Dems vow more transparency in historic Delco swearing-in ceremony

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Jerry L. Sanders Jr. speaks after being sworn in as Delaware County Sheriff at an induction ceremony in Media. Sanders was part of a wave of Democrats elected last year, reflecting a demographic change in the former Republican stronghold.

Jerry L. Sanders Jr. speaks after being sworn in as Delaware County sheriff Tuesday in Media, Pennsylvania. Sanders was part of a wave of Democrats elected last year, reflecting a politicalic change in the former Republican stronghold. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

A panel of judges oversaw the swearing in of Democrats to Delaware County elected offices Tuesday, the culmination of years of changing demographics in the suburban Philadelphia region.

During remarks introducing Mary Walk as the new register of wills, her husband, David Walk, sprinkled in a reference to the Republican Party’s long and legendary stronghold on the county.

“Her father told her if she wanted to get a job at the courthouse in Media, she’d have to register as a Republican,” he said. “[Mary] did not take his advice.”

During the campaign, Republicans disputed this description of one-party rule, while Democratic candidates ran on ending it. 

The new year marks a new beginning for the Democratic Party in Delaware County. In 2015, registered Democrats surpassed Republicans in Delaware County. Demographics in the county have long seemed to favor Democrats, but a Republican Party machine dating back to the mid-20th century maintained a grip on local offices until last year’s election. Campaigning against the party of President Donald Trump, Democratic candidates won two of five county council seats and three row offices in November.

With the campaign behind them, the new Delaware County councilmen and row officers said they will try to bring about more transparent, two-party government.

“I’d like to do an assessment” upon taking office, said new Sheriff Jerry Sanders, who previously worked for the Philadelphia sheriff’s office. “We’ll see what works, what can be improved on, what is being done that has served its purpose and can be dispensed with.”

Democrats Sanders, Walk, and new Controller Joanne Phillips won countywide row offices.

More significantly, Democrats won two seats on the county council. It will be the first time Democrats sit on the governing board in more than 40 years — since the county adopted a form of governance that does not require minority party representation.

Newly elected Councilman Kevin Madden said the 2016 elections prompted him to run, and he attributed the shakeup in Delaware County to disillusionment with entrenched political divides.

“Delaware County has been a county run by a lot of good people, but run by an organization that’s seen things through one lens,” said Madden. “That’s one-party rule.”

Neither Madden nor Brian Zidek, the other Democrat elected to county council, have prior experience in elected office.

Zidek said priority No. 1 will be increasing transparency in county government, including recording and archiving county council meetings. Preserving open space, fighting the opioid crisis, and ending the use of privately run prisons, like the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Thornton, Pennsylvania, are also on the Democrats’ agenda. Both he and Madden pledged not to raise taxes.

Republican leadership characterized many of these goals, such as open space and economic development, as a continuation of and not a departure from the work of previous all-Republican county councils. Republicans maintain a simple majority on the council.

Directly after the swearing in, council members held their first meeting of 2018.

“We didn’t agree on everything, but we agreed on 80 percent of stuff,” said Republican county council chairman John McBlain. “[Democrats] indicated a desire for one of them to be appointed as vice chair, which did not receive a majority of the votes today. But, we do want to include them.”


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