The contrasts between two of the candidates for Lycoming County commissioner were obvious from the very start of the candidate forum held this week at the Center for Independent Living.

The obvious thing they did have in common was that they were both Democrats. From there, their differences were apparent.

Denitra Moffett is a Black woman in her 30s. She is also a transplant to the county. Moffett is originally from Mississippi, which she readily admitted while referencing her accent. She has a military background, having served as a logistics specialist, where she said she “moved soldiers and equipment all over the U.S. into the Middle East.”

“I oversaw a budget of $20 million, I knew where every single piece of equipment and soldier was at any given moment. So if I know where things are at a given moment, and the safety of my soldiers, I can know where the taxpayer dollars are, and I can be responsible for you, the 113,400 people of Lycoming

County, as well,” she said.

Mark Mussina, the other candidate, is a white male in his early 50s. He is quick to state that he is a native of Lycoming County — with roots, he said, that go back 200 years.

Mussina, a Realtor, described himself as bipartisan claiming people from both parties plan to vote for him.

“I never planned to run for political office, because I can’t stand the animosity between the right and the left. It doesn’t seem to get anything done, and we’ve created such an angry environment,” Mussina said.

“I want to do what’s right for the community. And I want to do what’s right for everyone. Whether you’re red, blue, independent … or for all the people who don’t vote at all, we are still responsible to provide them with infrastructure with jobs, and with the opportunity, all the opportunities that they deserve here,” he said.

The forum, co-sponsored by the Roads to Freedom Center for Independent Living, the Pennsylvania College of Technology and the League of Women Voters of Lycoming County, focused on the candidates views on issues relating to the disability community and people with disabilities related to housing, mental health issues, emergency preparedness, including persons with disabilities in decision making, accessible transportation and education.

Throughout his comments on the issues, Mussina stressed his bi-partisan message, saying that people need to work “cooperatively” to get things done.

In order to provide more Amercians with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant housing, Mussina suggested using former office space which has been empty since the pandemic.

Moffett said that she feels it’s important to meet the people where they’re at to try to get information on what is really going on in a situation and to connect people with the resources.

“Getting with the landlords to actually give them more resources. To let us know what it is they’re seeing on their end. But also for the tenants and meeting with the state,” she said.

“We can be that liaison between our residents here and our state reps to say we need more,” she added.

On mental health, Mussina focused on the issues children are facing, particularly with the proliferation of social media and bullying. Moffett spoke more to the prison setting and how the community needs to be more proactive in treatment of prisoners with mental health issues.

On the topic of accessible transportation for people with disabilities so that they can obtain employment, Moffett wanted to see area bus routes and hours expanded; Mussina argued that there should be better communication between those involved so that each side knows what the other wants.

Throughout the two-hour event, which included two candidates for county judge, the commissioner hopefuls stated their opinions on what they would do to address the needs of the disability community. Their closing statements, like their introductions, brought home why they are the better candidate for the position.

Mussina referred back to his history as a county-born candidate.

“I’m born and raised here. This is my home. I care about my home, and this is why I’m running. I never had any political aspirations. But I want to help, and I think I can help. Because I’m cooperative, I’m willing to work with both sides. I’m the most bipartisan candidate you will find — although, I stand up for what I believe in. I’m not going to waver on what I believe in,” he said.

Mussina added that, rather than the standard questions of “what are you going to do” or “what is the biggest issue,” people should ask candidates how they’re going to work together.

“You want three people in the room who can work together, you want three people in the room who can work with the other community leaders. Because we can come up here with all the prepared questions we have, and ‘what are you going to do about this’ and ‘what are you going to do about that?’ Well, we don’t know what’s coming down the road. So when something comes down the road, do we have the right people in line that’re going to work together and figure it out? Or do we have people in line that just have their own agenda that they’re going to fight for?” Mussina said.

Moffett offered herself as a change from a board of commissioners which typically is composed of older white males.

“I have not had the privilege of being born and raised here. The majority of my last 10 years, my lifestyle was traveling the world for my country. The reason why I will make a great county commissioner is because I’m not a part of the little boys club. I am not bought, I cannot be swayed or any of that. I was not a part of the good ol’ boys club in the military because I stand on my principles, I stand on my morals,” Moffett said.

“I’m used to being the only woman and the only person of color in the room…I can work with anyone. I have no problem saying no. I have no problem getting the mission done. Like my mission statement has been since I announced my candidacy: I am here to serve you, to work for you. This is a job interview. And my mission is to be your voice, to be the best county commissioner I could ever be,” she said.

Commissioner candidates on the Republican ticket were not in attendance. Scott Metzger had a prior commitment. Mark Sortman reached out to the Sun-Gazette and said that he had not been invited to the event.

Moderator for the event was Dr. Craig Miller, a professor at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

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