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Upper Darby Township’s mayoral primary is far from the crowded horse race happening next door in Philadelphia, but residents of Pennsylvania’s sixth-largest municipality will still have choices at the ballot box.
Democratic Mayor Barbarann Keffer will finish out her term, but she will not seek reelection.
While Council President Brian Burke is the lone candidate in the Republican primary, two contenders are looking to get the nod on the Democratic side: Ed Brown and Laura Wentz.
Brown, 55, currently serves as president of the Upper Darby School District Board of Directors. He is a cybersecurity engineer by trade, but Brown says his heart is in public service. Brown received a unanimous endorsement from the Upper Darby Democratic Committee.
“I feel like I can help this community realize its full potential. It’s going to take a lot of work and it’s going to take the work of the entire community, not just my efforts, because my success will depend on buy-in from the entire community,” Brown said.
More than 80 languages are spoken in the township. Brown said a truly realized Upper Darby is one whose government embraces and reflects its diversity.
Wentz, 53, is in her second year as vice president of township council. She is a union stagehand and also chairs the council’s finance committee.
Wentz says platform focuses on transparency and accountability
Since 2021, Wentz has served as president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW).
Wentz is currently running for mayor with a “mini-slate” of candidates calling itself Democratic Choices for Change in Upper Darby alongside council candidate Alfred Means II and school board candidate Jennifer Howell.
“The current path of the township is not the right path. It is essential to make a change and we are running to make that change. We think that transparency, accountability, fiscal responsibility are all necessary,” Wentz said. “Public safety concerns must be addressed. We need to get more officers on the streets. We need to just change the approach. We need to treat people with respect.”
She said her platform prioritizes transparency and accountability. Wentz said if elected mayor of Upper Darby, her administration would implement town halls to hear from residents and township employees.
“If we don’t work together as a cohesive team, then we will fail. And that’s what’s been happening, in my opinion, that is completely what has been happening,” Wentz said.
Wentz said her administration would find more efficient ways to utilize the budget and find new streams of township revenue.
Brown believes his 4-year plan, 5-point agenda is best for Upper Darby
Brown offers a four-year plan to increase fiscal responsibility in Upper Darby that he said will put the township on “sound footing to have stability and viability for the future.” He also touted a five-point agenda on items that he will focus on if elected mayor.
“I want to ensure quality and efficient municipal services to address the needs of the community. I want to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing. I want to establish safe and attractive neighborhoods. I want to enhance the resources for individuals, families and community growth. And I want to create economic growth by investing in the business sector,” Brown said.
Brown also wants to “lower the volume” and change the current perception of Upper Darby government, which has dealt with a public feud dating back to more than a year ago over the township’s handling of millions of American Rescue Plan Act funds.
“There has been a lot of vitriol and back and forth with different groups. And I want to build consensus and collaboration amongst all of the groups because everyone has a voice and I think it’s just a matter of passion. Upper Darby is a very passionate municipality, and I want to harness that. I want to try to use that for good and not have people be angry with each other when they don’t agree, because I think we ultimately all want the same thing,” Brown said.
Township government has been roughly split between two factions for more than a year. On one side there is Burke, Wentz, and Democrat Matt Silva and three Republican council members.
Keffer’s administration drew the support of the remaining five Democratic council members.
In the end, the Upper Darby Democratic Committee promised to ensure Burke, Wentz, and Silva “do not hold elected office as Democrats again” in the township, citing their position in the ARPA fund controversy.
While Burke ultimately switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 2022, Wentz remained a Democrat and decided to run for mayor without the support of the party.
“My values are that of a Democrat. My values did not change at any point in time between 2020, 2021, 2022. The only thing that changed is that the administration was not, in my opinion, doing what they said they were going to do,” Wentz said.
Both candidates have a solid relationship with one another
Wentz said her administration would make sure that people across township government know that their voices matter.
“Everyone has a different approach on how they want to accomplish the goal. Right? But it doesn’t mean we’re not going to still work together. I think it’s essential to work with everyone. And that’s why I think everyone’s voice matters and that they need to be valued,” Wentz said.
Brown says he has a good relationship with both Burke and Wentz. Brown said that if elected mayor, he would continue to work with them to build Upper Darby to where it needs to be.
He called his mayoral run a “very humbling” experience. He said his campaign has received support from community members on both sides of the political aisle.
“They feel like I have something to offer, and I think I’ve demonstrated that, and that’s how I want to be judged when I’m mayor. I want to be judged by doing what I say I’m going to do and providing a government that when people look at it, they can see themselves,” Brown said.
In addition to the mayoral race, Upper Darby residents will have to cast votes to fill four seats on township council.
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