After leaving his biodiesel-fueled bus, GOP candidate Lynn Swann strides into the Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Hall Sunday.Times leader staff photo/aimee dilger
Trailing in recent polls and with less than a week left until the election, Lynn Swann, the Republican gubernatorial challenger, should logically be grasping for any political edge.
Instead, the pro football Hall of Fame member and former Pittsburgh Steelers star has basically ignored a chance to score points with the Democrat-dominated environmental community.
Gov. Ed Rendell, who led by 23 percentage points in a poll of likely voters released Wednesday, has touted his environmental record throughout his administration, and he’s campaigned heavily on it this election cycle. During his visit to Wilkes University last week, he emphasized his commitment to transitioning the state vehicle fleet to hybrid and alternative-fuel autos.
But the bus he rode into town was fueled by regular, old diesel.
Conversely, Swann’s campaign retrofitted his bus, “Reform One,” specifically to run on biodiesel, a low-polluting fuel made from animal fats and vegetable oils.
So far, however, Swann has created little, if any, concern over the contrast. Placed inconspicuously on the side of the bus is a promotion of its environmentally friendly fuel, but Swann hardly discusses its significance. Given a chance to address the topic when he visited the Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Hall on Sunday, Swann said little.
That’s because environmental concerns, while important, don’t top most voters’ lists, said his spokesman, Lenny Alcivar, on Wednesday.
“It’s not something that arises in the first or second tier of issues,” he said. “Sometimes it’s important to send messages in symbolic ways.”
The bus is an unspoken “reminder” that Swann supports many of the same environmental initiatives as Rendell, Alcivar said. Though Rendell can lean on his environmental record as governor, he’s being disingenuous by not running his campaign bus on a less-polluting fuel, Alcivar added.
“After four years and so much rhetoric on the environment, how could you not?” Alcivar said. “It’s an example of the rhetoric versus reality.”
That bus was actually purchased for Rendell’s first gubernatorial campaign before biodiesel technology had become popular, explained Dan Fee, a spokesman for the campaign.
“If (Rendell) bought a new bus, he would certainly use alternative fuels,” he said.
“It’s an age-old question of are you walking the walk,” said King’s College political science assistant professor David Sosar, and Swann might be missing a golden opportunity to thumb his greener nose at Rendell’s apparent double standard.
“I think he’s made a mistake by not maybe making it more of a deal. … From the standpoint of throwing it back on Rendell, it might have helped,” he said. “Let’s be honest, the Democrats have owned that particular area.”
But how much difference it could make is debatable. The state chapter of the Sierra Club, a 28,000-member environmental organization, endorsed Rendell months ago. Though Jeff Schmidt, the state chapter’s director, was unaware of Rendell’s fossil-fueled ride, he said on Tuesday that it really didn’t matter. Rendell’s environmental leanings and track record of following through on campaign promises, such as the $625-million bond issue called Growing Greener II, are what count, he said.
“Those are real world policies that make a difference that far outweighs what vehicle your campaign is driving, which is fairly symbolic,” he said, adding that he believes Swann is actually more hypocritical for promoting green fuels but opposing more stringent auto emission standards.
“If you ask most Pennsylvanians, they’ll tell you that the Sierra Club is out of the mainstream,” Alcivar said, adding that the more stringent standards could “jeopardize the economy” and “raise the price of existing in Pennsylvania.”
Sosar agreed that voters are much more concerned with a candidate’s plans and what effect they’ll have on voters’ wallets. “I don’t think (the bus-fuel issue) is going to make or break (Rendell’s) campaign in any way, shape or form.
“I think (Swann) always had problems getting his campaign off the ground and the bus was just another part of it. … If you’re going to run that in your campaign, you’ve gotta let people know.”