New commissioners take power Monday in Bucks and Chester counties, but there will be a new normal on both boards.
For the first time in recent memory, Democrats will be the governing majority in Bucks County. And in Chester County’s modern history, there has never been a Democratic majority until now.
“I didn’t think it was going to happen this quickly,” said Michelle Kichline, a Republican who is now the minority commissioner on the three-person Chester County board.
Kichline, who won a second term in 2019, said the demographics in her county are changing.
“A lot of people are moving out of Philadelphia, or they’re moving from other areas,” she said. “We’ve seen the trend where the voter registration has been shrinking.”
On Election Day in November, the GOP lost majority rule at the county level even though Republicans held a slight voter-registration edge, according to the Daily Local News, and government in prosperous Chester County had operated without drama.
Earlier in the decade, a shift in voter registration occurred in Delaware County, which swung from Republican to Democrat in 2013. In November, Democrats swept all three open seats on the County Council, and the first non-Republican-controlled county government since the Civil War takes over Monday in Media.
In Bucks County, Democrats held the edge in voter registration before November’s election. Bucks and Chester have sizable independent or third-party registrations, creating vital swing votes for county elections.
Gene DiGirolamo represented the 18th Legislative District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1995 until his election as a Bucks County Commissioner. He leaves a Republican majority in Harrisburg to become the minority commissioner in Doylestown.
Governing in the minority is nothing new to DiGirolamo: It happened at least a couple of times during his tenure as a state legislator, he recalled in a recent interview. Each time Republicans were in the state House minority, he said, he was able to get along with his colleagues across the aisle and tried to work with them.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to do good things for the people that we represent,” DiGirolamo said. “I’ve always thought that it was always better when the two sides were able to work together.”
Both DiGirolamo and Kichline, his Chester County counterpart, believe they will get along with their Democratic majority colleagues.
As a state representative, DiGirolamo said, he worked with Diane Ellis-Marseglia, the lone incumbent Bucks commissioner who sought and won reelection, over the last 12 years. And he knows Robert Harvie, who was a longtime Falls Township supervisor.
DiGirolamo said he’s looking forward to his new role on the local level.
“I know I got a lot to learn,” he said. “I pride myself in working really hard; I’m certainly convinced I’m gonna figure this out, not only how to work with the majority but figure the ins and outs of county government. I got a pretty good head start working 25 years in Harrisburg.”
Kichline has served as a Chester County commissioner since 2014, when she was appointed to finish the term of now-former U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello. She said she hopes her new majority colleagues, Josh Maxwell and Marian Moskowitz, will continue the bipartisan tone already established on the board.
She said that equal weight and consideration were given to the former minority commissioner, outgoing Democrat Kathi Cozzone, during the board’s last term, and that non-unanimous votes were rare.
“I’m hopeful that my new colleagues will use the same model, at least for civil discourse,” she said.