Before you see Ken Lawrence running for office, you will spot him at the Norristown Farm Park, Schuylkill River Trail or a local 5K.
In January, the judges of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas appointed Lawrence to fill the Montgomery County commissioner’s seat left vacant by Josh Shapiro, who left to become Pennsylvania’ attorney general. Lawrence, a Temple University alum who returned to the nest to hold the post of vice president of alumni relations and senior vice president for government, community and public affairs, flew the beloved confines of North Philadelphia to serve in Montgomery County.
What drives Lawrence to run – in the feet pounding the pavement sense – and serve in politics is a longtime passion. Lawrence started running cross-country in high school. At Montgomery County Community College he became enthralled with his government classes then went on to major in Political Science at Temple.
In 2019, he plans to seek the endorsement of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee and run with Val Arkoosh, chairwoman of the board of commissioners, for a four-year term.
Q >> You make no secret about your love for cherry and white. What about it left its impression on you?
A >> It’s where you can trace the whole path of my career. I had a professor who encouraged me to do internships, and it’s where it all started. The poli-sci department is very special to me. I’m a sports fan too and we had some pretty good basketball teams. It’s everything about Temple. There are 20,000 Temple alums who live in Montco, so I really think it is this region’s university. We have a different grit and attitude.
Q >> Why did you leave?
A >> I wanted to serve. I’ve always known I wanted to serve but didn’t know what it was going to look like. Even before the (2016 presidential) election, I wanted to get back to my political roots. When the opportunity presented itself to be in this role I felt it was a great combination of a lot of different things that I’ve done.
Q >> After the election, did it enhance your desire to serve?
A >> Absolutely. People need to step up. I think there are a lot of people who can do well in government but don’t take the opportunity to do that because they pursue other careers. When I had the opportunity to discuss this vacancy I felt I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t take the opportunity to do so.
Q >> You are the first African-American to hold this position. There was an African-American president before there was a Montco commissioner. That fact can’t escape you.
A >> It did escape me. I’ve lived in Montgomery County and followed Montgomery County. It never occurred to me until it happened and I read it in the newspaper. It didn’t cross my mind at all. My parents raised me to do whatever I wanted to do. I’ve tried to raise my children the same way. I just want to be a great commissioner not a great African-American commissioner.
Q >> What have your first few months been like?
A >> Learning the county. Seeing how large and diverse the county really is. Montco is the number one manufacturing county in commonwealth. We have rural and urban areas. Getting to parts of the county that weren’t a normal part of my journey.
County government is lean. I don’t know what my perception was beforehand but when you talk about a bloated government it’s not county government. One of the things I’ve really come to appreciate is how hard the county employees work while not getting paid what they would in the private sector.
Q >> What do you want to do in your time as commissioner?
A >> I want to make sure county government continues to operate efficiently and is cost-effective. We have 130 bridges here and many were deficient when Shapiro/Richards were elected in 2011. We have come a long way in catching up, but there is still work to do. Our transportation and infrastructure is huge. It’s one of the fundamental things that make Montco a great place to live and work.
Q >> What have the citizens of Montgomery County said when they see you?
A >> People have been very congratulatory and thanked me for stepping up to serve. Everyone is concerned about their taxes. They want their taxes to be as low as possible. I like when I talk to someone who have been helped by our Office of Children and Youth or Office of Aging & Adult Services and they are appreciative of what the county has done.
They talk to me about bridges. Especially when people have to change their commute or can’t get to where they are going in the most direct fashion.
Q >> Do you feel pressure to replace – or fill the shoes of – Josh Shapiro?
A >> Josh Shapiro is a great friend of mine. He is a man and a public servant I admire. I am not going to try to out Shapiro Josh Shapiro because that won’t work. I share his commitment to ethics and integrity in government and that government should operate efficiently for the people and be fiscally responsible. I’m my own person, but a lot of the values we share.
Q >> Your office is in Norristown and you are in the county seat. Over the summer you went to prayer vigils for victims of shootings and violence. What are your hopes for Norristown?
A >> The Lafayette Street project is going to be crucial for Norristown. It’s going to be game changer. Our county campus plan to redevelop will help. I see a lot of potential in Norristown. It’s just getting it together and getting everyone on the same page to do it. We have the Norristown Transportation Center here. I think Norristown has all the ingredients, it’s about getting the right spark.
Q >> What do you hope your two teenage sons learn from you?
A >>Be who you are. Be comfortable in your own skin. Treat other people as you would like them to treat you. Don’t be afraid to take a risk.
Ken Lawrence's Favorites
Sports team >> Temple Owls
Pro Athlete >> Michael Jack Schmidt
Artist >> Prince
Meal >> Steak
Vacation spot >> Jersey Shore
Moment in Temple sports history >> Temple football beating Penn State
Movie >> “The Godfather”
Philly food >>Hoagie with sweet peppers