RIDGWAY – Joe Sestak, U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania's 7th congressional district, passed through Elk County yesterday morning and partook in an informal gathering at the American Legion along the 300 block of Main Street in Ridgway.
Serving as a U.S. Representative since 2007, the 2010 Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seat lost a close election to Republican Pat Toomey.
"It's good to just sit with everyone and just have a discussion, because the only reason why I'm here is to say 'thank you' to everyone in the 67 counties," Sestak said. "I went around to every county when I had to make my decision to get in a year and a half ago, and I came through Elk County and all the other counties as well.
"I wanted to end it the way I started it, by going around and seeing all the people."
Just two days shy of Thanksgiving, Sestak sat before a small crowd in the establishment's dining room at 9:30 a.m. and discussed his efforts that included ousting outgoing senior U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, who switched to the Democratic Party in 2009. Sestak trounced Specter by eight percent in the primary election. In the general election, Toomey bested Sestak by a reported 77,000 votes.
"It was a very close race and I'm the captain of the ship, and I'm the one who's accountable for not getting across the goal line," Sestak said. "The fact that we went from four million votes down to about 60,000 shy is a testament to you and the rest of the state.
"I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
While the 7th congressional district covers most of Delaware County and parts of the Philadelphia suburbs, a light turnout in the state's largest city most likely cost Sestak the election. According to multiple published sources, with a statewide vote margin of 77,000 out of 3.9 million, "if just a fraction more Philadelphians voted," the election would have been a tossup.
"Even with the loss, the morning after losing the election, I went to downtown Philadelphia, stood on street corners and just shook hands," Sestak said. "At a time where people are angry and upset, I don't feel we should be.
"The people want to hold politicians accountable and they want to believe, they really do, they just want to believe that someone is really in it for them, not for themselves and that's why I'm going around saying 'thank you.' I'm just sorry I didn't bring home the bacon."
With his immediate future plans undecided, Sestak said he anticipates a continued role in public service.
"I love the Navy, I've always said that if I can't be in the Navy, I'll have to take the next best job; I've just loved it and I've been very fortunate," Sestak said. "I'll figure out something in public service but I just don't know, I haven't figured anything out on that yet."
Looking back on his 18-month adventure that culminated with his nearly winning a U.S. Senate seat, Sestak said he has only two regrets.
"One is that I'm not going to be a part of trying to make things better for you," Sestak said. "I really wanted to, and in different ways. No. 2, my staff, I just had a fantastic staff with me working day and night.
"I'm going to take care of them first, work with them and make sure that they get decent jobs and go off and do their thing."
Sestak initially toured all 67 counties in Pennsylvania prior to his announcing his intention to challenge Specter in the primary election and now closes out his campaign experience by again touring the state.
"Going out like this and being with the people helps ease my mind-- it worked when I was deciding whether or not to get in the race and it will work for me as I decide what to do next," Sestak said. "It will be something involving service in some way."
With the political scales seemingly tipped again as Republicans took the governorship, U.S. Senate seat and a 20-seat GOP majority in the state House, Sestak told followers not to be discouraged.
"I'm sure people are disillusioned and things didn't go quite as planned, but you don't vote one time for change, you fight for change," Sestak said. "You fight, whether it's to start a business or salvage a marriage, whatever it is, you have to work at it. I think people should be pretty positive right now in the Democratic Party because like how close we were, it was just a little fraction and in each county, more or less-- it was just that little bit.
For more information on this story, see the November 24 edition of The Daily Press.