Mondale, Hart campaigns came to Valley in 1984
The mid-Monongahela Valley has been the focus of political candidates on all levels of government throughout the years. Incumbents and hopefuls alike have brought their campaigns to the area.
So it was 29 years ago – on the weekend of April 7-8, 1984 – when the heated Democratic presidential race topped the primary election in Pennsylvania.
A three-man scramble among Walter Mondale of Minnesota, who served as vice president with President Jimmy Carter; U.S. Senator Gary Hart of Colorado, and civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson captured the most attention of voters preparing to go to the polls on Tuesday, April 10. The winner would face incumbent President Ronald Reagan in the Nov. 6 general election.
Mondale, his party's front-runner, addressed a large rally at the Monessen plant of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. on April 7 as part of a last-minute campaign sweep throughout the state. One day later, Lee Hart, wife of the Colorado senator, made a strong pitch for her husband in a rally at Ernest E. Jobes American Legion Post 212 in Donora.
During the spirited gathering outside the 12th Street gate of the W-P Steel facility in Monessen, Mondale supporters emphasized that the former vice president was one of the major supporters of the federal loan guarantee for Wheeling-Pittsburgh that enabled the company to build the rail mill. They pointed out that because of his support for the rail mill, Mondale had been instrumental in keeping the area's largest employer in business.
Reporter Karen Peters of The Valley Independent wrote that Mondale told his Monessen audience that, “We put together a package which made it possible for this mill to be modernized and therefore competitive. I'm here to tell you that I'm proud of that accomplishment.” He also emphasized the importance of the steel industry in America by saying, “We can't be a strong country without it.”
Pushing his point that he is “a people's Democrat,” Peters wrote, Mondale told the crowd he believes, “the government should help the average American family. We should be able to provide a good life for the average American family. We need a president who understands that. I am a people's Democrat and I will be a people's president.”
Mondale toured the rail mill following his brief address.
Among those who urged the crowd to vote for Mondale in the primary were United Steelworkers of America president Lynn Williams, USWA District 15 director Andrew “Lefty” Palm, state Sen. Edward Zemprelli of McKeesport, state Rep. James J. Manderino of Monessen and Monessen mayor James Sepesky.
Williams said his union believed that Mondale “... represents the kind of policy that will rebuild the steel industry” and “turn it all around” in the United States.
A picture on the front page of The Valley Independent on April 9 showed Mondale being welcomed to Monessen by Manderino; Williams, Charles Yetsconish, USW District 15 staff representative; Tom Simon, president of USW Local 3403; Monessen city treasurer Charles Povich, and John D. “Jack” Fry, operations manager of the Mon Valley plant of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel. Other photos spotlighted Sepesky, Palm and steelworker Steve Marinos among those in the crowd.
In speaking on behalf of her husband in Donora, Lee Hart said, “what we can do to put people back to work is uppermost in our minds.”
She acknowledged that Hart's campaign was “very nearly written off” in 1983 but the senator remained firmly committed to seeking the nomination.
“We kept going because we could sense what was going on out there,” Lee Hart said. “We knew there was a growing number of people out there who liked Gary's new ways of approaching the complex problem facing this country.”
“Another quality of my husband is that he ... looks for and accepts input from the people. He has a willingness to look at issues from a national point of view. He is not tied to any one (special interest) group. What this country needs is ... a president who knows what is best for this country.”
Hart also emphasized that the senator “believes in the nation's need for a strong domestic steel industry – one that provides for the modernization of plants and the retraining of furloughed workers to fill the needs and demands of the times.”
Fielding questions from the audience, Hart could not give the reason for her husband's vote of rejection for a federal loan to Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel. A Hart campaign spokesman came to her rescue when he responded: “Senator Hart proposes a retooling of the (steel) industry using privately funded loans backed by the federal government.”
Among those coordinating the program in Donora and welcoming Hart to the event were Julie Fronzaglio, Connie Perez and Rose Wright. They were featured in another photo on The Valley Independent's April 9 front page.
Mondale won the Pennsylvania primary on April 10 with 47 percent of the votes. Hart finished second with 34 percent and Jackson was third with 20 percent. Mondale drew the overwhelming support of voters throughout the Mon Valley and Westmoreland, Washington and Fayette counties. Jackson's strongest showing was in Philadelphia, where he finished first. Mondale was second and Hart a distant third in the City of Brotherly Love balloting.
Mondale went on to clinch his party's nomination at the Democratic National Convention July 16-19 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. His running mate was U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York, who became the first woman vice presidential candidate in history for a major political party.
While Mondale garnered 56.41 percent of the vote by convention delegates, Hart managed only 30.92 percent and Jackson received 12 percent. Others receiving votes were Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern, John Glenn, Martha Kirkland and a young U.S. senator named Joe Biden of Delaware.
Reagan had no trouble being re-elected in November as he carried 49 of the 50 states. Mondale's only victory came in his home state of Minnesota.
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.