‘We haven’t seen them’: Pennsylvania town overlooked by midterm candidates

State's oldest city is also its poorest and voters lack enthusiasm about the coming election

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The shuttered businesses and vacant homes in Chester are a testament to years of neglect and underinvestment in Pennsylvania's oldest city, where voters are feeling deeply disillusioned in the lead-up to next week's midterm elections.

The once thriving city is now one of the state's poorest, and residents here see little hope that any of the candidates on the ballot in Tuesday's midterm elections will be able to help turn things around.

Harold Hooks, who helps run the popular restaurant Name a Better Duo — one of the few food joints in town — said the state-level candidates have not bothered to visit.

“We haven’t seen them … So we don't have a personal interaction with them,” he said.

He will vote on November 8 but with no enthusiasm.

“It's no help for us, just to be honest,” Mr Hooks said.

For Mr Hooks and many Chester residents, a general sense of distrust of the US political system is growing, and the midterms as well as Pennsylvania's tight Senate race between Republican Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman feel far away.

A sense of apathy towards the political establishment prevails, driven by economic grievances.

Home to about 34,000 people, Chester, located along the Delaware River, was first settled in 1644.

The car and steel industries that made Chester a booming hub in the early 20th century disappeared in the 1990s. Poverty stands at about one third of the population. There is no local supermarket.

“It was thriving, you had all the stores … the record shops, you know, I remember the doughnut shops,” Mr Hooks recalls from his childhood.

Andele Brown, Mr Hooks's business partner, was born in the 1990s, and thus did not get to see the thriving days of Chester.

“It's just been like this, as you see it, more so boarded up, my whole life,” he said.

He added that the younger generation is even less excited about voting because they are sick of empty political promises.

“There's an awareness that has grown in the younger generation about politics, about people, in it being a lot of talk and not a lot action … it’s not just clicking a button.”

Not far from the taco restaurant is Chester’s city hall, where Councilwoman Elizabeth Williams’s main mission is to “put Chester back on the map” by attracting businesses and investments.

In 2020, Chester was placed under a receivership from Pennsylvania, which means the state takes some control over local finances so that the city avoids bankruptcy.

But Ms Williams told The National that the receivership is falling short in helping her community.

“Well, we're not doing well … [State authorities] are not bringing us the businesses that we need here in this city,” she said.

“They’re supposed to do the economic development portion here. And we're not getting a good feedback from this from the state.”

The councilwoman reminisced about her city’s heyday, recalling how it built one of America's first iron-hulled gunboats and how it once had a Ford factory.

“My city needs to be back on his feet and not constantly hearing every day about going bankrupt,” Ms Williams said.

When asked about the election, Ms Williams said her community is “in limbo” but stressed that the vote generally will go for “Mr Shapiro”.

Josh Shapiro, a Democrat and former attorney general, is running for governor of Pennsylvania and enjoys a big lead in the polls against Donald Trump ally and state senator Doug Mastriano.

There is much less excitement around the battle between Mr Fetterman or Mr Oz in Chester, a pivotally important race that could ultimately decide the fate of the US Senate.

It is Chester’s economics and deserted quarters that are on the mind of the voters, and those are receiving little to no attention from the senatorial candidates.

Updated: November 04, 2022, 2:00 AM
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