The stage is set. The stakes are high. Now it's time to decide.
On Tuesday voters in Delaware County will go to the polls and cast ballots in a historic non-presidential municipal election that could shuffle the balance of power in the Media Courthouse, possibly ending decades of majority Republican rule.
Voters will select three new members of Delaware County Council, a district attorney and also fill several slots on the county Court of Common Pleas. In addition, citizens will select from a long list of local borough and township positions, races that have a sizable influence on their daily lives.
Beyond the local and county races, voters also will be casting ballots on statewide judicial contests for the Superior and Commonwealth courts.
At the county level, all eyes will be the race for three seats on County Council and the D.A.'s job. The current 3-2 edge for Republicans on council could be overturned with three seats up for grabs. A simple look around shows the intensity of what's at stake with vitriolic ads, pointed accusations and the weekend full of mobilization meetings among the faithful and reach-out efforts by Gov. Tom Wolf himself.
In the balance is the future direction Delaware County will take.
Three seats are open on the county's ruling body as Council Chairman John McBlain and Vice Chairman Colleen Morrone, both Republicans, have served two terms and cannot run for a third. Republican Councilman Michael Culp has decided not to seek re-election. Two years ago, Democratic Councilmen Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden became the first Democrats elected to the board since the Home Rule Charter was passed in the mid-'70s. With an almost 30,000-voter edge in party registration in the county, the Democratic Party has the chance - for the first time since the Civil War - to seize control of county govbernment.
The Democratic candidates include tax and business attorney Christine Reuther, Radnor Conservancy founder Elaine Paul Schaefer, and University of the Sciences professor Monica Taylor. They are opposed by three Republicans, non-profit board chair Mike Morgan, plumbing and heating business owner Jim Raith and special needs advocate Kelly Colvin.
Both sides have thrown their share of mud in a heated campaign, with Democrats pounding away at what they describe as a culture of GOP corruption in county government, and the Republicans' accusation that Democrats will increase taxes and spending.
As the campaigns progressed, so did the rhetoric.
Republicans have criticized Schaefer for an action she took in her capacity as a Radnor township commissioner, when she did not immediately call on Commissioners President Phil Ahr, a fellow Democrat, to step down from that position after he admitted to township police that he possessed child pornography. She did so after Ahr was formally charged. Ahr pleaded guilty to one count each of receiving, possession and distribution of child pornography and was sentenced by a federal judge to 151 months in prison and was required to pay $43,000 in restitution, register under Megan's Law and be on parole for 10 years after his release.
The GOP also has condemned their Democratic opponents for their endorsement by the Delaware County Coalition for Prison Reform, noting that one of its board members is a convicted child molester.
At one of the debates, Reuther categorically denied being painted as "protectors of pedophiles" and said it was part of the GOP's standard effort of fear-mongering. And Democrats pointed to the endorsement they received from Delaware County Lodge No. 27, Fraternal Order of Police for their slate, noting they are comfortable with how Schaefer handled the Ahr matter.
Throughout the campaign, Democrats said Delaware County residents have been paying higher taxes than neighboring counties, dubbing it a "corruption tax," while saying Republicans have distributed millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to their donors and provided full-time benefits for part-time patronage employees. Reuther said taxes in Delco are 81 percent higher than in Montgomery County, 43 percent higher than Chester County and 35 percent higher than Bucks County.
Schaefer said "a perfect illustration of what is wrong with this county" was the $278 million sale of DELCORA, the county's wastewater agency, to Aqua. She lambasted the move, stating it "happened behind closed doors, without any participation, any meaningful participation for our public, nobody knowing what the details are and it was done without bidding it out."
Republicans, on the other hand, stressed their opponents' history of increasing taxes and warned of the consequences of a Democratic majority.
Calling their challengers the "Tax Hike Squad," the GOP said Schaefer increased property taxes by 17 percent; Reuther by 22 percent; and Taylor each year she was in office in each of their respective positions. Reuther was a Nether Providence commissioner and Taylor is an Upper Darby school board member.
Republicans said county residents are concerned about taxes and safety, with Colvin going so far as to note the crime problems in Philadelphia after Democrat Larry Krasner assumed the city district attorney post. "That's not what we want in Delaware County," she said.
That theme was reiterated by her running mate, Morgan, who said, "(Delaware County residents) don't want to become Philadelphia in terms of its policy ... Here in Delaware County, they don't want to become Phelco."
The county's other high-profile race pits two longtime prosecutors in hand-to-hand combat for the job of the county's top law enforcement officer. Incumbent Republican Katayoun Copeland, who was appointed to the post after former Republican D.A. Jack Whelan won a seat on the county bench, is being challenged by Democrat Jack Stollsteimer.
Stollsteimer stepped down from his position as Deputy State Treasurer of Consumer Programs to focus on the campaign. He began his career in the Delaware County District Attorney's Office before moving to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where he worked on gun violence reduction. He is a founding member of the Delaware County Coalition for Prison Reform.
Copeland was appointed to serve as district attorney in January 2018. She previously served as a prosecutor in the office for 19 years before stepping down as deputy district attorney in 2011 to become an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. There, she was a member of the Narcotics and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and initiated the Drug Court Program for non-violent offenders.
Copeland's campaign has accused Stollsteimer of receiving almost $75,000 from liberal billionaire financier George Soros, claiming he wants to push policies similar to those being carried out in by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. Stollsteimer said Copeland is the one with funds from questionable sources, saying some of her campaign ads have been funded by two dark money PACS and that Trump Republicans are pumping almost $500,000 into this race.
The county's Court of Common Pleas also has a contest for four of its seats.
The Republicans nominated Steven K. Gerber of Radnor; George Dawson of Ridley; Wendy B. Roberts of Bethel; and Elizabeth Naughton Beck of Nether Providence. Gerber is a Cozen O'Connor attorney and previously served on the Radnor Township School Board. Dawson is a deputy district attorney and oversees the Anti-Violence and Insurance Fraud units. Roberts has served as magisterial district judge in 32-2-49 covering Bethel, Chadds Ford, Concord and Thornbury for the past five years. Beck has been a trial lawyer for 27 years and is a partner at Swartz Campbell.
The Democrats chose Nusrat Rashid of Chester Township; Stephanie Klein of Wallingford; Kelly Eckel of Upper Providence; and Rick Lowe of Middletown. Rashid has practiced law for 20 years and has a criminal defense and family law practice in Chester. Klein served as magisterial district judge in 32-1-28 covering Media, Nether Providence and Swarthmore from 1995 to 2013. Lowe is a civil attorney who is a former Swarthmore mayor and the first Democrat to be elected to that position. Eckel is a commercial litigation attorney at Duane Morris LLP and narrowly lost a 2017 contest for the bench to Common Pleas Judge Jack Whelan.
There are also races in most school districts and municipalities in Delaware County.
For instance, Democrat Michael Diaz and Republican Elizabeth Cummins are vying for the 3rd ward commissioner seat in Ridley Township. In Springfield, the Democratic slate of Matthew "Westy" Westergaard, Rose Mary Fasciocco, Pasquale Cipolloni and Marie Elaine Turnbull are squaring off against GOP incumbents Ed Kelly, Jeffrey Rudolph and Dan Lanciano and newcomer Suzanne Hoffman for township commissioner positions.
In Upper Darby, Republicans Patrick Spellman and Terry Tracy face Democrats Brian Burke and Michelle Billups for two four-year council-at-large seats. Then, in the 2nd District, Republican Lisa Faraglia and Democrat Matt Silva and in the 4th District, Democrat Marc Manfre and Democrat Danyelle Blackwell compete for their respective council seats.
There's also a mayoral battle where incumbent GOP Mayor Tom Micozzie takes on a challenge from Democratic Council-At-Large member Barbarann Keffer.