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Scranton celebrates an ‘uplifting story’ as its own Joe Biden wins White House

Julia Terruso
Philadelphia Inquirer

Scranton, Pa. – As Joe Biden, son of Scranton, became president-elect, residents of Washington Avenue gathered for selfies and honked horns in celebration outside of the modest gray Colonial down the block where it all started for him.

The tree-lined street in the Greenfield neighborhood, where Biden was born and lived until age 9, is a quintessential middle-class neighborhood that provided a central theme for his presidential battle.

Scranton vs. Park Avenue, Biden called the race. And here, in the state’s sixth-largest city, which voted overwhelmingly for him, Scranton is claiming victory, too. Residents, neighbors, and friends say Biden won a no-nonsense state in part because of his home-grown empathy and authenticity.

“It’s an affirmative, uplifting story for a lot of Americans but I think in a very special way for people in Northeast Pennsylvania and Scranton,” said Sen. Bob Casey, himself a native of the city.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event in Scranton, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

The city showed up for Biden. He won Lackawanna County by 10,000 votes, a 6,000-vote increase over Hillary Clinton four years ago. More than half of his votes came from the city, where he won every single precinct.

While the eyes of the nation were on Philadelphia in the final hours of the vote count, small towns and midsized cities like Scranton, are a key part of Biden’s victory. Biden succeeded in connecting with just enough working-class people in places like Northeast Pennsylvania by using his middle-class upbringing as a way to push back on President Donald Trump’s claims of being an everyman.

Outside his childhood home Saturday as the news of his election spread, a steady stream of people poured out of nearby residences. They danced as cars honked in celebration, driving up and down the block.

“I’m ecstatic!” said Danna Biello, a student at Marywood College, who voted in her first election. “I just think it shows with how divided the state is, Pennsylvania still knows how to love.”

Visiting Scranton last year Biden introduced himself as “the proud son of Jean Finnegan,” and reminisced fondly about “walking the pipes across the Lackee” (the Lackawanna River). He didn’t just reference his blue-collar roots he made them the banner for his entire campaign.

“He ran as Joe from Scranton and I think it worked for a reason,” said Lori Grady, whose mother-in-law Marge Grady has lived across the street since Biden was a little kid riding his bike in her driveway. “People are very hard working around here and I think that’s what he was trying to push – that he has good values because of where he came from and Scranton was a big part of that.”

“Anyone who knows Joe Biden knows his heart is full of gratitude for the fact that he grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania,” Casey said. “It’s not contrived, it’s not a sentiment of recent vintage. It’s what he’s been saying for years. Messaging is most effective when it’s both authentic and strategic,” Casey said.

Trump – and most of his supporters – scoffed at Biden’s claims to the Electric City, given he spent only a faction of his 77 years here. But Biden has returned consistently over the years, visiting summers as a youth, on his way to Syracuse Law School and later in life, to stay connected to friends and local politicians.

Even the moment Biden had to leave Scranton became an oft-told story of American perseverance on the campaign trail. His father came home one night and walked up the steps to tell his family he’d lost his job and that they’d have to move to Wilmington, Delaware, for another opportunity.

“The measure of success is not whether you get knocked down but whether you get back up,” Biden said at a Scranton rally in October.

On Friday, as it became more clear he would become president-elect, neighbors on his old block shared stories of the times he’d come to town and the places he always visits.

“It’s not even so much that he’s from here – I think he’s just a wonderful representative of the values that we have in this area and in so many towns that are like Scranton,” said Helen Giannetta, 68, a retired school teacher. “Honesty, decency, empathy, integrity.”

Scrantononians are used to being wooed by politicians eager to show off their working-class cred. While the city has struggled financially since coal mining left the region, it’s also become a symbol of a particular slice of the electorate: moderate, working-class Americans in a town that keeps having to reinvent itself.

“We were known for coal and then we transferred to manufacturing and then we were known for garment manufacturing and now we’re transitioning to meds and eds,” said Virginia McGregor, a Biden backer and fundraiser in Scranton. “Like Joe Biden I think we have staying power. It hasn’t been easy for us but we don’t give up.”

McGregor also lives on North Washington Avenue, where Biden grew up. That block is also where Casey grew up and where his father, a former governor of Pennsylvania was born. It could now lay claim to a governor, a senator and a president.

“Northeast Pennsylvania makes a lot of lists,” McGregor added. “This is a good list to be on as the birthplace and former home of the president of the United States. I think it makes us walk a little taller, with a little more steam in our step. He makes us feel better about ourselves.”

On Election Day, word spread around the neighborhood that Biden was coming to visit the old homestead and to chat with Anne Kearny who purchased it from his family in 1962. He visits Kearny nearly every time he’s in town.

About 100 neighbors lined up to see his motorcade roll in, among them nuns from the order who had taught him as a boy, young families and Marge Grady, 95, who still lives across the street. When Biden arrived his eyes lit up as he pointed at Grady.

“I couldn’t believe he came here on Election Day,” Grady said later. “He knew we’d be behind him,” she said of the neighborhood.

Biden took his granddaughters inside for a tour. He signed a spot on the wall: “From this house to the White House, by the grace of God.”

Before he left, a reporter asked what he was thinking about on a day he could be elected president of the United States, as he stood on the lawn of his old home.

“My mom,” he said.