SWARTHMORE -- Mary Gay Scanlon on Saturday kicked off a bid for the newly drawn 5th Congressional District in the same place where her earlier entrée into public service occurred.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters in the library of the Swarthmore Rutledge School, with audience members seated on chairs built for elementary students, Scanlon said she was motivated to join the growing field of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat by, among other things, a desire to solve problems.
“When I see a problem, I investigate the facts and look for solutions,” the longtime Swarthmore resident said.
Scanlon’s interest in running for the Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board about 15 years ago was sparked by a renovation of the school that was significantly behind schedule, resulting in students being bused to a temporary school in Glenolden. The bus ride for students would take about an hour each way.
As the entering home and school association president, Scanlon said she was frustrated by the answers she was getting from district administrators. While there were limits as to what could be done about the situation, Scanlon said she made sure there would not be a recurrence which could affect other students.
Along with her fellow board members Scanlon did this by ensuring a construction manager was hired and schedules adhered to, both of which benefitted subsequent school renovation and expansion projects in Wallingford-Swarthmore.
She was a member of the school board for two four-year terms and served as its president for two years.
Scanlon, an attorney who leads the pro bono program for the Philadelphia-based law firm of Ballard Spahr, said she now wants to pursue the congressional seat because of problems she sees taking place at the federal level.
“At this point in time, I am frustrated and alarmed by the actions of the Trump administration and its allies in Congress,” she said. “Over the past 18 months, there has been a daily assault on our democratic values, the rule of law and the progressive causes I have worked on my entire career.”
Her areas of concern include the need for fair elections; challenges to free speech; access to health care and public education; human rights for the victims of economic and political oppression; gun control; and threats to the environment.
“By word and deed, those in power have shown more concern for corporations and the NRA (the National Rifle Association) than they have for the people who elect them and the young people who are our future,” she said..
“I didn’t intend to plan to run for Congress this year. But because of the unconstitutional gerrymander that took place in this region in 2011, my home and those of many Democrats in Delaware County have been carved out of our former district, the Seventh, to create a safe Republican congressional seat.”
The 58-year-old Scanlon said her interest in running for the seat, which was created when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently issued new maps of the state’s congressional districts, is also due in part to the fact that the state does not have a single woman in its congressional delegation.
“Just as it was unacceptable to have one-party rule in this county for so many years,” she said, “it’s unacceptable that Pennsylvania has a 20-person congressional delegation – 18 congressmen and two senators – and it doesn’t include a single woman. Sorry, guys, time’s up.”
Before Scanlon spoke, several elected officials endorsed her candidacy. They included Tim Kearney, Swarthmore’s mayor and a Democratic candidate for the 26th District state Senate seat; former Chester mayor John Linder, a Democrat; and three newly elected Delaware County officials, including Register of Wills Mary Walk, Controller Joanne Phillips and Sheriff Jerry Sanders, all Democrats.
Walk said she knows Scanlon to be “without a doubt a person of integrity. But what I really know is that she is someone who does not ask for a lot of credit for herself.
“She is behind the scenes, doing things for other people a lot of the time, being supportive of people who really can’t speak for themselves: Children, mothers, immigrants … people who without her help – without the pro-bono program at Ballard Spahr – wouldn’t have a chance without Mary Gay.”
Phillips, a partner at Ballard Spahr, said Scanlon has many important attributes.
“She has vision. She can organize. She can motivate. She can collaborate. She can fight. And she can negotiate. And she can make things happen,” Phillips said.
Linder said he has known Scanlon for years, and he praised her work on a federal lawsuit that successfully sued to get additional assistance for special education students.
During a brief question-and-answer session, Scanlon was asked what supporters could do to help her pursuit of the nomination. She said she would be seeking the signatures of at least 1,000 Democrats registered in the 5th District.
The timeframe for the circulation of those petitions will be between Tuesday, Feb. 27, and March 20.
As to how much money the bid may cost, her campaign manager, Joel Coon, said the price tag could be between a $500,000 and $1 million, depending on the number of candidates.
Asked if she had a headquarters yet, Scanlon quipped, “It’s my dining room table. But we’re working on that, so if anyone has any cheap and accessible places they’d like to put together, we’re looking at that.”