Primary sets up political showdown in Delaware County

Candidates for Delaware County Council include (top row from left) Republicans Michael Morgan, Kelly Colvin and James Raith, and Democrats (bottom row from left) Monica Taylor, Elaine Schaffer and Christine Reuther. (Photos provided by Delco Dems and Delaware County GOP)

Candidates for Delaware County Council include (top row from left) Republicans Michael Morgan, Kelly Colvin and James Raith, and Democrats (bottom row from left) Monica Taylor, Elaine Schaffer and Christine Reuther. (Photos provided by Delco Dems and Delaware County GOP)

Last Tuesday’s quiet primary election in Delaware County set the stage for a winner-take-all battle for control of county government in the November election.

Republicans have controlled the county since the Civil War, and Democrats say its rule for decades has been based on rewarding supporters with public jobs and contracts.

Republicans deny that, but it’s beyond dispute that Democrats have made gains in the county in recent years as more Philadelphians have moved into the suburbs and political views have shifted.

Two years ago, Democrats won two seats on the five-member county council, the first they’ve ever won. The remaining three seats, now held by Republicans, are on the ballot this year, and GOP leaders acknowledge they’re in for a fight.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” said County Republican chairman Thomas McGarrigle in a phone interview. “We’ll be working hard through November.”

McGarrigle emphasized that the party’s three candidates for county council are people with no ties to past council members, ready to take a fresh look at county government.

“They’re going to look at things that traditionally the Republicans have voted against, and they’re going to form their own opinions,” McGarrigle said.

The day after the primary last week, the Republican ticket released a “Transparency and Progress Plan” for the county.

It called for more frequent and accessible meetings of the council, funding for revitalizing older business districts, and protecting open space, and other measures.

County Democratic chair Colleen Guiney said in an interview Democrats have been pushing to have more meetings in local communities and more meaningful discussions in the meetings themselves.

“Council meetings typically consist of a series of photo-ops followed by a brief period of votes without any discussion,” Guiney said. “I suspect that many of the decisions the Republicans made are made behind closed doors before meetings start.”

She said it’s not surprising to see the new Republican candidates adopting a different approach.

“The Republicans are trying to rebrand themselves as being transparent, as being open,” she said. “Unfortunately for them, I think the voters of Delaware County understand that this is disingenuous.”

The Republican candidates for county council are Jim Raith, a businessman and chairman of the Thornbury Township supervisors; Kelly Colvin of Drexel Hill, who’s worked for several GOP elected officials and the U.S. Education Department; and Mike Morgan of Newtown Square, who chairs the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

The Democratic candidates are Christine Reuther, an attorney and former Nether Providence commissioner; Monica Taylor, a member of the Upper Darby school board and a professor at the University of the Sciences; and Elaine Paul Schaefer, former president of Radnor’s board of commissioners.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.