RADNOR >> Democrats will raise taxes; Republicans are corrupt. So went the main themes in the first of three debates between two slates of candidates vying for three open Delaware County Council seats this November.
The Nov. 5 General Election contest between Republicans Jim Raith, Mike Morgan and Kelly Colvin and Democrats Christine Reuther, Elaine Paul Schaefer and Monica Taylor will decide whether council remains in the control of the GOP or flips to the Democrats for the first time since the Civil War.
Democrats recorded two historic wins in 2017 to bring Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden onto council. Two of the incumbent Republicans – Chairman John McBlain and Vice Chairman Colleen Morrone – are term limited and cannot run. Republican Michael Culp is not seeking a second term.
The overall tone of Thursday night’s debate hosted by the League of Women Voters of Delaware County was generally tame, with both sets of candidates working more to espouse their own message than to disrupt their opponents.
The most pugilistic of the bunch was easily Colvin, who often asked pointed questions of her Democratic counterparts while answering questions, though Schaefer took her jabs as well.
In countering a question about partisanship for county employment opportunities, for instance, Colvin pivoted to question Taylor, a member of the Upper Darby School Board, about approving a six-figure position for an “unqualified” director of communications.
Taylor responded that the position was a bipartisan decision made by the entire school board, but added that 93 percent of county government employees are registered Republican while only 39 percent of the county is registered the same way, which she deemed a “disconnect” from Delco’s political landscape.
Colvin also drew some boos near the end of the night by indicating the Democrats are “taking advice from groups that harbor pedophiles,” a reference to a release county GOP Chairman Tom McGarrigle recently put out attacking the Delco Commission on Prison Reform for having a convicted child molester on its leadership team. Delco CPR has endorsed the Democrats, as has the Fraternal Order of Police.
Absent from the debate – though not the campaign – was any mention of former president of Radnor Township Board of Commissioners Phil Ahr, who was recently sentenced to serve 151 months in prison for receiving, possessing and distributing child pornography. Schaefer, who served as a Radnor commissioner for eight years, had voted in 2017 not to remove Democrat Ahr as president two days before his arrest, but after a search warrant had already been executed at his home in connection to child pornography.
The round of approximately 20 questions, moderated by LWV member and attorney Tiffany Griffin, explored topics including the sale of the county’s waste water system to Aqua Pennsylvania, the privatized management of the county prison, public transit and open space.
Morgan, chair of the Foundation of the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce and a former executive at Accenture, said his slate had knocked on 10,000 doors in all 49 municipalities and heard one very constant refrain: Taxes.
“For the most part, taxes are the first thing they want to discuss,” he said. “So before this event, we signed a pledge for no tax increase for the next four years if we are elected.”
Colvin, the former associate director of Temple University's Center on Regional Politics, followed that up by saying each if the Democrats had, in their official capacities, raised taxes numerous times prior, which she said would be a good indication of future behaviors.
Schaefer countered that Democrats would not need to raise taxes if elected because they would end wasteful patronage jobs at the county level and reform a system of “no-bid” contracts going to Republican donors, friends and family members.
“Our government has been hijacked by a political party machine that has had absolute power for 160 years,” she said. “It is unaccountable, it is corrupt and it is not transparent – and not fair.”
Reuther pointed to a recent $276 million deal that would see Delcora, the county's wastewater agency, merge with Aqua Pennsylvania, which she said was a “textbook illustration of a back-room deal.”
Raith, a business owner and chairman of the Thornbury supervisors where he has served since 2004, responded that the deal was proposed to stop $1.2 billion in potential sewer rate hikes to customers and pledged that his slate would ensure all proceeds from the merger go into a trust so ratepayers do not see those costs in their sewer bills.
Raith additionally provided likely the most novel answer of the night on a question of animal control, arguing strays should be housed at the county prison in Concord and used to rehabilitate prisoners, who might then adopt them upon completing their sentences.
In a question of whether candidates support having a detention center for immigrants locally, Reuther noted GEO, the private, for-profit company running the prison, has a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and council might not have much say in the matter.
But she noted county council last month unanimously approved creating a county Jail Oversight Board to replace the county Board of Prison Inspectors, which she agreed with and said might provide some leverage in such situations.
In answering a question about lead poisoning, Taylor noted Delaware County is one of the largest counties with no health department, which has long been a point of contention for Democrats. Morgan responded that John’s Hopkins University is currently studying the issue and that he would support the creation of a health department if recommended by those findings.
Morgan also said his slate would look to provide equitable economic development across the county by implementing “pocket parks,” revitalization efforts and streetscapes using block grants.
“Small business development is something we really need to bolster in the county,” he said. “We need to recruit and we need to retain … businesses that we have, as well as have a regional and national marketing plan to pull businesses to Delaware County.”
This first debate was recorded and will be available to view in its entirety online at lwvdelcopa.org.
A second debate is scheduled for Oct. 23 at Maris Grove with Jim Melwert from KYW Radio moderating. Only Maris Grove residents will be admitted to that event.
The final debate will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Springfield Township Building at 50 Powell Road on Oct. 25.