It’s become increasingly common for elected officials to live in permanent campaign mode and use new technologies to promote themselves. Gov. Josh Shapiro has elevated this to new levels. 

Ironically, an old-fashioned phone book helps tell the story. 

Every year, our state government publishes the Commonwealth Telephone Directory, an actual print (and, yes, online) “phone book” (remember those?) of employees in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. 

Beyond giving names and numbers, the directory provides a peek into priorities of various offices and agencies. 

A comparison of Gov. Shapiro’s office directory with that of former Gov. Wolf in 2022 shows a heightened focus on Shapiro’s public image. 

For example, last year, Wolf had a “Communications and Press” department, with a staff of 13. This included five staff members dedicated to digital media. Shapiro, meanwhile, has made “Digital Strategy” its own department with a staff of seven. This is in addition to his eight-member Communications and Press department. 

The taxpayer-funded digital team clearly hard at work. We’ve seen Shapiro as Barbie’s Ken Doll on Twitter, Shapiro’s staff applying makeup on Tik Tok, and Shapiro ceremonially signing (and re-signing) bills he’s already signed into law. After all, why get one photo when you can get three?

Of course, not every post is reminiscent of a teenage slumber party. Most simply tout Shapiro’s accomplishments—real or imagined. For example, Shapiro is currently taking a “victory lap” on the state budget, even though that budget remains incomplete. And it seems not a day goes by that Shapiro’s team isn’t patting him on the back for I-95.

Beyond the new Digital Strategy department, Gov. Shapiro also has a three-member Public Affairs and Marketing department—which was absent from Gov. Wolf’s office, according to last year’s directory. 

We reached out to Shapiro’s office to ask the mission of this department, the reason for its creation, and how it differs from the press and digital offices. 

In response, Shapiro’s press office said the following: “The Office of Public Affairs and Marketing was created under the Shapiro Administration to serve as a conduit for connecting everyday Pennsylvanians, local and federal government, business leaders, advocacy and nonprofit organizations, and others to state government to listen, address needs, and inform and connect people with the government services. The Office oversees several facets of state government to ensure streamlined and coordinated external communication to Pennsylvania’s vast population, including one on one direct-to-constituent services, local and regional engagement with communities across Pennsylvania, and statewide marketing to increase awareness of Commonwealth services and benefits available to Pennsylvanians.”

Shapiros’ office did not address how this new office differs in activity from the press and digital offices.

It’s no surprise that most politicians care at least a bit about how they’re perceived—whether they admit it or not. But Shapiro’s focus on his image goes beyond the typical. 

Indeed, in 2019 we learned then-Attorney General Shapiro was using his taxpayer funded digital communications director to turn his Wikipedia page “into an exaltation so sugary that a reader complained it was ‘fawning so much it’s creepy.’”

A 2021 Philadelphia magazine profile of Shapiro observed, “The deal Shapiro offers to voters has always been this: I’m working for you, and I’ll get things done — as long as they benefit me as well, on my timeline, in a way that makes me look good.”

As for any progress Shapiro makes, it’s “done with an eye to his image and future success.” And  one Philadelphia political operative described Shapiro as “nakedly focused on his own political advancement.” 

Unfortunately, when it comes to actually getting things done, Gov. Shapiro’s record doesn’t quite live up to his TikTok and Twitter images. 

His first state budget season turned into a state budget stalemate after he reneged on his promise to support school choice scholarships for children in low-performing schools. A month later, Shapiro claimed victory when he signed the state budget—and vetoed the scholarships. But the reality is the budget isn’t done, as Shapiro’s betrayal put the implementation in limbo. 

What’s more, according to an analysis from the Commonwealth Foundation, Shapiro’s first six months as governor “were the least productive [legislatively] of any gubernatorial term in at least 50 years.”

Comparing general legislation as well as budget legislation enacted by the end of July for first-term governors, the analysis found “only fifteen bills reached Shapiro’s desk. This contrasts with an average of 86 bills enacted in the same time frame in the previous twelve terms.”

For a governor who claims to “get stuff done,” it appears little has actually gotten done. 

Generally, fewer new laws is a positive. But when the inaction involves the core responsibility of a state budget, Pennsylvanians suffer. Additionally, Shapiro has been unable to deliver on his campaign pledges of cutting taxes on business and families, reducing regulatory red tape, ending permitting delays, or expanding educational choice for kids. It’s clear, at least so far, that those were just campaign slogans to get elected, rather than promises to “get stuff done.”

Unfortunately, Shapiro seems more focused on his image—whether for re-election, running for higher officer, or other reasons—than delivering on the policy changes that would actually make Pennsylvania more competitive and prosperous.

Pennsylvania families, businesses, and students—and even Shapiro himself—would be better served if the governor were less focused on optics and more focused on results.  

Update: This article has been updated as the response from Shapiro’s office was received after the article’s original publication date.

Gina Pope is the Public Affairs Director at Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania.

6 thoughts on “Gina L. Pope: Josh Shapiro’s Department of Self-Promotion”

  1. When will the Cottman Avenue exit ramp will be reopened? Are they renting the recyclable glass aggregate, or did PA buy it? The hype of “fixing” 95 vs the actual current status reflects that state of society. Standards and definitions lessened and recalibrated to assuage people’s feelings rather than assess cold reality. Rte. 95 was reopened quickly – and Shapiro took the majority of the credit. Rte. 95 is not actually fixed; and the short-term solution to reopen is not “short-term.” Would it have been less costly overall, to be inconvenienced for months, but actually fix it to the prior standard? Who can say? Only far-Left lunatics apparently.

  2. No. And No.

    Complaining because he hired a couple more press people and he is fluffing up his image?

    The guy wants to run for President. We all know it. No surprise.

    He demolished a crippled Republican Party and hasn’t run to the extreme left. People will complain he has because he screwed up the budget – completely fair – but the 95 issue has been handled pretty well considering the economic impact of a closed 95 and the complexity of bureaucracy it entails to fix it.

    There is also a lot of getting the people on the ship before you get it moving in the first year of an administration. Despite that, he has said and done more to make PA business friendly and reduce bureaucracy than Wolf or Corbett did. The obvious PR displays aside, but also the appointments he has made reflect putting PA business growth on solid footing.

    Let’s be fair in the criticism and not jump the shark on the first episode. We all lose credibility when you do that. Wait till season 5. I’m sure we will get there.

    1. Dung Beetle Baby,
      CPR: Cottman Avenue Interchange
      Construction Start: April 2009
      Construction Complete: September 2012

      Section CP1 was the first construction section for Section CPR. This section constructed a new on-ramp from State Road at Longshore Avenue, reconfigured Princeton Avenue and its on-ramps, and widened Cottman Avenue and State Road. Go here for details.

      Construction Start: November 2012
      Construction Complete: Late 2017

      Section CP2 reconstructed I-95 and seven bridges between Bleigh Avenue and Levick Street, along with various other improvements. Go here for details.

      Construction Start: Spring 2022
      Construction Complete: Spring 2024

      Section CP3 is the final construction section for Section CPR. This section is for the construction of a new southbound I-95 on-ramp at Cottman Avenue (Ramp F) and an associated retaining wall. Go here for details.

    2. It is going to cost $298,999,305.00 to fix… after this fire and temporary recyclable glass fill. Wait. No, my mistake. The $299mm was for Section CP1 construction completed in 2012. Mainline reconstruction, plus Section CP2, with surface street improvements in the vicinity of the interchange… which was substantially completed in late 2017. PLUS a third and final contract, Section CP3, which was under construction and almost completed with an installation of new water and sewer mains in the vicinity of the interchange and finish construction of the new on-ramp from Cottman Avenue (Route 73) to I-95 south. So, actually, before the fire, we the PA taxpayers were $300mm in the hole. What a story that was never properly told. Guess what? This temporary “fix” cost us all a lot more than properly fixing it.

  3. SHOCKING! A politician cares about appearance. In other news the sky is blue!

    I love that the evidence for him “stumbling” is an opinion piece from a far right dark money funded think tank with an explicitly stated political agenda.

    I guess after his resounding success fixing i95 and his rising approval ratings, your Derangement Syndrome leads you to attack trivial things like his tiktok account lol

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