first hand the discrimination he has experienced and continue to advocate for protections for LGBT individuals to end discriminatory practices. As the leader of Erie County, I believe it is important to stand with the LGBT community and continue to fight back against stigma and discrimination.

Brenton Davis (R)

I am a pro liberty candidate. I believe that all folks should have equal opportunity and protections under the law. My views are straight forward and simple. The government has no place in deciding what is right for the life choices of the individual. Every American should be free to exercise their beliefs, views, and life as he or she should see fit as long as those rights do not infringe upon the rights of others. I will always advocate for fairness and equality for all people.

I have seen first hand the negative effects of the "Dont ask, Dont tell" rule in the military. I have served with several men and women that had lived their lives quietly (and painfully) in the closet for years. No individual should ever have to hide who they are or who they love. My generation does not look down upon others that make different choices, have different views, or political affiliations. We see our diversity as perspective and strength.

Ed DiMattio (R)

What I would like the readers of the EGN to know about me concerning issues facing the LBGT community would most importantly be that I have had in the past and currently have immediate family members who identify themselves as members of this community. In saying that I find it bothersome that we as a society keep finding more reasons to build walls to segregate and alienate ourselves from others who the mainstream views as different. It is even more disgusting that in 2017, inclusion and acceptance remain issues that need addressed on any front. I have seen firsthand how these attitudes hurt and insult wonderful people, who themselves are outstanding citizens, and in many instances are pillars of the community where they live.

This past year on County Council we have had numerous meetings and worked with our Human Relations Commission to ensure that discrimination toward anyone based on gender, race, religion, etc. will now include those within the LBGT community. The HRC is now in the process of testing to make sure fair housing and employment are, and remain available to all individuals. These biases have no place within our community, and shouldn't anywhere for that matter.

I will continue to work to make sure that Erie County is always moving forward in this manner, never back.

I thank you for the opportunity to respond and I would truly appreciate your support.

COUNTY COUNCIL District 1

Kathy Fatica (D-Incumbent)

I am proud to live in a county that protects the rights of individuals regardless of sexual orientation.

I also support anti-bullying legislation.

Robert Yates (R)

I am entirely opposed to discrimination of any kind in public policy against gender or sexuality, and favor as little government regulation and/ or intrusion into individual rights and private lives as possible.

I am not opposed to gay marriage; the Supreme Court ruled on the issue in 2015, although some may have religious objections. As a Christian, I personally believe in kindness and respect to all people, as well as compassion and acceptance. I prefer all individuals be able to live their lives as they wish and be happy, as long as they are law-abiding and do not incite conflict. If elected, I intend to defend the rights of privacy, as well as the tenets of equality and justice.

COUNTY COUNCIL District 2

Andre Horton (D-Incumbent)

I'd like your readers to know that I ‘ve supported the LGBT Community long before I became interested in running for office. I advocate for good legislation to insure that the LGBT community is treated with the same respect and dignity and are provided with the same rights and protections as every other demographic of persons that are provided under the Law.

COUNTY COUNCIL District 4

Not Responding: Carl Anderson (D)

Tom Staszewski (D)

My life long ideologies, core convictions & inward/outward belief systems have always been to treat each and every person with respect and dignity. As a candidate and if elected, I will unequivocally continue to treat ALL persons with respect/dignity at all times and in a nonjudgmental fashion. And in an environment that is fair, equal, nondiscriminatory tolerant of all others and all sexual orientations. ALL inclusive…never exclusive and with social justice for all. Love not hate. And with a hostile free, safe and discrimination free climate. While LGBT is still a popular and frequently used term, It has grown to include LGBTQQIP2SAA. I see myself as an A---representing Ally or Allies---or people who are straight but support those in the LGBT community. Thus, count me in as your ally. I will insist that all county government functions operate in an EEO fashion (Equal Employment Opportunity) for ALL. I will govern legislatively to ensure that all Erie County Governmental matters and decisions made are fair, equitable and unbiased. Tom Staszewski will insist that the delivery of state and county services be allocated, distributed and provided impartially, equally and in a nondiscriminatory, nonjudgmental fashion. I have HIGH HOPES for Erie County. And believe that we are NOT a sinking ship (CBS News). There exists tremendous potential, opportunity and brighter days ahead for all of us.

Paul Hirsch (R)

The LGBT community is made up of entrepreneurs, artists, business leaders and professionals with whom my message of economic growth, low taxes and responsible government will resonate. I believe that the climate of Erie County should foster economic progress and fiscal control that benefits all residents. All citizens should be treated as equals.

COUNTY COUNCIL District 6

Not Responding: Trish Shoulders (R)

Mary Jo Campbell (D)

The LGBT community deserves all rights that everyone has been granted. The rights and responsibilities afforded on our Constitution are written for all citizens of the United States. I, frankly don't understand why these issues are still being discussed. The LGBT community is a integral part of our society.

Scott Rastetter (R)

LGBT issues are Human rights issues. Discrimination and prejudice should have no support, defense or justification in our United States.

Erie City Mayor

Not Responding: John Whaley (R)

Lisa Austin (D)

I've been a witness. After a forty-year relationship, a friend of mine lost his partner following a lengthy illness. In the months before his partner's death, my friend and I discussed the harsh reality that he could be legally challenged (by his partner's blood relatives) over decisions about his partner's medical care. Luckily, this never happened, but, after my friend laid his beloved to rest, he was burdened with a huge tax bill. Because he was "inheriting" property, my friend was forced to pay for the privilege of keeping his home.

Thankfully things are different today and LGBT couples enjoy equal legal status regarding medical, financial and tax situations.

As a high school and university art teacher for thirty years, I've seen the dominant heterosexual community's evolving relationship with LGBT community. In most art settings ridicule and intolerance have been replaced with a welcoming acceptance.

Like almost everyone I know, some of my family members, friends and colleagues are a part of the LGBT community – along with several supporters of this campaign. Like the residents of this city who are differently-abled, or African-American, or Hispanic, or refugees or immigrants, Erie's LGBT population is enriching northwest Pennsylvania and playing a crucial role in rebuilding this city. As Harvey Milk explained– "if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone."

My campaign platform works for everyone including the LGBT community: Good Jobs, Stronger Schools, Safer and Beautiful Neighborhoods, Good Governance and A Connected City. Of particular interest, I have long proposed a need for transparency (and the possibility of self-nominations) in appointments to boards and other decision-making bodies.

Check out the campaign website (www.austinforerie.com) or stop by our headquarters at 34 West 8th (Tuesdays from 10-6 and Saturdays from 10-3.)

You can help me win this election with your time (knocking on doors and making phone calls), with your talent (from filming to fundraising), and with your treasure (any size donation is welcome.) You can donate on the campaign website via paypal (www.austinforerie.com) or by dropping off a check at headquarters (34 West 8th) or by mailing check to the Committee to Elect Lisa Austin, PO Box 6132, Erie, PA 16512.

Most importantly, I'm asking for your vote on May 16.

Jay Breneman (D)

I consider equality issues a matter of extreme importance in my life. I witnessed the damaging impact of Don't Ask Don't Tell during my military service, and it inspired me to be a strong ally for equality.

As a demonstration of my commitment:

I will never give the excuse that it is "someone else's job" to address equality matters. Together, we'll do more.

To learn more about me, my campaign, and my detailed plan of action for Erie, visit www.JayBreneman.org or call 814-580-VOTE.

This election matters. Vote Breneman for Mayor on May 16th.

Almi Clerkin (D)

We are all created equal. While that's been a guiding principle since the birth of our nation, we haven't always lived it. Whether because of gender, race, religion, country of origin or sexual identity, discrimination is all too common in our history. We've come a long way, but the fight for equality isn't over yet.

As executive director of the Erie Playhouse, I have spent more than a decade at the helm of an inclusive organization where everyone is welcome. Whatever your identity, we strive to create a safe space for all, especially for those who have been marginalized because of who they are and who God created them to be. We celebrate every person's unique gifts to the world.

I believe in fairness and equality for all. As mayor, I will advocate for equal rights for all persons. Erie's LGBT community faces challenges. As mayor, I want to hear your voice, understand the challenges you face, and do everything within my administration's power to ensure that Erie is a safe place where every family is welcome.

We must do everything we can at the local level to ensure that the progress our nation has made toward equality is not reversed. Discrimination leads to pain; pain leads to dissension and fragmentation of the community. I will support, work with and embrace any group that will strive to make Erie the fair, progressive 21st century city we all need and want it to be.

Steve Franklin (D)

As a mayoral candidate as well as a citizen of the City of Erie, my primary concerns and/or priorities involve first of all any acts of violence perpetrated against members of the LGBT community as all citizens should be free of fear of crime and crime victimization, especially those of color and based upon their sexuality and gender identity; my second concern would be the disproportionate rate of unemployment, homelessness, poor health and food insecurity , all of which leads to a lack of economic well-being resulting in poverty; thirdly, of major concern is employment discrimination to members of the LGBT community as a result of unfair treatment by their employer due to their sexuality or gender identity to include both on-the-job harassment or mistreatment, being fired, not hired or denied a promotion because of their gender identity; and lastly the inadequate access or lack of healthcare that contributes to so many health disparities for the LGBT community, often leading to a failure to obtain insurance and resulting in higher rates of disease, chronic illness, drug use, mental illness and obesity among the community, especially the transgender and gender non-conforming people who struggle from the inability of accessing medically necessary care such as mental health services, surgery and hormone therapy.

Rubye Jenkins-Husband (D)

I believe all Americans, all citizens are entitled to equal rights, rights to health care.

Bob Merski (D)

I have been a strong supporter of Erie's LGBTQ community. From speaking out against the violence in Orlando to enjoying the picnic at Presque Isle, I have been present and listen to the concerns of the LGBTQ community in Erie.

We call our campaign the PEOPLE'S CAMPAIGN because my whole time as a public official has been spent out in the community meeting as many people as possible, and this election isn't about me or any other candidate. It's about YOU. Erie is not a city in decline, it is a city in transition. I am prepared with a vision that is aspirational yet grounded in reality, a plan that is drawn from my years serving the community as an educator, community and neighborhood leader, and elected official, and the ability to work with the community to see it through to fruition. The people's campaign is rooted in jobs, community, and better government. As a councilman I created the innovative City Revolving Loan fund to attract jobs to Erie. As Mayor, I will create a business concierge service at City Hall where one person will walk you through the process of getting all of your permits and licenses so you can get to work on your project.

The people who you trust to keep you safe trust me to lead the city. Erie's Police and Firefighters have endorsed me because they know my plan to utilize our police force for prevention, not incarceration, is based in best practices and supports the work that they do. My plan to bring back the juvenile division and canine unit, and increase community policing are based on data, not politics. Along with crime, we need to combat blight. My 5x5 plan concentrates our resources in a 5 square block area to work with community stakeholders to transform neighborhoods, one block at a time. By transforming our Code Enforcement office from a reactive force to a proactive force, we can significantly change neighborhoods for the better.

Government at the city level is the most directly connected to the people. That's why I want to bring city government to the palm of your hand, through an app for your cell phone. We need to utilize the advances of the private sector and apply them to the public sector. Imagine an app where you snap a photo of a pothole and click send. City Hall knows where the pothole is from the GPS in your phone, and you receive a text back when we fix it. Imagine seeing where the snow plows are from your Erie App on your cell phone, so you know that our crews are working and accountable. All of this data is placed on a city map on our website so that we are making decisions based on data. This is the vision I have for applying technology to work for you at the city level.

No one else running in this race has balanced the last 5 city budgets, or dealt directly with the increase in gun violence, or has participated in as many community meetings as me. The Mayor's job isn't one for on the job training. I'm ready day one to lead this city and I believe that we can make Erie a great city for the 21st Century! I'm asking for your support and your vote on May 16th.

Joe Schember (D)

It's no secret in Erie that I am Christian. I have attended Sacred Heart Church since childhood. My faith teaches me not to judge others or discriminate.

What people in Erie may not know is that my son is gay. Several years ago my son, Joe, and daughter, Jaime, sat down with my wife, Rhonda, and me in our family room. Joe told us that he was gay.

My immediate response was: "Joe, you are our son and we love you." My son is a good man, works hard at his job, was an excellent student in school, played on a championship tennis team, helps take care of his disabled twin sister while volunteering at the Barber Center for 15+ years... and he is gay. I'm proud to call him my son.

My point is this: I support the hard-working taxpayers of Erie. Period. Sexual orientation doesn't impact that. I believe in the diverse people of Erie. My job as mayor will be to improve the quality of life for every Erie-ite. I'll work to reduce crime for everyone. Increase the number of good jobs for everyone. Better the education system for everyone's kids.

As mayor, I promise to support, interact with, and learn from Erie residents. If there are issues you want me to know about in the LGBTQ community, come have lunch with me at City Hall. Let's talk about what we can do. Because I believe that together, we will transform Erie and Build Opportunity for All.

John Persinger (R)

John Persinger is an attorney with Macdonald Illig, where he helps businesses and entrepreneurs to grow, innovate, hire more employees, and invest in Erie. He is a graduate of Notre Dame Law School and Harvard, where he was captain of the men's swimming team. He has worked as an aide in the White House and in a chief-of-staff role at the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia.

John is the grandson of the late Dr. John and Dorothy DeMarco, and the nephew of local dentists Drs. David and Patrick DeMarco.

John is married to Sarah Smiles Persinger, a former journalist and graduate of the American University of Beirut. They have three young children.

When John's grandparents moved here in 1952, Erie was a thriving city. Unfortunately, Erie has been on a steady decline for the last 60 years. Today, our public schools are on the brink of closure. There are 7,000 blighted properties in our neighborhoods. Twenty-five thousand residents live below the poverty line. Children are being gunned down in the streets. Businesses are leaving the city every other day. It's obvious things are not working.

John is running to get Erie working again. To do that, he has pledged to: (1) Invest in Education; (2) Clean Up the City; and (3) Fight for Erie's Future.

With new leadership, we can end the decline.

With new leadership, we can get Erie working again.

For more information on John and his plan, visit www.persingerformayor.com.

Erie City Council

Not Responding: Mark Aleks Aleksandrowicz (D), Patrick Duda (D), Adrian D Ewing (D), Gary Grack (D), Kevin Otteni (D), Jim Winarski (D)

Liz Allen (D)

I am proud that Erie County's anti-discrimination ordinance includes sexual orientation. I support marriage equality. I am alarmed when the human rights of LGBTQ people are trampled. I worry that education to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS is no longer in the news. My heart breaks when young LGBTQ people are tormented. I oppose "bathroom bills."

I asked a 30-something gay man, the son of my late high school friend, what issues concern him. He said he just wants to "know that people are on my side." I'm on his side. I'm with the grade-school friend who refuses to come home for reunions because he was bullied. I'm with my Villa classmates who are proudly out. I'm with my college friend, feminist theologian Mary Hunt, who co-founded the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual. I'm with Erie people who lost partners before marriage equality; they tell me my columns helped them with their grief. I'm with my conservative friend who said after his daughter married her partner: "Nobody wants their child to be alone."

I think about my dad's Prep classmate, who visited us every week with his divorced mother. A bigot from Texas, she didn't understand why her handsome son, with the fancy car and the lucrative job, never married. Dad befriended the guy because he had been bullied in high school. But our family's welcome wasn't enough. This man, an alcoholic, died of AIDS, alone.

We must never return to those days.

Brad Ford (D)

My experiences as they relate to the LGBT are varied. Throughout my life I have learned that I can't judge an entire group of people based on limited experience. Actually, I learned you shouldn't judge at all.

I spent 10 years in Salt Lake City. What I define as one of the most memorable experiences I had was standing arm and arm with other allies around the Mormon temple, protesting Proposition 8. I supported and defended people who wished to marry who they loved.

Since coming back to Erie five years ago my positive experiences grew. I marched in the Pride parade with my daughters and met some wonderful people who I am glad to call my friends. I listen to their stories and I hope that I can be a part of them.

As a member of City Council I will remember those stories and pass them on to the other members of council. I will work with the administration to improve our municipal equality index put out by the Human Rights Campaign. Right now Erie's rating about laws and services available isn't very good. I want that rating to increase so that our LGBT community members can live, work, love, and feel safe in Erie.

Michael Haas (D)

I believe that we need to ensure that people are not discriminated against, and that we do not move backwards after the progress that has been made over the past 8 years. I also realize that while we have taken some steps forward, it is not a reason to sit back and relax – we need to continue to advocate for the rights of all. We especially need to advocate for those who cannot advocate alone, or who feel that they are alone. I think of the many transgendered individuals who have lost their lives recently and hope that by the time my generation comes into power those students will find a greater place in our society –a place of inclusion, not exclusion. A place of welcoming and of brotherhood/sisterhood. I believe that as a straight cis gendered white man, I need to accept that I have inherent privilege in my life, and allies need to work to equal the playing field for those who do not have. I also realize that I may not say the right thing at the right time; but I promise you that it's because I speak from the heart and my view of the humanity of all individuals comes before all else. We need to make sure that the issues affecting the LGBT community are the issues being considered at the local level.

Michael Keys (D)

I believe that all people are entitled to the same rights and freedoms as established by the Constitution.

Casimir J Kaz Kwitowski (D-Incumbent)

As an elected representative of the City of Erie for over 20 years, it has been my duty to safeguard the rights of all citizens. I take the oath of my office very seriously. Today many states and municipalities are passing laws threatening the rights and freedoms of many of its citizens. One such group that is under fire is the LGBT community. The current political climate of this country is very unsettling. This country was built on diversity and tolerance, and not intolerance. I proudly served with many members of the LGBT community as a member of the armed services. Their sacrifice and service guaranteed our freedom. Yet their freedoms are being threatened. Even though, many of the issues are on a state and national level. I as an elected official give you my promise, that I will never vote to deny anyone their freedoms and will use my office to protest any such abuses. In this great country we need to celebrate our diversity, not stifle or prevent it. All citizens are guaranteed this under our constitution.

Rob Mahrt (D)

I am a supporter of the LGBT community, on a national level I was a supporter of gay marriage many year before it was the popular choice among our leading politicians. In my personal life I have friends, family members, co-workers, and former roommates that are members of the LGBT community and have nothing but support for them. If I am fortunate enough to be elected, as with all my constituents, I will be open to meeting with and talking to members of the LGBT community if they want to voice issues or recommendations on how to improve the city (if these issues have to do with LGBT rights or otherwise). If there are ever discriminatory issues with the city and it's LGBT community, I would absolutely fight to make sure any injustices are erased. I hope we can all work together toward a great more prosperous city.

Kevin Pastewka (D)

If elected to City Council I would be happy and proud to advocate for the interests of the LGBT community. Part of what has moved me to run for office is to counter the apparent rise of bigotry in this country. I look forward to working with you all, and as a side note, I'm a huge John Waters fan.

John Reitinger (D)

All citizens in this country are entitled to equal protection under the laws of the United States of America.

I have many friends and family(deceased) in the LGBT community.

I fully support the Rights of the LGBT community.

As a child, my parents instilled in us the concept and values of accepting people for who they are and their deeds good or bad.

We were taught not to judge people based on their appearance,religion,race,color,political values or gender.

We do not judge so that we ourselves may not be judged

Kathleen Schaaf (D)

I am running for City Council to unite the people of Erie into improving our current situation. I have lived in Erie all my life and have taught in various positions at St James School (currently Art and Phys Ed) in Erie for 36 years. I have always tried my best to treat each student, parent and people in general fairly. I am a good listener and know that we are all each unique individuals who have a story all their own. My father who is a retired Erie City Police Officer taught me not to judge people by the color of their skin and not to let people fall into stereotypes.

We have so many issues to address this election year and in order to move forward we need to work as a united team. We can not be divided by our religion, race,sexual orientation,political affiliations, ethnic origin, finances, or location of where we maybe currently living. Drugs ruin so many lives and break up so many families regardless of where people live. Crime and violence are present in so many areas of the city and needs to be curtailed. Immigrants and all people of Erie no matter their circumstances need to feel safe when walking down a street or relaxing in their home. These issues have no political boundaries they effect us all and we can not win this war against them unless we put our differences aside and make a pledge to work together for the good of each and everyone of us and the good of our fair city. I love Erie, I am a compassionate and empathetic person. I believe that I can make a difference to help the people of Erie have a good quality of life for many years to come. It is vital that we do not sit back but embrace the changes that may come to revitalize our Erie, our home! We are all people who will benefit if we have a safe, educationally sound, pollution free, drug free, peaceful community. It may sound like a hard road ahead of us but we can do it one baby step at a time, one person stepping out of their comfort zone at a time, one person being open minded at a time to share, tell and listen to the stories that abound. We all have talents to bring on our SAFE ERIE JOURNEY, so that future generations will call Erie their SAFE HOME too.

John Steiner (D)

First of all, I would like to thank Mike and his staff for being such a strong voice for the LGBT Community. I applaud the organization for educating themselves on the candidates actual positions regarding the issues. My personal belief is that if two people can get along, make each other happy and support one another, then who cares who they choose as a partner. I support same sex marriage as i do any marriage. I have never used race, age or sexual orientation as negative criteria when hiring people in the past. I am not gonna act like I know everything about the LGBT Community or use politically correct language. What I do know is that I judge people by their character...PERIOD !

Freda Tepfer (D)

After a period of spiritually based celibacy, I functioned within the Lesbian and gay communities from 1973 to 1978. I marched in Gay rights parades in NYC, joined Gay and Lesbian support groups at Cornell and Iowa State Universities and a Lesbian Consciousness Raising group on Long Island.

Usually I was single, and never sustained a long term lesbian relationship. That wasn't much different from my prior heterosexual life. Later I returned to the straight community, married and divorced. I have been single since my separation.

I am not a parent, was never in a longstanding lesbian relationship, and worked in nontraditional occupations. I didn't face the same discrimination and harassment LGBTQ people experience. My work life was challenging, but for other reasons.

I was in DC when the Supreme Court decided for single sex marriage. I spoke with women celebrating in a gay bar. We shared our exhilaration and happiness over the decision. I was gladdened to know that same sex couples could now help each other in medical emergencies, inherit property, receive spousal health insurance benefits, adopt children etc.

Unlike Erie and Erie County, much of Pennsylvania lacks prohibition of discrimination against LGBTQ populations. Erie's laws do not provide protection based on gender identify.

I believe everyone should share equally in the rights and responsibilities of community life. I welcome the support of the LGBTQ community. I support the efforts of the LGBTQ community to attain greater protection from discrimination.

Dan Nick (R)

I believe all people should be guaranteed equal rights including the legal benefits and responsibilities of marriage. A marriage is between two people, regardless of sexual orientation, who share a bond of love and admiration for one another. Diversity is the foundation of our country. People have the right to exist and be safe without prejudice. I stand with and support the efforts of the LGBTQ community.

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