Rick Saccone and Connor Lamb are engaged in a tight battle for the eighteenth Congressional District. Voters will be hard-pressed not to notice, as plenty of ads have lately been hitting the air waves as well as the internet. President Trump is expected to campaign for Saccone, a Republican candidate, later this week. What students at Saint Vincent may not know, however, is that Saccone was a longtime professor of politics here at the college.
Dr. Gary Quinlivan, dean of the McKenna School of Business and Politics, hired Saccone as a full-time professor in 2006, though Saccone taught international business as an adjunct long before then.
“He worked for us for four or five years, and then he became a state legislator,” Quinlivan said.
But Saccone continued to teach as an adjunct while serving as a representative until a year ago, Quinlivan explained.
Rebecca McCullough, a senior politics and criminology major, took a course on global terrorism from Saccone.
“Dr. Saccone was one of the most influential professors I have had here at SVC and I was grateful for his contributions to the politics department,”
McCullough said. “Dr. Saccone was always enthusiastic and excited to share his knowledge with us and helped to challenge our ideas in a creative way.”
Saccone conducted counter-intelligence operations and investigations for the United States Air Force in Korea and served as a civilian consultant to the US military at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. He drew on that experience in his courses, students said.
Saccone has publicly taken some controversial stances on intelligence gathering, such as expressing support for waterboarding. He didn’t shy away from discussing tough issues in the classroom, explained Braden Lishinsky, a senior politics major.
“Dr. Saccone talked frequently about his experiences and work in Korea and Iraq in class [...] We covered interrogation techniques in class and he made a distinction between real torture and waterboarding. He argued that if trained interrogators apply this method in the correct way, it is not torture,” Lishinsky said.
McCullough noted that he never seemed doctrinaire; he was careful to his separate his work as a representative from his teaching and was always open to students’ opinions.
But both McCullough and Lishinsky said that the Saccone they met in the classroom isn’t too different from the one they see in campaign advertisements.
“I would concur that Dr. Saccone does exude a sort of ‘tough guy’ mentality,” McCullough said. “That being said, Dr. Saccone also displayed a sense of compassion when it was needed as well [...] His door was always open for students to come in.”
Saccone himself feels that his experiences at Saint Vincent have and will continue to serve him well in the political realm, as explained in a statement provided to The Review by his campaign.
“In 2010, from his vantage point as a political science professor at Saint Vincent’s College, Rick became frustrated with the frequently late budgets and fiscal problems of Pennsylvania state government,” the statement read.
“Even though he was living in a district with 76% Democratic voter registration, represented by a 26-year incumbent,” the statement continued, “he decided to challenge the status quo by running for the Pennsylvania House. Rick vowed to run as a voice of the taxpayer, and he and his wife knocked on about 18,000 doors—virtually every door in the district. Nobody thought Rick could win—but he did. Rick is thankful for the opportunities he had to teach at Saint Vincent’s and hopes to inspire younger generations to get involved in politics.”
While McCullough and Lishinsky agree that Saccone was a good professor, they disagree on whether he’s a good candidate.
McCullough doesn’t live in the eighteenth district, but she says she’d vote for Saccone if she could.
“I expect him to win the special election,” she said.
William Culver, a senior history and politics major and president of the College Republicans, expressed support as well.
“I believe that a person of his beliefs, character and reputation would be perfect to represent the people of this district,” Culver said.
Lishinsky suggested that Saccone’s closeness to President Donald Trump might harm his election results, but Culver thinks he should be judged on his own merits.
Quinlivan agreed with the students, saying that Saccone is a man of good character.
“Usually politicians have somewhat of a sleaze factor. He has no sleaze factor. [...] Rock-solid citizen, very intelligent. He has my full support,” he said.
But Lishinsky, though agreeing that Saccone is a good man, can’t bring himself to vote for him. He is excited to see a Saint Vincent professor running in the election, but does not support him as a candidate for Congress.
“We are living in a nation that is currently incredibly divided and the policies of the Trump administration, which Dr. Saccone mirrors, only adds fuel to the fire,” Lishinsky said. We need leaders who will promote policies and attitudes that respect the dignity and equality of all Americans regardless of where they came from, the color of their skin, how they pray, or who they love.”
The special election is on March 13.
Photo: Marc Levy, Associated Press; Keith Srakocica, Associated Press