DePasquale tours Harrisburg businesses facing down pandemic economic woes

By: - September 19, 2020 3:16 pm

Auditor General and Democrat candidate for the 10th Congressional District Eugene DePasquale talks with Midtown Cinema employees on September 19, 2020 in Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo).

To Anya Lumpkin-Queen, COVID-19 isn’t the only disease spreading like wildfire across the United States. 

Lumpkin-Queen, who co-owns Queen’s BBQ in Harrisburg, and her husband Titus Queen, also see a virus of rancor and anger spreading among their fellow citizens. It’s most obvious every time someone yells about a mask requirement at a grocery store.

“If I tell you ‘hey, I don’t want you coming in because I don’t want to get anyone else sick,’ why are you mad?’” Lumpkin-Queen said Saturday.

And the source of this other pandemic, she said is clear: Washington D.C. and its dysfunctional politics.

Lumpkin-Queen’s story was one of many Democratic 10th Congressional candidate Eugene DePasquale, masked up, heard from small business owners hawking BBQ, habañero beer, and edible cookie dough during a morning jaunt through midtown Harrisburg.

The half dozen entrepreneurs he spoke to, from an art house movie theater manager to a sweets stand, all told similar stories. 

They’ve survived the coronavirus, are adopting on the fly, are hopeful for the future — and mostly are expecting a representative who listens to them in these trying times. DePasquale, they said, fits the bill.

At a stop in Harrisburg’s Broad Street Market, DePasquale met Jessica Kost, a 33-year-old candy maker serving up chocolate covered pretzels, organic sodas, and candy cups oozing with sugary fillings.

She told DePasquale of the struggles during the virus. She had closed for four months at the start of the pandemic, and has since been getting accustomed to online sales and shipping her treats by mail to stay afloat.

The conversation was cordial. But as DePasquale bought  a chocolate bar, Kost told him she had a bone to pick: — His yard signs, she said, are plastic. She disliked their effect on the environment.

“Next time, I think we gotta work on that,” she gently chided through a sneeze guard emblazoned with a Black Lives Matter sticker.

DePasquale, Kost told to the Capital-Star, has her vote, citing his positions on the environment and policing.

To be sure, DePasquale’s campaign website cites a desire to expand federal aid to small businesses. And speaking with small business owners Saturday, he frequently expressed concerns that federal Paycheck Protection loans went to big businesses instead of mom and pop shops.

But DePasquale didn’t question Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive order shuttering businesses early in COVID-19.

“In the beginning, he did about as good as possible,” DePasquale said. 

Still finishing off his second, and final, term as auditor general, however, DePasquale is auditing a Wolf program that gave some businesses a waiver to reopen early.

As the Capital-Star reported earlier this month, that audit has drawn controversy due to Wolf fundraising for DePasquale while the review was underway.

The 10th District includes all of Dauphin County, as well as Harrisburg’s West Shore suburbs out to Carlisle, and stretches south to York.

Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry currently holds the seat, and has been in office since 2014. The arch-conservative survived a close reelection in 2018 under new lines drawn by the state Supreme Court.

Democrats, already in the majority in the U.S. House, sense opportunity in the district’s small cities and blue- trending suburbs, while Republicans need to show they still have strength in the key south- central region. 

President Donald Trump won by almost 9 percentage points here in 2016. But polling in the district this year shows Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden beating Trump.

Those same polls have shown a close race between Perry and DePasquale. The only independent poll, commissioned by the York Dispatch, found Perry up 3 percentage points with many still undecided.

Back at the Market, DePasquale also chatted with Andrea Grove, owner of Elementary Coffee. Grove said paying her workers a living wage is a top priority., But she said she also realizes that selling $2 cups of coffee does not provide the margins to pay for her employees’ health care.

“People aren’t supplying health care because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t” Grove said.

DePasquale, who’s running as a moderate, doesn’t support Medicare for All. But he backs private companies buying into Medicare, and expanding Medicaid to allow more people to reenroll in the program.

The York County resident doesn’t want to sell a platform that “you vote for me, all your problems are going to go away.”

“You fix what you can, and some of this stuff is going to be a struggle,” he said.

DePasquale final stop was Queen’s BBQ, located near the state Capitol complex. Lumpkin-Queen and her husband opened in January, often selling out early to hungry state workers. But closed state offices cut out that market.

Instead, they’ve relied on the help of their community, posting to Facebook when they are having a slow day. And soon after, the store is getting calls for orders.

They also try to give back to the community. Lumpkin-Queen said she offers as many free samples as possible, though the pandemic has put an end to that practice. The chalkboard with their menu also declares that everyone eats at Queen’s, even if they might not have cash at that time.

The BBQ purveyor has seen DePasquale’s ads, and he has her vote. He seems approachable, and someone who can bring the values she and her husband built their store on to Congress.

“Hopefully you’re going down to DC and you’ll change some things,” she says.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.