Updated: Mar 7, 2022
Over the past two weeks, the local Erie municipal elections took an ugly turn. First, a disturbingly misleading push-poll was launched by the well-known, right-wing extremist lobby, 76 Group. The poll asked such ‘balanced’ questions as (paraphrased for brevity) which candidate better reflects your views: the one who wants to push a racist diversity and inclusion agenda or the one who supports law enforcement? It was a clear, dark-money fueled attempt to discredit a local candidate, one of the few black men who lives in Erie, who has worked hard to make our town a safe and welcoming community for everyone.
Within days of that push-poll launching, a fake website appeared smearing the same candidate with libelous claims of domestic abuse–claims his wife has already spoken out against and were based on a 13yo report that he himself initiated and was dismissed without charges. Then, just days ago, I spoke to a town resident who was approached by a neighbor asking for his support in ensuring that “White Christians” maintain control of the town so it doesn’t fall into the hands of “coloreds” and “those people.”
That racists live in Erie is unfortunate but not news: we are a town of 30,000 people and anyone who’s been on NextDoor or the town Facebook group understands they walk among us. But it does beg the question of why they would feel so bold in their actions and who else could possibly care so much about a small-town mayoral election as to invest the time and resources necessary to develop fake websites, hire professional polling firms and pay for the opposition signs that are littering our streets and shopping centers? Given the history of the 76 Group and recent history, the answer is obvious even to the most casual observer. There’s only so many dots you can draw before they start to connect themselves.
But these dark, outside forces miscalculated the climate here–we have invested years of work in Erie promoting community and diversity; fighting back against the harmful impact of oil and gas on our health and welfare; and making Erie the kind of town that attracts not only good, decent working families, but also incredible local restaurants, boutiques and the other small businesses we now see popping up all over our vibrant and safe community.
In fact, the residents I’ve talked to are so turned off by the recent actions, by the over-the-top signage, and vile online and in-person behavior, that they’re more motivated than ever to participate in a town election–but in support of those being attacked–not the attackers.
For me, it all rings of desperation–like a drowning man grasping for a lifeline. It’s certainly not anything our society should tolerate as normal political discourse. And regardless of the outcome this April, the message I hear consistently from Erie voters has been clear: KEEP ERIE KIND and STOP FRACKING WITH OUR ELECTIONS.