After a fading romance with the Democratic Party, Mt. Pleasant became Trump country in 2016
Pride, patriotism and service are literally at the heart of Mt. Pleasant .
A towering obelisk, topped with a statue of a World War I doughboy, looms over the traffic diamond at the heart of Main Street. Off to the right, a fountain bubbles in the midst of a spotless park featuring a Victorian-style gazebo and a gleaming black granite wall, bearing the names of about 2,000 borough residents who have served in the U.S. military. Another 103 names were just added as applications flowed in from local families looking to honor those who have served.
The spirit that binds the small town at the foot of the Laurel Highlands was evident over the weekend at the Mt. Pleasant Glass & Ethic Festival. The fall festival that features entertainers on three stages and dozens of food and craft vendors draws about 40,000 people through the town at the foot of the Laurel Highlands for three days every September.
For decades, residents of the close-knit community elected Democrats. They’ve elected Democrat Jerry Lucia, 74, to the mayor’s office nine times.
But in 2016, Mt. Pleasant voters gave Donald Trump a 24-point victory. In the surrounding townships, Trump prevailed by a better than 2-to-1 margin.
The evolution had been underway for some time. Democratic registration numbers shrank and state offices, previously held by Democrats, slowly moved into the Republican column in recent years.
Lucia has been mayor for 33 years and fire chief for 29 of those years. He talked about the changes in the political landscape as he fielded issues last Friday during a break he took between officiating at a marriage and troubleshooting festival issues.
“I think (Trump) had an energy behind him that was pushing for change, and I think that had a lot of to do with it. Now with certain situations that have come up with him being president, some people didn’t like that, but they still like him,” Lucia said.
Craig Wright, 49, a project superintendent on construction jobs whose work takes him around the country, changed his registration from Democrat to Independent in 2016. A Westmoreland County native who recently moved to the village of United in Mt. Pleasant Township after decades away, Wright said he’s never missed an election.
He came up in construction as a union ironworker and always used to support Democrats, “because Democrats supported the union.”
Today, he’s concerned about issues like immigration.
“I’m all for people coming into the country, but they’ve got to come in legally. We’ve got to save the country. (Trump) is for America. The Democratic Party of today is not the party I grew up with or the party my parents knew. … They’ve been working hard to get rid of a president that wants to save America,” Wright said as he stopped to check out polling places and absentee ballot information at the Democratic County Committee booth at the Glass & Ethnic Festival.
Several blocks away, Mt. Pleasant barber Joe “Coke” Yancosky, 77, dressed in colonial garb, led festivalgoers through a tiny log cabin the local historical society maintains.
He is a lifelong Mt. Pleasant resident and has been cutting hair here for more than 50 years. His wife, Carol, is the local tax collector.
They’ve watched the town change as manufacturing jobs that once sustained the region largely disappeared. Volkswagen, Sony, Lenox Crystal and L.E. Smith Glass closed and the town’s population contracted from 6,100 in 1960 to about 4,300 today.
“We’ve still got it pretty good in Mt. Pleasant,” said Yancosky, a Democrat. “We’ve got seven or eight good restaurants here. How many of these towns have something like that? But I have to wonder what would happen, how many people would have to go on relief, if they weren’t here.”
Yancoskyis hesitant to talk politics, especially the national drama that is unfolding in Washington, D.C. But he hears a lot about politics when he’s cutting hair.
“Sometimes I have to tell people to tone it down. The people here who backed the president, they might say they don’t like some of the things he does. But they still like him, and they’ll still vote for him,” he said.
Butch and Bonnie Crossland, lifelong Mt. Pleasant residents, said they enjoy the Glass & Ethnic Festival and have a good life. He is 71, is a retired tractor-trailer truck driver who used to haul furniture for Levin’s. She is 67, a retired family therapist. They have been married for 47 years. Both are Republicans.
Butch Crossland said he was a Democrat until Ronald Reagan arrived on the scene. His faith and changing political preferences pushed him to become Republican.
“Trump gets things done,” he said. “He’s lowered taxes. Look at the economy. He’s not your normal politician. He gets things done.”
“I think what they’re doing is going to backfire,” Bonnie Crossland said of the impeachment inquiry.
Stefanie Grimm isn’t so sure. Grimm, 39, a nonparty voter, is a paratransit manager. She schedules trips for older and disabled residents for the county transit authority.
“I voted for Hillary,” Grimm said, sitting on her front porch Friday night, watching the festival unfold on the street outside her home.
“I didn’t have a good feeling about (Trump),” she said. “Some of the people I know who voted for him now are wondering about some of the things he’s done.”
Only time will tell whether that will change the landscape in this patch of Trump country.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .