Meet the Candidate: Joe Schember
Mayor, City of Erie
City of Erie
I was born and raised in Erie by two loving parents, Joe and Helen Flatley Schember. After grade school I attended St. Mark’s Seminary to study for the priesthood. After 6 years, I left the Seminary to complete my English degree at Gannon. That’s when I met the love of my life, Rhonda Mahoney.
Rhonda and I have three children – Jaime, Joe and Jodi. We raised them in the house where I grew up. Jaime works in marketing at Google. Joe lives in Albany, NY and works for the State of New York. Jaime and Joe are very successful high achievers. Joe’s twin sister, Jodi, was born with Down syndrome and has severe Autism. She has made us better human beings and taught me the value of diversity. Because of Jodi, I have actively volunteered for more than 50 local organizations.
I began my 40-year career in financial services as a full-time teller at Marine Bank while completing an MBA from Gannon. I moved up through every position to Regional Manager, with responsibility for 51 PNC branches and 350 employees in 10 counties. This was during a time of radical transformation in banking, with new technology and movement to a Sales Culture – great preparation for transforming a city.
I enjoyed teaching, both at the high school and college levels. I’ve also taught banking professionals at Bucknell, Penn State, Georgetown & the University of Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania Bankers Association and the American Bankers Association from 1988 to 2017. I was elected mayor in 2017 and would welcome the opportunity to continue serving the Erie community in that capacity for another term.
Why did you want to run to be Erie's mayor?
I felt called to run for my first term a Mayor in 2017. I had a great 40-year career in banking, but felt called to turn around Erie, which has been losing population and businesses since the late 1970s. My team and I have learned and accomplished a great deal during our first term and we are positioned to really accelerate Erie's transformation over the next 4 years.
I’ve been Mayor now for over three years. I’ve never work so hard, but never enjoyed a job so much. A great team formed around me. Virtually all of us are descendants of immigrants and refugees. We have sworn in about 500 New Americans every year at our Federal Courthouse. I always attend and welcome the New Americans. It unites me with my Mom’s parents from Ireland and my Dad’s Parents from Sicily. My staff is diverse. We have women in key positions. Renee Lamis is my Chief of Staff, and Kathy Wyrosdick, who is the City of Erie’s first Planner created our first Planning Department. Niken Astari Carpenter, a new American, is my liaison to new Americans, Immigrants and Refugees in Erie. Michael Outlaw, is my Community Liaison to African Americans. All City Supervisors, including Police, Fire, and Public Works, are committed to diversifying their departments.
Everything we do is governed by our six-word Mission: Build Opportunity. Restore Hope. Transform Erie. And our 2 sentence Vision: Erie is a Community of Choice We celebrate our: - Rich Cultural Diversity - Welcoming Vibrant Neighborhoods - World-class Downtown & Bayfront - Excellent Education for Everyone -Abundance of Family-sustaining Jobs In January of 2020 we announced 26 measurable objectives that will make fulfill our Mission and Vision reality. View these on the City website.
Finally, please hold me accountable for how I will conduct myself as Mayor: I will always be Open, Honest, Transparent, and Accessible in everything I say and do.
What are your top three priorities you wish to work on if elected?
1. Be guided by our Mission and make our Vision a reality.
2. Have a net increase of 1,000 jobs in the City by 2025.
3. Transform Erie for decades to come by solving Erie's three major financial problems and making the most productive use of the $79.08 million coming to Erie from the American Rescue Plan by acquiring matching grants and working with the County and surrounding communities.
How would you be an advocate for key education initiatives such as the Erie County Community College, K-12 education, and early education as they relate to workforce development?
Our young adults and children are the future of Erie. Once COVID has become a memory, I look forward to getting back into Erie's schools for our 90-minute conversations between middle school students and our team, including Atty. Jack Daneri, Michael Outlaw, the County Sherriff, City Police and Fire Fighters, and members of our SPCP Council. These important conversations help children see the future and develop into productive citizens. The Community College is the one level of education that Erie has lacked. That will fill a large hole and propel the Erie region forward. I look forward to that starting in the Fall of this year.
How will you work to advocate for the modernization of public health infrastructure and encourage public/private partnerships to address deficiencies in our public health system?
Responding to COVID-19 has moved Erie County's public health infrastructure forward dramatically. We are lucky to have UPMC Hamot, AHN St. Vincent, Millcreek Community Hospital, and LECOM (which educates more doctors every year than any other school in the country). Our health professionals have really come together to fight COVID-19. I look forward to working with them and the County Health Department to help Erie County's public health infrastructure continue to grow and develop.
According to TrackTheRecovery.org, Erie County is estimated to have lost over 28% of small businesses. How would you work to encourage financial stability within local and state governments without overburdening the small business community?
We have lost 28% of low-wage workers, and these are the jobs that need to be reestablished or replaced. In Erie, many of these jobs are part of welcoming and entertaining people in Erie and people coming here to enjoy our many unique experiences, including the Bayfront, Presque Isle, Convention Center, and minor league sports. The Chamber will play a major role in this, as well. Once COVID-19 is a memory, I believe that Erie will bounce back quickly and dramatically. I look forward to working with the Chamber to help small businesses rebound as well as all impacted residents.
Our community is expecting a total of $225 million or more in American Recovery Plan funds. As a community leader, how would you prioritize this funding?
First, we must learn the rules and regulations for these funds once they are issued. Then I will work to maximize the benefits from these funds in two ways: 1) Work with the other Erie County municipalities and the County Executive, and 2) Identify and use as much as possible in matching grant funds. The American Recovery Plan provides the greatest opportunity we have ever had for us to improve and transform the Erie region. We must make the most of this incredible opportunity by working together and increasing the opportunity with grants and matching funds.
Pittsburgh has seen success with tools such as Tax Increment Finance and Transit Revitalization Investment District to spur their City’s revitalization. Are you willing to make long-term investments in economic development?
My team will continue to use all tools available to invest long-term in Erie's economic development. Here are four examples of how we have already done that: 1) We established 8 Opportunity Zones in the City, which are the only Opportunity Zones in Erie County. We are now working to install free public WiFi, high-efficiency street lighting, and high-resolution cameras in the Opportunity Zones first and eventually across the City. 2) 20 months ago, we implemented the new LERTA, which has results in just over $85 million in investment in Erie. We have had 62 Commercial LERTA applications totaling over $73 million and 161 Residential LERTA applications totaling over $12.3 million. 3) We have also created three new grant programs for Erie businesses and doubled the amount available for loans to Erie businesses at rates 2% below bank rates. 4) Because we established a full-time Grant Writer, in our first three years in office we have brought $34.4 million in Grant Dollars into the City of Erie.