DelCo Times: Stampede of Dems have eyes on County Council seats
Kathleen E. Carey
December 23, 2019
Although the clock has not yet struck midnight and the New Year has yet to turn its page, candidates interested in launching campaigns for Delaware County Council have begun to emerge.
Three council positions are up for election in 2019.
Having served two four-year terms, Council Chairman John McBlain and Vice Chair Colleen Morrone are not eligible to run again due to term limits. The seat of Councilman Michael Culp, who was initially appointed to fulfill the term of state Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26, of Springfield, is also up for contest.
Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed a desire to run for the seats although some are advancing their campaigns more publicly than others at this point.
Delaware County Republican Party Chairman Andrew Reilly declined to name any of the potential candidates, deferring to the party process that still lies ahead.
“There are many Republican candidates now speaking with community leaders gauging the potential support they would receive in 2019 for County Council,” Reilly said. “They will be welcomed to an open and transparent endorsement process.”
He compared it to the Democrats.
“Unlike the mad rush of many of the Democratic candidates attempting to seize on a favorable national environment to grab a government paycheck, Republican leaders are looking for fiscally conservative candidates who are committing to serving the residents of Delaware County – not someone who seeks to have the residents serve them,” Reilly said.
He continued, “The next group of Republican candidates will have a tough act to follow as our present Republican County Council members have held the line on taxes for five consecutive years and even cut taxes this year.”
Colleen Guiney, chair of the Delaware County Democratic Party, said about a dozen candidates have come forward to indicate their interest.
“They’re all people with very different backgrounds,” she said. “The Democratic Party, we’re a very open party. We want to include all voices. We want to make sure everybody is represented.”
Guiney said the Democrats would go through a public process with a nominating convention set for February.
“We have a bottom up process,” she said.
Regarding whether or not there would be a formal party endorsement of any candidates, Guiney explained, “At the convention, the people who are there will vote on what to do.”
She said she was pleased with the individuals who have come forward with their diverse backgrounds and different qualifications.
She added that the Democratic candidates want an efficient and transparent county government that responds to the needs of the community.
“In the model of (Democratic county Councilmen) Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden, we are trying to give the voters the opportunity to weigh in so our county will be accountable to all its residents in a fruitful way,” Guiney said.
She said she was pleased at the strong interest in seeking public office.
“I believe that the voters of Delaware County are now realizing that they can make a difference and are able to make an impact,” Guiney said. “I do believe that all of the electorate is more aware of what is going on.”
Democrats that have expressed interest in running for Delaware County Council include: Larry Arata; Sharon Booker; Brett Burman; Fred Lesher; Anthony Moore; Tinu Moss; Robert Radich; Christine Reuther; Elaine Paul Schaefer; Monica Taylor; and Richard Womack.
Schaefer formally announced her campaign last week.
The executive director of the Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area served as the first female president of the Radnor township commissioners after winning a seat in 2009 that gave the Democrats the majority.
“Back then, the government was single-party rule,” Schaefer said. “They weren’t listening to residents. That’s part of the attraction to running now – it’s a very similar situation. It leads to a government that’s unaccountable. It’s not fair. The residents aren’t getting what they want.”
When she assumed her township role, reforms had to be put into place to curtail the deficit and rebuild trust with residents, Schaefer said.
“We worked hard and put a lot of reform measures in place to make it a more accountable, more efficient government,” she said. “Transition and change is difficult but important and worth it and I’m up to the task of doing it at County Council.”
She said she’d like to see a citizens advisory committee created to assess the county’s finances as well has having all financial documents posted on the county website.
Other issues she’d like addressed include revealing who’s bidding on county contracts and who wins the awards; the for-profit prison; a larger open space program; and a county health department.
“Times have changed here in Delaware County,” Schaefer said. “When I moved in here 20 years ago, I was told by my neighbors, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood but make sure you register Republican.’ The Republican Party had such a stronghold. It’s just not the case anymore – times have changed.”
Nether Providence attorney Christine Reuther is no stranger to running for county council. She ran in 2015.
“We did better than any other Democrats at that time,” she said.
Last year, she was the campaign chair for county Controller Joanne Phillips in her successful run for county row office.
“I doubt there’s anybody out there who’s a better candidate than I am,” she said. “I’m so familiar with the issues. I started the digging in 2015.”
Representing Rutledge, she’s also familiar with the struggle of smaller towns trying to provide services and fix infrastructure.
“The county has an ability to provide resources and support and to lead and to coordinate and to simply make things happen collectively as a leader,” Reuther said. “Small government Republicans have always had an idea that that’s not my job.”
At the county level, Reuther said she’d like to overhaul the hiring practices, noting there are 300 vacant jobs.
“There’s no excess capacity on the employee side,” she said. “These jobs are open. There is no central repository for job positions. Everything runs through who you know at the county. Times have changed.”
Reuther said she also supports the work of Zidek and Madden for ethics changes, as well as their support for an Oversight Committee to oversee the prison rather than the Board of Prison Inspectors.
And, then, she said she also wants the county to get out of the business of making a profit off running a prison.
Rob Radich of Lansdowne runs the Special Needs Advocacy Services LLC and served on Lansdowne Borough Council for six years.
“Our part of the county, the working class suburbs, really aren’t getting the support on the county level that they deserve,” he said.
He said he’d like to see an expansion of services through the Intermediate Unit so people with disabilities can transition into meaningful lives.
In addition, the former banker said he’d like the county to establish a municipal pool of $10 to $20 million for microfinance lending.
Having worked on them for the World Bank, he said the default rate on these is less than 1 percent.
“Why not have the county create a small pool?” Radich asked. “Lend the money out at a reasonable rate so that people can really chase their dreams.”
Sharon Hill borough councilwoman and small business owner Sharon Booker ran as a write-in candidate for the 2015 county council race.
This time, she said, “I’m running because we need change.
“We have a private prison but no public health care,” Booker said. “Some of the communities are thriving really well in Delaware County and others are not thriving real well.”
She said the ports are underutilized and that access to county jobs isn’t what it could be.
“Any qualified person in Delaware County should be able to get those jobs and that’s definitely not the case right now,” Booker said.
She said the bidding process also needs to be overhauled and should include minority contractors.
Booker also was concerned that every community in Delaware County must use their own health inspectors to do a job that a county health department should do.
“If we had an outbreak,” she said, “we’d have to go to Chester, Montgomery or Philadelphia counties.”
Her priority for County Council would be dissecting the finances.
“I would really like to take that budget apart,” she said. “We’d have to do an assessment of everything. It’s going to take time, it’s going to take work.”
Upper Darby School Board member Monica Taylor of the Drexel Hill also has her ideas for county government.
“I think we lag behind as a county in workforce development, economic development and green space preservation,” she said.
Taylor said she believes there are ethical issues that also need to be address and would like to see more contracts going out at the county level.
In addition, the University of Sciences professor said, “I’d like to see more accountability brought to the county prison.”
Through her time on the school board, Taylor said she’d like to see the county become more proactive in workforce development, especially for students who go directly into the workforce. In Upper Darby, that’s about 33 percent of graduating seniors, she explained.
“For me, I’m not a politician,” Taylor said. “I didn’t plan to be a politician. I wanted to help my community and I wanted to help my school district.”