Gun safety group Everytown launches $200K campaign in Erie Co. sheriff race | Friday Morning Coffee

It’s part of a broader, nationwide effort targeting the county-level law enforcement officers

October 15, 2021 7:14 am

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

When you think about high-stakes political campaigns in Pennsylvania politics, your thoughts usually don’t turn to county sheriff’s contests.

Sure, there are exceptions, and some offices get overtaken by scandal (Yes, that’s you Philadelphia).

In general, however, most voters would be hard-pressed to name their county sheriff, let alone explain the role they occupy in Pennsylvania’s crowded law enforcement cosmos (The answer to the latter, by the way, is mostly to serve warrants, and to provide security in county courtrooms. They’re not front-line police officers — as is the case in many other jurisdictions.).

That seeming obscurity has proven to not be a deterrent for Everytown for Gun Safety, the anti-gun violence group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

This week, the group is launching a $200,000 campaign for the open seat in Erie County’s sheriff race. It’s part of a broader effort targeting sheriff’s contests nationwide, and yet another reminder that local races are increasingly being seen through a nationwide lens.

The Erie race pits Democrat Chris Campanelli, a 25-year veteran deputy sheriff, whose views on gun-related issues match with Everytown’s, the organization said — though there appears to be scant documentary evidence to buttress that claim.

He faces Republican Brian Shank, a former prison guard and current member of Erie County Council.

The winner replaces current Sheriff John Loomis, a Democrat, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek a third termGoErie reported. Which seems to indicate the spend here is less about Campanelli, more about Shank, and all about holding the seat.

In a statement, a spokesman said Everytown is “going to make sure voters know which candidates for sheriff are on the side of gun safety — and which are hell-bent on taking the law into their own hands to suit their own ‘guns everywhere’ agenda.”

The statement from Everytown’s John Feinblatt takes Shank to task for a 2013 incident in which he was cited for illegally carrying a gun in public, noting that the stakes for the law enforcement post “couldn’t be clearer.”

(Photo via (c) BortN66 –

In June 2013, before he entered politics, Shank was one of eight people who were cited for carrying a firearm into the city’s Perry Square during a gun-rights rally, GoErie reported. In 2014, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court invalidated the ordinance, and the city dropped the charges, the news organization reported.

And in 2014, before his retirement as a guard, Shank faced misconduct accusations that included hitting female inmates on the buttocks with a ruler and discussing bacon in front of a Muslim inmate, GoErie reported.

Shank denied more serious accusations that included kissing an inmate in an office area and touching another inmate’s breasts during a pat-down search. The Corrections Department could not substantiate the allegations, the news organization reported.

“We all have things in our past where we’ve not made great judgment calls in our life,” Shank told GoErie in an earlier interview about the incident. “And, you know, we move on, we learn from them.”

The Everytown campaign, which includes digital advertisements and a direct mail component, describes Shank as “unfit to serve.” 

By law, candidates and their campaigns are forbidden from directly coordinating with such third-party advocacy groups as Everytown.

But the blitz in the Erie contest does represent the opening of a new front in the campaign wars that has seen spending on local campaigns increasingly tied to national issues.

These formerly obscure down-ballot races, which serve as feeder offices to state and national office, have attracted increased attention as Democrats and Republicans vie for power.

Republican consultant Chris Nicholas, of Harrisburg, told the Capital-Star it’s likely the independent expenditure group is using the NWPA contest as a chance to test-drive themes for the all-the-marbles 2022 mid-terms.

As goes Erie?

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

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Stephen Caruso chats with GOP gubernatorial hopeful Jason Monn, of Erie County, who thinks Harrisburg needs an everyman in the top spot.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear a 2019 case challenging the state Medical Assistance Program’s ban on abortion coverage, Cassie Miller reports.

Our Washington Reporter Laura Olson explains how a Mississippi court case could pave the way for new abortion bans across the U.S., including Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 5,253 new cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth on Thursday, up from Wednesday’s tally of 5,012 new cases, bringing the total number of cases to more than 1.49 million since the start of the pandemic, I report.

In Pittsburgh, anti-eviction advocate Jacob Klinger, a former PennLive sports reporter, is running for constable to reform an office that is responsible for carrying out eviction orders, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

And our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News were recognized with a state historical marker earlier this week for 45 years of journalism and advocacy.

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Photo via pxHere

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A new Penn State study has concluded that half of all COVID-19 patients have lingering symptoms up to six months later, PennLive reports.

Former WGAL-TV anchor Brittany Garzillo has joined FOX NewsLancasterOnline reports.

Allentown’s mayoral candidates discussed former President Donald Trump, gun violence, and other issues during a debate, the Morning Call reports.

The former head of Luzerne County’s children and youth services agency pleaded guilty Thursday to child endangerment and obstruction charges, the Citizens’ Voice reports (paywall).

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Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

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What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
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7 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Ed Neilson
Ride the circuit, and give at the max today, and you’re out a thoroughly unnecessary $11,000.

Gov. Tom Wolf heads to Philadelphia today for a 2 p.m. newser promoting a community vaccination program.

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And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.