Josh Shapiro has been wearing a red string around his right wrist for months, and he is not about to take it off now.
The string was a gift from Shapiro’s daughter, a keepsake she picked up for her dad while visiting the Western Wall during her day school’s eighth grade trip to Israel. Shapiro donned the string the morning of April 26, the day of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary; he went on to defeat district attorneys Stephen Zappala and John Morganelli, winning his party’s nomination for attorney general that evening.
Now, in his contest against the Republican contender, state Sen. John Rafferty Jr., the string stays put, Shapiro said following a small informal gathering with supporters Tuesday morning at Clark Hill, a law firm in downtown Pittsburgh.
Shapiro, 43, who currently serves as chairman of the Board of Commissioners for Montgomery County, is a day school alumnus himself, having attended the former Akiba Hebrew Academy, now the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in the Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Mawr, and is a longtime member of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park.
The Pittsburgh “meet and greet” came on the heels of Monday’s jury verdict finding Pennsylvania’s current attorney general, Democrat Kathleen Kane, guilty on all nine counts in a perjury and obstruction case that was related to a grand jury leak.
Shapiro said he was “sad and offended” by the attorney general’s illegal activity, but he did not believe it would negatively impact his own campaign for the office, holding himself “in clear contrast” to Kane.
“I am serious about public service, and serious about doing the right thing,” he said.
Shapiro explained to the group of about 15 attendees that he began his career in Washington, D.C., following his graduation from college, and attended law school at night while working as chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Joe Hoeffel. But he and his wife — his “high school sweetheart” — wanted to move back home to Pennsylvania, he said, and, in addition to his law practice, at the Philadelphia-based Stradley Ronon, he has devoted himself to public service in the commonwealth.
In 2004, Shapiro ran for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and served there for seven years. His first piece of legislation, he noted, was a bill to authorize the divestment of public pension money from companies doing business in Iran’s oil and natural gas sector.
In 2011, he was elected to the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners; he was the first Democrat to be elected to lead that board in 150 years, he said.
In the race for attorney general, Shapiro is running on a platform of “ethics and integrity” and is quick to contrast himself to Kane.
“We need to restore integrity and justice in Pennsylvania,” he said, laying out specific plans to do so, including the inclusion of “a chief diversity officer” in the attorney general’s office to ensure that the people working to enforce the laws of the commonwealth “look like the people in Pennsylvania who we are sworn to represent.”
Other initiatives on his platform include focusing on the statewide heroin and opioid epidemic and providing social services to help nonviolent addicts — treating addiction as a disease.
“You can’t arrest yourself out of this crisis,” Shapiro said, although he maintained that, if elected, he would come down hard on drug dealers.
Opioid addiction is “the No. 1 killer in Pennsylvania,” he said, adding that more state funds are needed to provide treatment, which in turn will reduce recidivism. He also hopes to work with the medical community to see physicians writing fewer prescriptions for addicting painkillers.
His plan also includes the addition of more drug drop boxes — receptacles that resemble old mailboxes — where people can dispose of old medicine with no questions asked.
Shapiro highlighted the need to protect senior citizens from scams in Pennsylvania, noting that those scams are funneling “hundreds of millions of dollars” away from the commonwealth’s older population.
Shapiro would like to see the office of attorney general become more “outfacing,” more accessible to its citizenry. In his plans is a “robust” Pittsburgh office with a “Main Street feel,” welcoming to constituents who need help.
With 82 days to go until the election, Shapiro said his campaign “is very well positioned for Nov. 8.”
“We came through a very challenging primary, but that put us into a stronger position leading into the fall,” he said. “It made me a better candidate. And it’s shaping up to be a good Democratic year. I like where we stand 82 days out.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.