Josh Shapiro

On his first gubernatorial campaign stop in Philadelphia, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro visits Mother Bethel AME Church on Thursday, accompanied by Pastor Mark Kelly Tyler, right. — TRIBUNE PHOTO/ABDUL R. SULAYMAN

Speaking at the historic Mother Bethel AME Church Thursday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro told a group of African-American ministers that serious inequities in health care, education, voter access and the judicial system must be addressed before the state can move forward.

Shapiro, who announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, said he has been working to address some of the inequities as the top law enforcement officer in Pennsylvania, but hopes to play a bigger role if elected governor. Shapiro seeks to succeed Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat who is in his second term and is prohibited from a third term.

“This state has great opportunities and serious challenges,” Shapiro said. ”We have to have an honest conversation about these inequities that exist because if we don’t address them we are not going to be able to realize our full potential.”

For example, following the nationwide George Floyd protests, a police misconduct database was created in Pennsylvania after bipartisan discussions that included the police, activists and other stakeholders, Shapiro said. He said he supports three-year caps on probation and parole.

About half a dozen ministers from Philadelphia-area churches spoke at the gathering. Some voiced support for Shapiro, citing their longtime relationships with him. Others made suggestions and vowed to hold him accountable if he is elected governor.

“We are honored that you have made this your first stop (in Philadelphia) on your campaign,” said Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church and host of the event. “We are praying for you. It is significant … because this ground we are standing on is the oldest piece of land continuously owned by Black people in America.”

Mother Bethel AME Church, at 6th and Lombard streets, was founded by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones in 1787.

Bishop J. Louis Felton, senior pastor of Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ, said, “We are here to stand with Attorney General Shapiro. We believe in separation of church and state. We are separated but not divorced and we have visiting rights.”

So far, no other Democrats have announced they will run for governor. Republicans who have thrown their hats into the Pennsylvania gubernatorial ring include former Congressman Louis Barletta, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District William McSwain and Republican strategist Charles Gerow.

Wolf’s current term ends in January 2023. Pennsylvania will elect a new governor on Nov. 8, 2022. The primary election will take place in May 2022.

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