Mary Gay Scanlon's Kick-Off Speech

February 26, 2018

Good afternoon. I’m Mary Gay Scanlon and I’m running for the brand new fifth congressional district of Pennsylvania.


Thank you all for being here.


I particularly want to recognize our speakers/ our new Comptroller Joanne Phillips, registrar of Wills Mary Walk, and Sheriff Jerry Sanders. Sheriff Sanders is a new friend, but those of you who heard his daughter’s introduction when he was sworn into office in January, know what an admirable public servant and parent he is. I have known Mary and Joanne since our children were small, and their encouragement and example in sacrificing their personal interests to run for office is part of what inspired me to do the same. I also want to thank Professor John Linder, the former mayor of Chester.  He has been a friend for over 25 years as we have worked side by side on issues including education reform and common sense gun laws.  We have a number of local dignitaries here:  Swarthmore’s mayor, Tim Kearney, members of borough council, Mary Walk, Betsy Larson, Sarah Gradin, Ross Schmucki and Lauren McKinney, School board President Marilyn Huff and board member Chapin Cimino, former Superintendent Rich Noonan, Jack Stollsteimer, Pennsylvania’s state treasurer for consumer programs, and Anne Torregrossa, the former Director of the Governor’s Office of Health Care Reform.  Hawa Salih about whom I will speak later, a member of my mock trial team from Constitution High, family and friends.  Thank you all.



We are here at Swarthmore Rutledge elementary School because this is where I first decided to run for elected office 15 years ago. At the time, we had two children attending this school, with a kindergartner about to start. The school community had been suffering through a painful renovation process for over a year. Education had been disrupted, and health concerns were being raised as classes were conducted amidst debris and construction equipment. As the incoming president of Home and School, I was frustrated by our inability to get answers about the project status or contingency plans if the school were not ready to reopen after the summer break when it was due to be completed.  So, on a mid-August weekend, I hopped over the construction fence with a camera and documented the fact that the project was nowhere near done.  In fact, it would be six months before children could return to the building, during which, instead of walking a few blocks to school, they were  bussed an hour each way, every day, to a temporary location.


And that’s when I decided to run for the school board.


My approach to that problem is the same approach I would bring to Congress. When I see a problem, I investigate the facts and look for solutions. Our children were having their education significantly disrupted by a poorly thought out construction process and I knew there must be a better way to handle improving our school facilities. So to start, we worked with the administration to lessen the impact of the construction delays on the kids. Later, as a school board member, I worked to apply the lessons we learned from that elementary school project to future projects: We set a budget and hired a construction manager to make sure that the two school renovations that were planned when I was on the board were completed on schedule and on time – and they were.


Now, I am frustrated and alarmed by the actions of the Trump administration and its allies in Congress. Over the past 18 months, there has been a daily assault on our democratic values, the rule of law and progressive causes that I have worked on for my entire career: fair elections, free speech, access to health care and public education, human rights for the victims of economic and political oppression, Women’s rights, gun control, the environment - the list goes on and on. By word and deed, those in power have shown more concern for corporations and the NRA than they have for the people who elect them and the young people who are our future. 



I did not plan to run for Congress this year. Because of the unconstitutional gerrymander that took place in 2011, my home, and those of many Democrats in Delaware County, had been carved out of our former district to create a safe Republican Congressional seat. Pat Meehan, the incumbent, had a $2 million dollar campaign war chest and the support of a powerful, if fading, county machine.


Donald Trump’s election, and Congress’ refusal to check or condemn his outrageous behavior, had led me to seek new avenues of resistance, including joining a PAC, Represent PA, to elect more women to the state legislature. My work as pro bono counsel for one of the largest law firms in the country has exploded. I organize and direct over 45,000 hours of free legal services annually across 15 offices, focusing on low income families and civil rights. The past 18 months have seen a tidal wave of new projects added to our work, including efforts to protect the children and families of hard working immigrants who are suddenly at risk for deportation, helping activists and municipalities stand up to a surge of vile hate speech and violence that the President  tacitly encourages, and developing new measures to protect our elections from concerted right wing efforts to suppress the votes of minorities, college students, the elderly and women, through gerrymandering, strict voter ID and registration laws - which are little more than modern Jim Crow laws….laws that target specific groups and try to reduce...rather than expand... access to the ballot. And to be clear, I did not take on new projects because the old issues were resolved. Poor families are still being evicted by unscrupulous landlords, mandatory sentencing laws are still cramming expensive jails with nonviolent offenders, and people with addictions are still dying for lack of access to medical care. But the new issues were so urgent, and in some cases life threatening, that they had to be addressed immediately. So they were added to our work.


But, as I said, things change.

  1. The assault on our shared, and, I believe, deeply American values has created new activism. Women began marching in January 2017, and they haven’t stopped. The “me too” discussions have ripped the bandages off the hidden wounds of sexual harassment and abuse that most women, including myself, have experienced, and ignited a fresh resolve to put an end to it - for ourselves and our daughters. 

  2. In the wake of the Parkland school shootings last week, high school students, in Florida and across the country, have begun eloquently demanding new gun control laws. And

  3. Last fall, a Democratic ticket swept Delco’s elections for the first time in our 40 years.  And, as I mentioned, I was inspired the example set by Mary Walk, Joanne Phillips, Sherriff Sanders and their whole team, in forging a new path.


Just as it was unacceptable to have one-party rule in this county for so many years, it is unacceptable that Pennsylvania has a 20-person Congressional delegation - 18 congressmen and two senators - that does not include a single woman. Sorry guys…..Times Up!


I also was inspired by another woman.  Hawa Salih is a human rights activist from Darfur whom my husband Mark and I have been representing since she applied for asylum 5 years ago. Hawa became an activist after her village was overrun by the government militia, the janjaweed, and more than 100 of her relatives were killed. She herself was shot and kidnapped, but she escaped and was able to rescue a cousin. She made her way to a refugee camp where she became an advocate for women and earned a college degree while working with UN agencies to protect other refugees. Her advocacy earned her government recognition - of the worst kind. On three separate occasions, she was kidnapped, jailed and tortured by Sudanese authorities. She was eventually released due to international pressure, but she had to flee her family and homeland under threat of execution. When she arrived in the US, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama presented her with the International Woman of Courage Award. We helped her apply for asylum and she now works in our office in Philadelphia, - when she is not organizing support for the people of Darfur or testifying before the UN Security Council. Her example of resilience and persistence under such extreme conditions is another inspiration for this run. I have to note that Trump’s immigration orders banning refugees from Muslim countries would have prevented Hawa from entering this country, and could still prevent her from returning if she were to travel outside our borders. Our country is better and stronger for Hawa being here, and we should welcome people with her courage, passion and drive.



So it is the culmination of all of these issues, the assaults on our work and values, and the examples of women in particular, that pushed me into this race. My entire career has been dedicated to serving others. This campaign is a continuation of the same principles that have guided my public service and legal work for over 35 years. It would be my honor to continue to serve as your CongressWOMAN and I hope to earn the support of the voters of the newly drawn 5th Congressional District. I am asking for your votes and your support as I continue the fight for progressive American values.


Thank you for coming.


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