Delco Council candidates debate for first time in testy race

Democrat and Republican candidates for Delaware County Council spar during a debate at Villanova University on Thursday, October 10, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Democrat and Republican candidates for Delaware County Council spar during a debate at Villanova University on Thursday, October 10, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

The six candidates for Delaware County Council made their cases on Thursday night for why they should lead the suburban county.

The League of Women Voters of Delaware County hosted Republicans Jim Raith, Mike Morgan and Kelly Colvin and Democrats Christine Reuther, Elaine Paul Schaefer and Monica Taylor at Villanova University.

The audience listens to responses from candidates for Delaware County Council during a debate at Villanova University on Thursday, October 10, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

It was a relatively tame debate with policy discussion taking precedence over verbal sparring.

From the opening statements, it was clear that the three Democrats feel like they have a good chance to flip the county blue for the first time in more than 150 years.

Christine Reuther, Democratic candidate for Delaware County Council, responds to a question during a debate at Villanova University on Thursday, October 10, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

In her opening statement, Christine Reuther said called out the Republican’s lock on county government that has defined the area since the Civil War.

“I think that the Delco machine that’s run this for generations has held us back. It’s always been a place where to get something done, to move forward in business, you had to know a guy,” Reuther said. “Well, we’re not guys, and we’re running to change that.”

Republican Kelly Colvin refuted that point by mentioning that Democrats have proven in their current elected positions that they take the county down the wrong road.

Kelly Colvin, Republican candidate for Delaware County Council, shakes hands with opponents from the Democratic party following a debate at Villanova University on Thursday, October 10, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

“A good indicator of someone’s future behavior is to look at their past behaviors. All three of our opponents have been, or are, elected officials. All three of our opponents have raised taxes tremendously in those roles,” Colvin said. “Specifically, Christine Reuther was the Commissioner for Nether Providence. She raised taxes three out of her four years by 22%.”

One of the more contentious topics during the debate no-bid county contracts. Democrats criticized the planned sale of DELCORA, the county wastewater authority, to privately-owned Aqua Pennsylvania.

Mike Morgan, Republican candidate for Delaware County Council, responds to a question during a debate at Villanova University on Thursday, October 10, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Republican Mike Morgan says if elected, he will provide more transparency for county contracts in Delco.

“We think a lot better can be done, competitive bids are good for everybody,” he said. “We’re trying to bring costs down, so we do think it needs to be looked at carefully. It takes more time and effort to do so.”

Elaine Schaefer, Democratic candidate for Delaware County Council, responds to a question during a debate at Villanova University on Thursday, October 10, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Democrat Elaine Paul Schaefer does not believe Republicans want to eliminate no-bid contracts, and cited the DELCORA sale as evidence of this.

“I’d like to point out that the Republican slate had the opportunity to show that they really believed in transparency when the DELCORA deal was put forward,” she said. “That deal was done behind closed doors without bidding and this slate fully supported it.”

Monica Taylor, Democratic candidate for Delaware County Council, responds to a question during a debate at Villanova University on Thursday, October 10, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Colvin sparred with Democrat Monica Taylor on more than one occasion. At one point, Colvin questioned why Taylor, a member of the Upper Darby School Board, approved someone for a six-figure position to be director of communications, even though Colvin considers the person unfit for the job.

Taylor responded that the position was a bipartisan decision made by the school board. She countered that 90% of Delco government employees are Republicans, so she doesn’t think the existing county council is running things in a bipartisan manner.

The candidates discussed bringing more public transit to the county, questioning whether the county’s jail should remain privatized, how to preserve and manage the crowded county’s remaining open space, and even what to do about stray animals.

Republican Jim Raith suggested the county handle its stray dog problem by housing them at the county prison to use for rehabilitation purposes for inmates who might even adopt the dogs after completing their sentences.

James Raith, Republican candidate for Delaware County Council, responds to a question during a debate at Villanova University on Thursday, October 10, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Republican Mike Morgan said that the most common issue he heard while knocking on doors in all 49 Delco municipalities was keeping taxes low.

“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.”

Monica Taylor noted Delaware County is one of the largest counties in the country without a health department. Morgan responded that he would create one if an ongoing study by Johns Hopkins recommended he do so.

The second of three debates is scheduled for October 23rd at Maris Grove. The final debate will occur at the Springfield Township Building on October 25th.

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