Wednesday night was Jamaican night at Maris Grove, a retirement community in Delaware County that is home to nearly 2,000 seniors.
But with the hotly contested race for Delaware County Council less than two weeks away, there was more than jerk chicken on the menu.
In the theater at the community clubhouse, Democratic and Republican candidates for County Council squared off, making their case for keeping the council in Republican hands, as it has been for more than a century, or for handing the reins to the Democrats.
Democrats said they would bring change to a county Republicans have mismanaged.
“Our government in this county has been run unchecked under single-party rule for 150 years,” said Elaine Schaefer, a Democratic candidate from Newtown Square. “We need change, and we need leaders who can see that change through.”
Republicans countered that Democrats would raise taxes and emphasized that they had signed a pledge not to.
“If the three of us are elected, taxpayers can rest assured that their taxes will not go up in the next four years,” said Mike Morgan, a Republican candidate from Newtown Township.
Taxes figured prominently in the debate, with Democrats also pledging they would not raise them.
“Tax money has been so poorly managed and misspent under this Republican rule,” Schaefer said. “When you start to get into it and find the money, you realize the mismanagement is costing us money and that’s why we pay more in taxes and get less in services.”
The issue resonated with many in the audience, most of whom are living on fixed incomes.
“It’s a big concern for everybody here,” said Claudette Broussard, who has lived at the Glen Mills community for almost four years.
But Broussard, who is a registered Republican, does not want the County Council to swing Democratic.
“When it does go that way, they always raise taxes,” she said.
The three open seats on the council are currently held by Republicans — two of them are ineligible to run again because of term limits, and the third decided not to run.
The two other seats on the five-member council are held by Democrats Kevin Madden and Brian Zidek, who won the posts in 2017, the first inkling of a shifting tide in Delaware County politics. Madden and Zidek have two years left on their terms.
Joan Spiegelman, who has lived in Maris Grove for seven years and is a registered Democrat, welcomes the change in the political winds.
“I would like to see Delaware County turn blue, I’ll be honest,” she said. “I think it will be more responsible government and more transparency and better communication between residents and council.”
Transparency was another hot button issue, with Schaeffer and fellow Democratic candidates Monica Taylor and Christine Reuther calling for an end to “sweetheart deals” and patronage.
“[Delaware County] was always a place where you had to know a guy to get something done,” said Reuther, a tax and business attorney from Havertown. “We’re running to change that.”
Morgan argued that he and his fellow Republicans, Kelly Colvin and James Raith, are not cut from the same cloth as Delaware County Republicans of yore.
“We’re three fresh faces with new and fresh ideas,” he said, “and we’re going to come in and take a hard look at county government and do better.”
Joan Dehm, a two-year resident of Maris Grove who has lived in the county for more than 40 years, agreed the county government was overdue for a shakeup.
“Time to freshen it up,” she said. “I think that both sides are really bringing fresh faces, and fresh ideas and ways of doing things, which is always good.”
Dehm spent many years registered as a Republican, but she said she recently registered as an independent because she wanted to vote for whatever party interested her, depending on the election and level of government.
As a former resident of Thornbury Township, where Raith is the chairman of the township’s Board of Supervisors, she said she liked Raith’s position on many issues but also thought all of the County Council candidates made a good case for their views.
“It was good for an overall view of what everybody is standing for,” Dehm said.
In addition to taxes and transparency, the debate covered other well-trodden ground, including preserving open space and creating a health department, which Delaware County does not have.
“I was especially interested to hear that there was no department of health, which as a physician I think is an incredibly important issue that needs to be addressed,” said Roger Krause, a registered Democrat who moved to Maris Grove from Lower Merion Township two years ago.
Democratic candidate Taylor has made forming a health department a top priority. Republican candidate Colvin said her party is waiting on a study from Johns Hopkins University to see whether creating a department is recommended.
A third and final debate is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 25, at the Springfield Township building.