'Let us do our jobs': York County restaurants rally against Wolf
With only five days until the election, a group of politicians and small restaurant owners gathered at the recently closed Vito's Pizza and Beer to rally against Gov. Tom Wolf and call for the reopening of the hospitality industry.
The Thursday morning news conference headed by House candidate Kacey French and Jim DeLisio, president of the York County Tavern Association, came a week after Wolf vetoed House Bill 2513.
The two-bill package would have loosened indoor dining restrictions and allowed restaurant patrons to sit at bars.
In a veto statement, Wolf said the bill "jeopardizes public health" and would allow restaurants to open at 100% capacity without having to follow guidelines.
Critics fired back Thursday that unlike large grocery chains and other corporate-owned entities where customers are grabbing and touching merchandise, small restaurants are eliminating needless contact.
Republicans in Harrisburg have been critical of Wolf's response to the coronavirus for months.
They've mounted repeated attempts to end his restrictions through legislation and lawsuits. And they've held events similar to Thursday's to blast Wolf's restrictions on the restaurant industry, which has been hit especially hard.
"This industry and its employees have been the tip of the spear since day one of this crisis," DeLisio said. "Each and every day that passes with no relief from our government makes the situation darker and darker for small businesses and taverns."
Citing statistics provided by the state for Oct. 16 to Oct. 22, DeLisio said only 2.1% of the 2,841 who tested positive for the coronavirus in that week and answered the contact tracing survey said they visited a bar within 14 days of the onset of symptoms.
Approximately 6,913 individuals who tested positive during that time span did not answer contact tracing questions.
Of those who did provide answers, about 16%, or 484 individuals, reported they had visited a business. Fifty-five percent of those 484 people reported going to a restaurant, and 13% said they had been to a bar, according to state figures.
"We believe that if the state genuinely wants to contain the current surge, they should follow the data that they're putting out," DeLisio said. "Let us do our jobs."
Industry advocates during Thursday's event also slammed Wolf's $20 million relief plan, which would waive liquor license fees in 2021 for over 16,000 restaurants, bars, clubs, caterers and hotels.
The plan was approved by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board on Wednesday morning.
DeLisio said the liquor fee would amount to roughly $1,000 to $1,500, which is "not even a day's business."
French, who is running against state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, in the 95th District, criticized her opponent, who voted against overriding the veto of House Bill 2513.
"She promised and told the restaurant owners and the small business owners that she would side with them, because she felt it was important to get all of these businesses open, and that she would not once again fall into party lines," French said.
On Thursday, Hill-Evans told The York Dispatch that while she initially voted for the bill in September, she later voted against overriding Wolf's veto after monitoring COVID-19 statistics and noticing upticks in other parts of the state traced back to restaurants and bars.
"That's not unusual; that just shows that upon further examination of the bill, you have concluded that you can no longer support it," Hill-Evans said. "For those who say my changing my vote caused all of this is ludicrous and an outright lie."
The House needed 135 votes to overturn Wolf's veto and was short by two.
Hill-Evans added that while she's "eternally sorry" for the hospitality industry, it's unfair to be "vilifying people who changed their minds."
Moving forward, Hill-Evans said she's had meetings with several restaurants and the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association to figure out the best course of action.
"Do I agree with everything the governor has done? I do not," Hill-Evans said. "I will always work to put the safety of the public first."
— Reach Tina Locurto at email@example.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.