ERIE, Pa. - Consider it home-field advantage for Erie attorney Ron DiNicola. The Democrat, one of three candidates vying for the party's nomination in Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional District race, is counting on his decades of experience in the community to restore the region's manufacturing history with the jobs of tomorrow.

"We're not going to be able to rely on the jobs of yesteryear," said DiNicola, 61, ahead of Thursday's primary election debate at the Jefferson Educational Society. "But there are going to be jobs coming our way and we need to make sure we have a workforce that is ready to hit the ground running and be prepared to handle those jobs."

A large part of that growing economy is health care, now nearly 18 percent of the United State economy, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. It's a field Dr. Robert Multari knows well. Multari has practice internal and family medicine for more than 40 years. His goal: to fix the Affordable Care Act, and implement what he calls a "Sensible Care Act."

"We'll be getting rid of deductibles, we'll be getting rid of co-pays, and you won't have to pay for your prescriptions anymore," said Multari of his plan. "We'll also be getting rid of prior authorizations."

Cranberry Twp. attorney Chris Rieger is the only candidate of the three who fully supports a single-payer health care plan. Multari is against it; DiNicola isn't sold on the idea yet.

"We are the only campaign that has advocated for a switch to Medicare-for-All in the United States," said Rieger, 33. "It's a cost-saving mechanism, but it's also a moral imperative as a way to insure everybody."

Perhaps the biggest difference between the three candidates came on military spending. Rieger said the federal government spends too much money; DiNicola said the money is not spent in the correct ways; and Multari actually said they don't spend enough.

On the issues

The hour-long debate was moderated by Ben Speggen from the Erie Reader and the Jefferson Educational Society, and Caitlin Handerhan of Penn State Behrend's Public Policy Fund. The two offered several questions during a pair of lightning rounds that proved to separate the candidates on key issues.

Sanctuary cities and withholding federal funding

Multari said he is against sanctuary cities, which is a municipality that only partially adheres to federal immigration regulations. He would support withholding federal funding to those communities until they comply; DiNicola said he is undecided on the issue while Rieger appeared to support sanctuary cities, but said they exist because local municipalities don't have the resources to fight illegal immigration to the extent necessary.


Multari is the only one of the candidates who said they are pro-life; DiNicola and Rieger identify as pro-choice.

Free public college

DiNicola, a long-time proponent of a community college in Erie County and expanded Pre-K education, said he wants the country to work toward free public college. However, he's not sure it's feasible at this time. Multari and Rieger would support it.

Taxes, Marijuana legalization and LGBT citizens in the military

All three candidates agreed they would consider generating new sources of revenue, but only DiNicola said he would oppose a tax increase for this region. They unanimously agreed marijuana should be legalized for recreational use; and they agreed that Americans who identify as a member of the LGBTQIA community should be allowed to serve in the military.

UPDATE: The online version of this story was corrected on May 7 to reflect DiNicola's stance on tax increases.