Joshua Siegel is young, but has all the experience in his run to represent PA District 22 in Harrisburg
The Allentown Councilman says he’s the most experienced and qualified Democratic candidate for PA’s District 22.
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Heading into the November 2022 midterm elections, Pennsylvania is a state that has the nation’s attention, not only for its governor and U.S. Senate races, but also for its state legislature, which could see a lot more Democrats as redistricting has opened some more opportunities to snag seats.
In PA’s District 22, which comprises most of Allentown city proper and the surrounding suburbs to the east and southeast, it was also seen as a potential spot for especially a Latinx candidate to win a spot in Harrisburg. That didn’t happen this year in a district that is majority Latinx, but Allentown Councilman Joshua Siegel still says he’s the most experienced and qualified candidate for the job.
Historically, as Latinx and other marginalized communities are oftentimes left behind, Siegel says he’s here to bring them along.
He is the current Chief of Staff and Assistant Operations Manager at the Lehigh County Controller’s Office, helping ensure local government remains transparent, accountable, and accessible to residents.
“My first and foremost commitment is to make sure my office staff as a rep in particular reflects and can properly engage with the diversity of my district. It’s over 60% Latino,” said Siegel in a recent interview with AL DÍA. “I want to make sure there is no language barrier and that I can engage with my constituents. I have an open door policy allowing an opportunity to engage with me.”
Fighting for affordable housing
One of Siegel’s biggest concerns are families struggling with housing affordability in his district, where Allentown has the highest rent to income ratio in the country, according to a study by Redfin, ranking higher than Los Angeles and San Francisco.
It’s an issue, according to Siegel, that not only affects his district, but the entire state.
“There is no doubt that the cost of housing is one of the big contributors to inflation,” he said.
With many in Allentown working warehouse and service based jobs that do not carry an array of benefits, if at all, it creates a huge vulnerability for citizens and families looking for affordable housing. As state rep, he hopes to build more affordable housing in the city and introduce policies for worker benefits such as family leave and sick leave.
“I think these basic social safety nets we lack as a nation, we can make up for in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Siegel.
A unified message across communities
In the span of a few years, the growing Latinx community has also become the majority of Allentown. Despite this, as a group, the community at large has been overlooked and forgotten. For Siegel, the important thing to overcoming such a dynamic is building a coalition.
“When you’re fighting for working-class policies, you are in fact fighting for African-American and Latino constituents,” he said.
Siegel explained that in politics, voters can get caught up on what a politician plans to do for a certain group or demographic, but says leaders in general ought to “make constituents understand there is really a unified economic message, that there are broad based universal policies that uplift everyone and help each community.”
What about charter schools?
Charter schools are another hot button topic that have captured voters’ attention in recent times. That’s especially true in Pennsylvania, where it has become a center of controversy for many with the amount of money diverted from public schools to charters in the state.
Philadelphia is a glaring example of the effects of that diversion, but Siegel is also running to represent a district with one the poorest school districts in the entire state.
“The biggest issue with charter schools is that they perpetuate this notion that public education should be privatized or that there is a private sector solution to education. Frankly, I just don’t agree with that. I don’t certainly admonish anyone for sending their kid to a charter school. But the reality is that the vast majority of parents don’t have that option,” he said. “Public education and public schools struggle and fail not because there’s something inherently wrong with public education, but because we as a society choose to undermine teachers, choose to poorly fund urban and rural school districts and put public schools at a tremendous disadvantage.”
Supporting Latinx biz
With the rapid increase in the Latinx population in Allentown also came a boom of Latinx-owned businesses and radio stations. To no one's surprise, there are still barriers that face Latinx entrepreneurs for things like funding, and a lack of access to small business loans in comparison to their white counterparts.
To solve the disparity, Siegel said the state should create a “minority business accelerator.”
“The best thing we can do is fund existing small businesses that are minority owned. Eighty-five percent of jobs that are created in the local community are not attractive to tax incentives or corporate welfare. An emphasis needs to be placed on helping and funding small businesses rather than punishing them for having the courage to start their own businesses,” he said.
Changing winds in Harrisburg
In regards to the political climate of the moment, Siegel called attention to the state’s recent redistricting effort as a net positive. District 22 was held by Democrats before Siegel’s run, but statewide there are fewer instances of “cracking” or “packing” communities of color as in years past.
Still, he laid into the state’s Republican Party for the policies it has pushed as a supermajority in the state legislature.
“The Republican party has been nothing but a force of obstruction and to be frank, the perpetual decline in quality of life,” said Siegel. “They’ve defunded our public schools, undercut working people, and attacked organized labor and union. They’ve proven themselves to just be completely and utterly politically irresponsible and incapable of governing.”
The latest effort includes passing a last-minute Constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in the state. It came before the legislature passed the state’s budget, which had already missed a deadline.
Young, but experienced
As Siegel enters the final stretch of his race against Republican nominee Robert E. Smith Jr. later this year, he’s leaning on his experience in office as his main sell to voters. He’s been a city councilmember in Allentown for the past three years, the Chief of Staff at the Lehigh County controller, and a Communications Director for the county, all before 30 years of age.
“I have really experienced all forms of government,” said Siegel. “We want elected leaders who put in the work and that actually do the research. As far as I am concerned, I have used my time in local government to be a strong advocate for working families which informs my ability to govern.”