Joe Biden’s win, which came with the help of Scranton, is bringing new energy to the Electric City.
SCRANTON — The pride was scrawled in bright chalk letters at the bottom of the driveway to President-elect Joe Biden’s childhood home on Washington Avenue on Saturday.
“FROM THIS HOUSE TO THE WHITE HOUSE,” said one bright yellow and blue message. “SCRANTON FOR BIDEN,” said another in red.
When it was clear Biden had won Pennsylvania, crowds gathered in front of the home. US Sen. Bob Casey, another Scranton native, spoke to them. Hours later, people still wandered up Washington Avenue to see where our future president grew up,
In the evening, people continued mingling in the area, taking photos of the house while a police officer leaned on his police truck.
Scranton was writing a little love note to Joe Biden, in response to the love letter his campaign had been to the city.
Throughout the final weeks of the campaign, Biden talked about running for “Scranton’s Main Street”—which is technically Main Avenue—against Donald Trump’s Park Avenue pals. It was a way to make himself look idyllic and highlight the president’s corruption.
The campaign brought the spotlight to the small city of 70,000 people.
That spotlight could lead to economic benefits for the city when the coronavirus pandemic is contained. But for now, it means one thing: pride for a lovelorn city.
Pride Grips the Electric City
For Elizabeth Bohan, who went to the same elementary school as Biden, it’s easy to see Scranton’s values in the president-elect.
“The hard work is the point,” she said about people in the region. “They put their nose to the grindstone and they don’t complain about it.”
And Scrantonians went to work for Biden—from the students at the University of Scranton to the folks who formed Scranton4Biden.
They knocked on doors. They organized fundraisers.
They held a virtual “bloc party” that featured Biden and Ed Helms, who played Andy Bernard on “The Office.” The entire event was a love letter to the Electric City, featuring local musicians and residents, and photos and video clips of different parts of town.
Conor Nealon, a junior at University of Scranton who ended up volunteering for Biden’s campaign, said a lot of students on campus were excited to see that someone from town could go somewhere.
“I know this has been an important election for a lot of people,” he said. “It’s an important thing that there’s this sense of pride that the next president of the United States is from Scranton.”
For Bohan, one of the organizers of Scranton’s Fringe Festival, the pride comes from who Biden is.
“A lot of people had a very difficult four years,” she said, pointing to how Trump’s rhetoric and policy have often hurt people of color, LGBTQ communities, and others. Biden’s victory address, she said, was the opposite.
“You could see it in his speech,” she said. “He said he’s going to be a president for everyone.”
David Romero, owner of Comics on the Green, can envision how Biden’s presidency will help the region. Comics on the Green has been a downtown Scranton mainstay for 28 years. Romero doesn’t think the city will miss this opportunity. He talks about how people who visit the area often comment on how Scranton is nicer than they expect and the residents are kind.
“If [people from outside the area] become aware of us because of him, they’ll see us for that,” he said Tuesday.
A week earlier, Biden returned to his childhood home early on Election Day, visiting campaign volunteers in south Scranton, then visiting the home he grew up in.
Hundreds of people flocked to greet him, cheering him on as he walked up to the home.
At one point, he signed a wall inside his childhood home, “From this house to the White House with the grace of God, Joe Biden 11-3-20.”
We now know that adventure would take a few extra days. But that just meant the city would remain in the spotlight a little longer.
For most of the last 60 years, the spotlight usually meant Scranton has been the butt of jokes.
It’s the punch line in “Home Alone,” when Mrs. McCallister is lost on her way home and shouts, “I have been to Chicago to Paris to Dallas to… where the hell am I?”
It was a punchline on “Saturday Night Live” thanks to Biden’s constant name checks. In a skit about the 2012 vice-presidential debate, Jason Sudekis plays Biden, who is challenged by Paul Ryan to address the city’s 10% unemployment rate.
“Things may be bad where you live,” Sudekis says, “But I guarantee you it is a paradise compared next to the burning coal heap that is Scranton, Pennsylvania. I mean, do you know that show ‘The Walking Dead’? It would make a good tourism ad for Scranton. I mean, if you went to the lowest circle of hell, you’d still be 45 minutes outside of Scranton. I grew up there. I love it. It’s the single worst place on earth.”
Sometimes it’s easy to see why. Prominent politicians repeatedly find themselves in legal trouble. Like the former mayor who pled guilty to public corruption charges, and the former Pennsylvania Attorney General from west Scranton who went to jail for perjury and obstruction of justice. Oh, and the other former Pennsylvania Attorney General, who was born in Scranton, who went to jail for mail fraud. Then there was the recent school district superintendent, accused of putting children in danger.
Then Scranton got to be in on the joke. And it took pride in the laughter.
‘Ain’t No Party Like a Scranton Party‘
For nine years, NBC’s hit sitcom “The Office” was set in the city. Though it was filmed across the country, Scranton still left a mark.
The city’s Chamber of Commerce sent truck loads of Scranton paraphernalia to the sets.
The cast members regularly referenced popular restaurants and bars, like Alfredo’s Pizza Cafe and Andy Gavin’s. Even if a local restaurant wasn’t name-dropped, you might see its menu on a character’s desk.
The city has thrown its arms around the show. Several restaurants and stores sell “The Office” themed merchandise. Many feature a popular phrase from Steve Carrell’s character, Michael Scott, ‘’Ain’t no party like a Scranton party, cause a Scranton party don’t stop!”
A trip downtown regularly includes seeing sightseers taking photos of the Penn Paper building that is featured in “The Office”’s introduction.
Romero said people visiting the city will stop into his store and talk about their impressions.
“We still get a lot of visitors,” he said. “It’s almost always someone saying Scanton is nicer than they expected.”
Even the cast members of “The Office” agree.
When the show came to a close, the city held a party that included all of the cast members. The actors and actresses hung out after “The Office” convention, partying it up with residents.
Ed Helms, who starred as Andy Bernard, took part in the virtual bloc party fundraiser Scranton4Biden set up. “The Hangover” star talked about how the city means something to him.
“There’s just something really picturesque and warm about the city of Scranton,” he said.
“There’s a reason that the show fit so nicely in the city of Scranton. As much as the characters would spin out and go crazy or have altercations and conflicts with each other, there was always this sense of love, a sense of community that undergirded all of it. … I just was blown away by the warmth of this town that embraced us as a cast like we were The Beatles.
“We couldn’t even walk down the street.”
The Campaign Spotlight
Biden is not popular with everyone—not the way “The Office” cast is— but his victory is a boost for morale.
Scranton Chamber President Bob Durkin said his organization has to remain politically agnostic, but he believes it will be good for the city to have someone in Biden’s position who loves the town.
“I suspect it would be pretty similar [to the effect of ‘The Office’],” Durkin said.
Mayor Paige Cognetti glowed about the possibilities after Biden’s visit on Election Day.
“It’s a big day for us here in Scranton to have a hometown kid on the ballot on the edge of potentially becoming president of the United States, so we’re very excited to be here,” she said.
It’s Cognetti and Durkin’s job to sell the city to outsiders, to entice them to move here or open businesses here.
Biden’s presidency makes that easier.
But they, and others, think the city is already an easy sell.
Martin Kearns, who grew up in the same house as Joe Biden years after Biden moved out, brushed back talk that the city could become a destination spot because Biden won the presidency.
“Scranton has always been a destination,” he said. “We have always been proud of the city and our roots. It’s nice to see Joe’s life’s work uplift what we have known to so many others. This is a beautiful place with good people.”