MARPLE — The two candidates for the 5th U.S. Congressional District – and the 7th – exchanged civil barbs while outlining positions on a variety of issues from gun control to the deficit to universal health care, sharing similar views at a packed debate Thursday night.
Scrunched into a Delaware County Community College auditorium with every seat taken and people sitting and standing in the aisles, the debate hosted by the League of Women Voters of Central Delaware County and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People lasted about one hour.
The U.S. House seat for most of Delaware County has been vacant following the resignation of U.S. Patrick Meehan, R-7, of Chadds Ford earlier this year, presenting two newcomers to vie for the seat: Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon and Republican Pearl Kim.
Their names will be on both ballots as there is a special election for the 7th district to fulfill the remainder of Meehan's term. Then, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew the district lines following a gerrymandering lawsuit brought by Democratic voters, resulting in the 5th district comprising of Delaware County and a part of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties.
Mary Gay Scanlon, 59, is pro bono counsel for Ballard Spahr and oversees 550 lawyers in 12 offices throughout the country as chair of its Pro Bono Committee.
Previously, the Swarthmore resident served with the Education Law Center and the Support Center for Child Advocates. She also served as a member and president of the Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board.
Special victims prosecutor Pearl Kim, 39, led the state Attorney General's campus security initiative and headed the Human Trafficking Unit in the Special Victims and Domestic Violence Division in the Delaware County District Attorney's Office.
The Radnor resident helped secure the first human trafficking conviction in Pennsylvania and then helped craft new human trafficking legislation. After that was passed, she obtained the first conviction under that law.
Scanlon zeroed in on health care after the candidates' outlined their positions on the Affordable Care Act, with Scanlon stressing how 70,000 people in the 5th district have health care because of it, and Kim saying it should stay in place until a viable alternative has been crafted.
"I'm hearing for the first time what my opponent's positions are on many of these issues and she seems to be running against the Republican Party's position, which I understand because I am as well," Scanlon said.
Kim also went to bat in an exchange about campaign finance reform.
"I find it completely frustrating how much money goes into political elections," Kim said, citing herself as the biggest donor to her campaign, followed by family, friends and immigrants. She also added that reform was needed to attract quality individuals to run for Congress.
She also spoke that it is statistically more difficult for women of color to raise more money and noted throughout the debate that, if elected, she would be the first woman of color to be sent to Congress from Pennsylvania.
"Well, we do agree that we need significant campaign finance reform," Scanlon said, turning to Kim, saying, "I didn't know that (U.S.) Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) was one of your family, friends or an immigrant."
Kim retorted, "I do appreciate Sen. Toomey's support along with the local Republicans that have supported my campaign but let's be very real – this is Pearl Kim vs. Ballard Spahr."
During the debate, Kim also said she had attempted to debate Scanlon several times throughout the campaign, which Scanlon denied ever occurred.
In the end, the candidates were grateful for the opportunity to bring their message through this forum.
Sharing a story about teaching her children to vote, Scanlon said, "I wanted them to know that there are certain things in life that are non-negotiable: you have to brush your teeth, you have to be nice to your neighbors and you have to vote.
"If you're here tonight, I think you understand how important voting is," she said. "And the stakes in this election are so high. Congress is not doing its job. It's not legislating in a way to help the people in this district and it's not acting as a check on the worst impulses of the Trump administration, an administration that has shown that it wants to roll back decades of progress in expanding medical care, environmental protection, civil rights, international relations, everything."
Relying on her own story of being a survivor of campus sexual assault, Kim said it was time for that perspective to be represented.
"With the current climate and the #metoo climate, the fact that I was a sexual assault survivor, a special victims prosecutor, it is really time to have someone with that type of perspective in our government so that we can change our institutions," she said, noting that the prosecutor on her case treated it as nothing more than a job. "She forgot what it was to be a true public servant – that the government is here to work for us.
"I am running to change the narrative," Kim said. "I am running to shake up both establishments – both Republicans and Democrats – and to remind everyone that the government is supposed to work for us."