Delco Dems promise ‘sweeping change’ as GOP loses power in Philly suburbs

Democratic Delaware County Councilperson Monica Taylor is sworn into office on January 6, 2020. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Democratic Delaware County Councilperson Monica Taylor is sworn into office on January 6, 2020. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Three Democratic council members took oaths of office in Delaware County on Monday, ending more than a century of GOP leadership.

One by one, they remarked on the historic shift and pledged to increase accountability.

“We’re going to face obstacles trying to change culture in a courthouse that’s been run by one party for generations … but our strength is really the commitment to make sure that government works better for all of the people in Delaware County, regardless of their party, the municipality they live in, or who they know,” said new council member Christine A. Reuther.

Delaware County Councilperson Christine Reuther was elected as a Democrat in the 2019 election, helping to give her party a 5-0 hold on the chamber. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Democrats swept local races in November, changing party control of the county council for the first time since that body was created, and ending GOP dominance in county government that began in the Civil War era and was considered impossible to overcome until only recently.

As part of a ‘blue wave’ in the Philadelphia suburbs, Democrats also won control of the majority of governing seats in Bucks and Chester Counties during the last election cycle.

Now, the entire five-county southeastern Pennsylvania region is controlled by Democrats.

In Delaware County, voters elected Reuther, a tax attorney and former Nether Providence commissioner; Elaine Paul Schaefer, environmental activist and former Radnor Township commissioner; and Dr. Monica Taylor, kinesiology professor and program director at the University of the Sciences and Upper Darby School Board member. They joined incumbent Democrats Brian Zidek, who was selected as chair, and Kevin Madden.

Newly sworn-in Delaware County DA Jack Stollsteimer ran on a prison reform agenda. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Democratic District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer also defeated incumbent Republican Katayoun Copeland in November.

Voter registration began trending Democratic in the county in 2013, a shift that has steadily continued.

In 2019, more Republicans switched registration to the Democratic party in the county than flipped the other way, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Taken together, the new leaders say this adds up to a mandate to reshape both the politics and practice of government.

“You don’t often get the chance to make really, truly sweeping change, and we have that opportunity,” said Schaefer.

Delaware County Councilperson Elaine Paul Schaefer at the swearing-in ceremony on January 6, 2019. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Issues they’ll tackle

At their first meeting, the newly-elected members took small steps towards some of their campaign promises, which included increasing transparency, providing greater oversight of the privately-controlled county jail and ending the political patronage machine they say came with decades of single-party leadership.

“Because our communities in poverty can’t wait, our unemployed can’t wait, and our prison population definitely can’t wait,” said new Vice Chair Taylor, the first African-American woman elected to the county council.

One first: the meeting was broadcast beyond the walls of the county courthouse in Media.

“We’ve made history in a couple of ways today. But one of them is, this is the first county council meeting in Delaware County history to be live fed on Facebook,” said Chair Zidek. Going forward, meetings recordings will also be distributed on YouTube.

Just a year prior, the topic of recording public meetings received pushback from Republican members of the county council, reported the Delaware County Daily Times.

Meeting schedules are also being changed, to make them easier for the public to attend. County council meetings will now be scheduled consistently on the first and third week of every month, and public legislation meetings will now take place in the evenings.

The County Council also appointed member Kevin Madden to the Jail Oversight Board, a body created in October 2019 to replace the County Board of Prison Inspectors.

The Democratic council members campaigned on criminal justice reform. Stollsteimer, the new DA, is one of the founders of the Delaware County Coalition for Prison Reform, the group pushing to end the private management of the county prison.

Delaware County is the only in the state where a private prison company, the GEO Group, operates the local jail. The George W. Hill Correctional Facility has come under fire for the deaths of inmates, including one on Christmas Day.

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