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A special election in Delaware County has captured the attention of political onlookers across the Commonwealth.
Voters in Pennsylvania’s 163rd state House district — which spans Aldan, Clifton Heights, Collingdale, and parts of both Darby Township and Upper Darby — will have to fill a vacancy on May 16 to determine the balance of power in the chamber.
For the first time since 2010, Democrats seized control of the state house in November with several crucial victories in the increasingly blue suburbs of Philadelphia.
Democrats clutched onto power in the house through a one-seat margin. However, the party soon lost control of a House seat in Delco. Former Democratic state Rep. Mike Zabel held the seat for four years before resigning in March due to sexual harassment allegations.
With the scale in the state House dead-even, big names and even bigger sums of money are looking to leave their mark on the race between Democratic candidate Heather Boyd and Republican candidate Katie Ford.
Libertarian Alfe Goodwin is also running for the seat. She did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Boyd campaigning on public education funding, maternal health
Boyd, of Upper Darby, previously worked as a teacher, school board director, legislative aide, and most recently district director for U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon. She currently chairs the Upper Darby Democratic Committee.
She said she first jumped into local politics following the Democratic Congressional losses in 2010.
“I met a few people who are working in the Upper Darby Democrats, and I just started to learn about why our property taxes were so high, the disinvestment from the state, and got involved in the basic education funding formula fight and was advocating for that with a number of organizations,” Boyd said.
When Zabel resigned, Boyd said she felt like she had the most experience to step in as someone who understands the different levels of government.
Boyd, 46, said as a mother of four children, her main priority is public education funding.
“We, of course, had an overturn of our public education funding system as it was ruled unconstitutional. And so this is going to be the government that builds the new system. And as someone who will be representing Upper Darby, William Penn and Southeast Delco, I want to be at the table to make those new programs that will be equitable for the kids that have been underfunded for their entire education,” Boyd said.
On top of that, Boyd said one of the biggest issues facing the district is the lack of accessible affordable housing and the Black maternal health crisis.
“I’ve been working through Mary Gay’s office and with Rep. Gina Curry because we’ve had the loss of our hospital. Delaware County Memorial closed because a for-profit entity took our dollars and walked away and left us in a desert for health care. And we have such a maternal mortality problem in the state of Pennsylvania, and it’s hitting Black women the most,” Boyd said.
Ford wants to restore ‘family-centered pride to community,’ improve public education
Ford, of Upper Darby, is a military veteran who currently works as a special instructor for an early intervention program, which helps children with developmental challenges.
She said as a mother and invested community member, she’s always had an interest in helping out her community and the local school district.
“My kids are old enough now that I have a little bit of time to be able to try to do this. I just wanted to keep that community pride going. I love it here. We’ve had a lot of people kind of pick up and move out. And I just want to bring back that family-centered pride in our community,” Ford said.
If elected, Ford said one of her focuses will be securing funding for children and adults with special needs.
“Insurance can be daunting. And getting through the state systems can be daunting. And I have a lot of families who can’t even get basic evaluations because the waitlist is so long for developmental pediatricians. And unfortunately, what happens if you’re on a waitlist and you don’t have a diagnosis, you struggle to get certain therapies. And that’s been something that I’ve seen so many families face,” Ford said.
Ford, 43, also said she wants to see her school district receive its fair share of funding and she would like to see greater investments in public safety.
“We’ve seen changes in our community. We’ve seen changes and rising crime and local crime. Years ago we used to have some really great programs where the police would go into the public schools and we made connections early on so that there was just real community engagement and partnership. And I’d like to try to go back to that,” Ford said, who is married to an Upper Darby police officer.
Abortion is top of mind in Pa. Where do these candidates stand?
Republicans in the General Assembly are proposing a constitutional amendment that would restrict abortion rights in Pennsylvania. The GOP is one seat away from putting the amendment before voters in the form of a referendum.
Boyd said if elected, she would ensure that Gov. Josh Shapiro would maintain veto power and prevent this from happening.
“The thing that’s going to be the upfront, most important issue is protecting women’s right to abortion and reproductive care that has been under attack for years now,” Boyd said. “The Republican state Senate and House last year passed a constitutional amendment that would remove the right of abortion in Pennsylvania. And if they get this seat, they can do that again and then there won’t be a veto on it.”
Ford said attempts to tie her to proposed abortion rights policies from the “dark ages” are an inaccurate representation of her beliefs.
“I have no desire to do that. I know that with a Democratic governor and a Republican Senate, I don’t think anything’s going to change any time soon. But I know that’s been really a huge issue. And I personally am pro-life. But I’m a woman and I’m the mother of a daughter. And I do believe that women should have a say in this issue. And I really feel strongly about the current legislation, but I feel in terms of abortion that there needs to definitely be exceptions and parameters,” Ford said.
Because of Pennsylvania’s closed-primary system, independents usually are not allowed to vote during primary season. However, in the case of special elections like this one, independents are able to participate.
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