Editor’s note: This letter is in response to an online article published by Politico Magazine: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/08/donald-trump-johnstown-pennsylvania-supporters-215800.
How did Donald Trump get elected?
Rather than ask the question, a recent piece in Politico seems to be looking for someone to blame.
For the sake of a one-year look back at the Trump win in middle America, the reporter, Michael Kruse, came to Johnstown with a storyline in mind about Trump, and unfortunately left out the piece about how we’re rebuilding regardless of who occupies the White House.
Kruse ultimately (unwittingly) makes a point that those of us who have been raised in Johnstown already know: that our world is what we make it.
The vast majority of our community is working to make it a better place and some were given the opportunity to discuss those experiences.
It’s too bad, but not surprising, that Kruse instead focused on specific comments by a few people who fit the narrative he created before arriving in Johnstown.
While the article clearly represents a viewpoint from the past, it fails to articulate the future or the significant effort underway to change the narrative about our community.
Those who have contributed to this letter acknowledge that there is much work to be done in the revitalization of our city.
But the (Politico) article completely misses the fact that this work is already happening.
Many of us choose Johnstown as our home thanks to the roots planted by the coal miners and steelworkers who raised us, but many more moved here by choice for careers, education or outdoor recreation.
The portrait a Politico article painted of our city has triggered widespread reaction nationally and locally.
As is the case with other rust-belt regions, some people left, many stayed and more are coming here, again.
Today, we have a more vibrant community thanks to new residents who are participating in our renaissance, even as it takes time to cultivate.
While we embrace and have pride in our rich history, we are a focus-forward community in the midst of reshaping our region.
No one will rescue us but us.
We have a lot to be grateful for, but even more to look forward to.
The focus of those of us who are working to overcome our challenges is on what can be instead of what used to be.
Johnstown does have a plan for the future, and the Politico story didn’t mention any of it.
We understand that Kruse sailed through town as part of a follow-up story with those same voters he spoke to for earlier pieces.
We wish the writer would have taken the time to get the context of the entire community.
Simply put, Johnstown was just the convenient backdrop Politico needed to validate its storyline.
A national reporter comes to the Johnstown area to ask if people who voted for Donald Trump still support the president. We respond by taking the reporter on a tour of Johnstown’s blight-riddled streets, describing in detail our ignorance about important issues and topping it off with a few racial slurs.
Unfortunately, for readers outside of our region, this story created a picture of a community that does not reflect who we are and what we believe.
So, technically, while it made for an interesting read, Kruse got it wrong.
You could insert the name of any town that is recovering from the loss of coal and steel.
While the story served the purpose of a Trump retrospective one year later, it does not represent the progress and accomplishments of our area.
Those who live in Johnstown know that we’re better than this.
However, it casts a shadow on the possibilities and opportunities for people and companies to move here, and that’s unfortunate.
Instead of seeking any apology or feeling badly about how Johnstown was characterized in this story, we see this spotlight as an opportunity to raise attention for some positive and promising initiatives in our town.
Vision2025 is probably the best example.
It is an action plan that Carnegie Mellon University developed specifically for Johnstown, where over the past two years thousands of local residents have joined dozens of grassroots teams to build trails, open an entrepreneurial incubator, create public art installations, develop job training workshops and more.
This is not to mention an active Unity Coalition, which is promoting efforts toward diversity education, renewed business development and visitors to the city’s Central Park area, and a collaborative and growing cultural arts district.
It’s too bad that we did not have the opportunity to discuss the challenges of reinventing a region that has character, talent, drive and grit.
We are open to acknowledging and confronting our issues head-on, including the depiction of racism and bigotry by a few who do not represent our town.
Outside of those few, our community members gasped when they read this story called “Letter from Pennsylvania.”
We’re investing in building out a diverse economy and culture, and while we’d like everyone to know this: One family’s view of the world in no way represents the real effort that is afoot here. As Kruse did point out, Johnstown is a resilient community.
We don’t deny the images and opinions that he gathered in his brief time here. But, for example, Kruse decided to highlight two closed diners, without bothering to point out that just a couple of blocks down the street a brew pub and another restaurant are renovating and in the process of opening.
He didn’t share that the “leftover heap of slag” that he referenced is part of an active commercial re-mining operation that is removing ferro manganese and other metals, and in the process restoring hundreds of acres of land.
And he wasn’t here long enough to speak to the two African-Americans just voted onto our City Council, one of whom garnered the largest share of votes in a city that has a large majority of white voters.
As if being irresponsible was not enough, the article’s closing is truly reprehensible. The author carelessly punctuates his piece with base inflammatory remarks that are represented as all-encompassing but are profoundly and deeply insulting to our community.
We assume that the reporter reached his goal for this story, but in the process, painted an erroneous picture of a great region of our country that continues to have high hopes for our future and for more people and business to migrate here to enjoy the benefits of a town on a turnaround.
Frank Janakovic, Mayor, City of Johnstown
Alan Cashaw, NAACP, Johnstown
Rachel Allen, Christine Dahlin, Ph.D., Unity Coalition
Melissa Radovanic, Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership
Allen Higbee, Young Professionals of the Alleghenies
Mike Kane, Community Foundation for the Alleghenies
Melissa Komar, Johnstown Redevelopment Authority
Tom Chernisky, William Smith, Mark Wissinger, Cambria County Commissioners
Linda Thomson, Johnstown Area Regional Industries
Mike Artim, Cambria Regional Chamber of Commerce
Wally Burlack, Ryan Kieta, Vision2025