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Chester County voters ended 150 years of Republican Row Office rule by electing four Democratic Row offices in November 2017. County election results here
Jan 22, 2018 philly.com Chester Co.’s powerhouse mushroom farms have a new vision to expand: growing veggies indoors
Chris Alonzo grows 10 million pounds of mushrooms a year in a Chester County warehouse the size of two football fields. It represents only half of his fungal empire. Alonzo, president of Pietro Industries in Kennett Square, owns two more farms that produce an additional 10 million pounds.
He’s looking to diversify.
“I’m excited about getting into something else,” Alonzo said, sliding open a door of a grow room. Inside the steamy space, mushrooms are fruiting in a loamy mixture of peat moss and compost. The beds — 60 feet long– were stacked like bunks. Seven levels reached to the ceiling.
“We could grow almost anything in here,” Alonzo said. “A few minor adjustments and we could grow lettuce.”
That could happen soon. Especially if the county and its farmers choose to embrace vertical farming. Alonzo, chair of the Chester County Agricultural Development Council, is bullish on it.
The mushroom industry faces intense economic pressures, driving producers to look for new ideas if agriculture is going to continue to flourish. The tiny pocket of land centered on Kennett Square, at the edge of Philadelphia’s western suburbs, produces about a half-billion pounds of fresh mushrooms every year; That means half of the mushrooms consumed in the United States come from Chester County.
Mushroom consumption has leveled off across the nation. The Canadians have gained a competitive advantage due to a disparity in currency exchange rates. With the crop selling for about $1 per pound wholesale, farms run on the thinnest of margins.
It’s also increasingly difficult to hire Mexican migrants to pick the crop. In recent years, a chronic labor shortage has caused 10 percent of the crop to go unharvested. As federal immigration agencies step up enforcement, that’s expected to get worse.
“We have a workforce that’s slowly stopping to work in agriculture, and there’s no new recruits,” Alonzo said.
Green crops could provide a salad of salvation.
About 65 growers dominate the mushroom industry in Chester County. The overwhelming majority of growers are family-owned. Several operations are vertically integrated; they make their own compost and package the crop for retail sales. Alonzo’s company, Pietro Industries, partners with a compost company and operates within the Country Fresh cooperative with seven other growers. Sysco, Costco and Pizza Hut are major clients.
Alonzo’s grandfather, Peter “Pietro” Alonzo Sr., began mushroom farming during the Great Depression. Through the 1930s, about 500 mushroom houses were built within 10 miles of Kennett Square.
That venerable industry now is looking to grow.
Alonzo said he had looked into applying for a permit to grow medical marijuana but decided against it because of the huge amount of capital — the third generation mushroom farmer said he would need $15 million — required to get into the cannabis game. In addition, marijuana came with too many regulatory and legal hurdles.
“It wasn’t a good match,” he said. “It’s very complicated and needed a ton of capital.”
But marijuana and mushrooms aren’t the only cash crops cultivated in climate-controlled rooms. The U.S. is undergoing a boom in indoor agriculture.
“And we are without a doubt already the largest concentration of indoor agriculture in the world,” said Michael Guttman, director of sustainable development office for Kennett Township.
“The only reason we haven’t previously diversified is that it was not economical to compete with field crops for greens. We’re looking at that market now.”
Innovations in LED lighting, environmental controls, and automation now make indoor farming a reasonable alternative to outdoor cultivation for many crops. Growers can produce more product with fewer resources and in less space. “Another crop [of greens] in a same-size building would require a third of the amount of staff,” Alonzo said.
Farming under lights and in greenhouses generated $14.8 billion nationwide in 2016, according to Agrilyst. (That figure doesn’t include the exploding legal cannabis market.) An expanded indoor farming industry in Chester County could include producers of any number of salad vegetables, herbs, tomatoes, and berries.
It could additionally create a new market for the spent loam used to grow the mushrooms. “We can’t grow mushrooms a second time in it. The necessary nutrients are all used up, so it usually goes out for potting soil,” Alonzo said. “But maybe we could use it for another crop.”
Chester County also has an established distribution network, “the cold chain,” and the know-how to attract new companies, Alonzo said. Able to deliver mushrooms and other refrigerated goods anywhere in the continental U.S. in less than 48 hours, the network also supplies an array of imported products from clementines to kiwis.
“Lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes travel through the same routes,” Alonzo said. “There’d be good harmony there. We know how to grow crops indoors and we know how to market it.”
Many green crops can be grown robotically.
Mushrooms in the U.S. need to be harvested with care. “Right now, it’s all harvested by hand,” said Robert Beelmanm director of Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Plant and Mushroom Foods for Health. who has made several trips to the Netherlands to examine automated farming.
“In the Dutch system, they have developed a mechanical harvesting system for mushrooms. Initially they were beat up, and they could only be used for processing. But I saw them being harvested last year and I was amazed.”
Along with new vertical indoor farms, Alonzo and Guttman envision a national Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture that would operate near, and possibly in concert with, the nearby Longwood Gardens. The synergy could create the indoor ag equivalent of Silicon Valley, with Southeastern Pennsylvania becoming a worldwide hub of research, training, and advocacy for the trade.
“Like any economic development project, it’s a longer-term play,” Guttman said. “But we’ve been talking to people for over a year.”
On an overcast day last week, Alonzo monitored the amount of carbon dioxide being fed into one of his grow rooms.
Computers control the temperature, humidity and CO² levels in each space. The beds are set for a cozy 74 degrees. A new crop is harvested every 56 days.
His father and grandfather once checked each grow room every four hours throughout the day. Though technology could pilot most of the growing cycle, Alonzo said there’s “no substitute for being in the room.”
“The data gives a basic road map, but the devil is in the details,” Alonzo said. “The colors have to look right, the room has to smell right. You can only know that through your senses.”
As the industry waits for a feasibility study to be delivered in about three months, it is preparing to goose sales by marketing mushrooms as a health food.
According to Penn State’s Beelman, there’s preliminary evidence that eating 100 grams of mushrooms a day might stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “We haven’t proved cause and effect, but maybe there’s something to this,” Beelman said. “I’m trying to get a collaborator and funding to do a double-blind randomized clinical human study.”
Mushrooms in Kennett Square were first cultivated more than a century ago by a Quaker carnation grower. Despite the market pressures, no one expects the fungi farms to disappear.
“We’re in the infancy of this discussion,” Alonzo said. “But we have 120 years of experience in indoor farming here. I don’t envision replacing mushrooms, but new crops could grow new profits.” Source
Jan 4, 2018 Philly.com As Trump attacks Bannon, women Democrats in Philly suburbs take office after delicious revenge wins against the GOP | Maria Panaritis
We were gathered inside the ballroom of Sykes Student Union as this fearsome foursome — accomplished professionals with minimal to zero political establishment credentials — were sworn in to Chester County row-office posts not held by a Democrat since before the Civil War.
Two of these barrier-breaking history makers were former Republican women who thought that their party had abandoned them over the last decade as it became a hard-right refuge of reactionary rhetoric.
All now were Democrats. And all had decided last year to fight back against Trumpism by doing more than whining. They would fight back by running for office — and they won with such a high turnout behind them that Republicans across the region still are wondering what hit them.
Some people hooted and hollered as these women, one by one, put their hands on a Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. It was a powerful display of voter satisfaction fueled by rage. Which, in this age of I-rant-on-Facebook-and-call-that-public-service, amounts to something potent.
It was great to see this engagement level from women who, frankly, have the income and means to be comfortably inert about politics. One is a physician; two are financial professionals; the fourth was the founder of her own company with offices in 20 states.
Just like the blue-collar Trumpies who sent the real estate heir into the White House in 2016, women like this are now armed with their own fury against a president who once boasted of sexually assaulting women.
To see them win in a place like Chester County made it more remarkable, given that Republicans still have the voter registration edge there. This is the richest county in Pennsylvania — a place where not too long ago, Republicans loved voting for anyone who would, first and foremost, protect their money.
Because of them — and the moms who in November lugged kids to polling places to vote for the first time in local elections — the GOP halls of power in West Chester must now make room for an unwelcome infantry of Democrats, on whom the party hopes to build an even more enduring power infrastructure: Margaret Reif, controller; Yolanda Van de Krol, clerk of courts; Christine VandePol, coroner; and Patricia Maisano, treasurer. Read more
Jan 3, 2018 Daily Local Women rule the day at Chesco row office swearing- in ceremony
Newly elected Chester County Controller Margaret Reif gives newly elected Coroner Dr. Christina VanePol a hug, following their swearing-in ceremonies held at West Chester University Sykes ballroom Wednesday.
It was a different kind of “#MeToo” moment on display Wednesday as four women, all Democrats, were sworn in as new Chester County row officers at ceremonies held at West Chester University and witnessed by a packed hall of well wishers, other elected officials, and county staff.
The presence of female officials on the stage did not pass notice by county commissioners’ Chairwoman Michelle Kichline, who shared officiating duties with commissioners’ Vice Chairwoman Kathi Cozzone as county President Judge Jacqueline Carroll Cody administered several of the oaths of office.
“Chester County government, unlike our state and federal governments, has a long history of electing women to leadership positions,” said Kichline, the Republican who announced earlier that her fellow commissioners, Democrat Cozzone included, had agreed to keep her in place as head of the three-member board for another year.
“In fact, one could argue that having so many women at the helm has strongly contributed to our position as the healthiest, the wealthiest, and the best educated county in the state,” Kichline said, offering parenthetical apologies to Commissioner Terence Farrell, seated a few feet away and smiling at the joke. Read more
Dec 31, 2017 Daily Local News New Chester County Controller Margaret Reif: ‘I am up to the challenge’
WEST CHESTER >> If you were sitting across a poker table from Margaret Reif, the woman who will today become Chester County’s first Democratic controller, you might be prone to describe her style of play as keeping her cards close to her vest.In an interview last month ahead of her historic installation as the county’s fiscal watchdog, the first from an opposition party and thus the lack of any formal or informal ties to the traditional Republican majority, Reif said she fully intends to live up to the promise she made to voters who propelled her to office in November.But she declined to state specifically what steps she might take to investigate or root out any fiscal irregularities she believes are present in county government.“We need a big change in the county,” Reif said in the 30-minute telephone interview. “There are finally checks and balances in the county, and I take that very seriously. I feel it is important to prove everyone right in the trust they placed in us, in giving us their confidence.” Read more
Inside Story recaps N.J. and PA election results
Inside Story – November 12, 2017(1 of 3)
VIDEO: Inside Story Part 1 of ’17 Election results
Dec 21, 2018 Philly.com Chester County Invest Pension Funds in Local Venture Capitol
Chester County’s retirement board on Dec. 21, 2017 said it voted to invest $2 million in a local venture capital fund that would focus on Chester County businesses. They established Venture Chesco, in partnership with Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which will add $2 million and pick companies to back.
The Chester County Retirement Board has agreed to invest $2 million in county retirement money in a new venture capital partnership, Venture Chesco, which will put the dollars in “emerging and growing” firms located in the state’s wealthiest county, or willing to move there.
The money will be matched by another $2 million from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, an early-stage tech-company funding group that has been working to broaden its funding base to reduce its dependence on state subsidies. Ben Franklin will manage Venture Chesco, and seek new firms to encourage the “growing innovation culture” in the county, Ben Franklin president RoseAnn Rosenthal said in a statement.
Chester County can afford the investment because its retirement fund is relatively solvent, the economy is growing, and a similar Venture Capital for Bucks County fund (VC4BC) serves as a model, Michelle Kichline, the elected Chester County Commissioners’ chair and a retirement board member, told me.
“The competition to attract these young companies has become so intense” that Chester County has been planning since 2015 to set up a venture fund, as part of its Vista 2025 economic development plan, Kichline added. “We think the [retirement] fund is in a solid place. We’re still the fastest-growing county in the commonwealth. This is going to be one more tool to attract young companies down here.”
The Bucks County venture fund also includes $2 million in county pension money and $2 million from Ben Franklin, said Bucks Commissioner Robert Loughery. He said the fund is designed to back companies emerging from local incubators such as the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County, in Buckingham Township. Early VC4BC investments include a position in OrthogenRX, a Doylestown firm developing a device for treating arthritis. “After three years, we are just starting to get back our money,” he added. Bucks expects an initial payment sometime in 2018.
Chester County attracts entrepreneurs, and offers “incubator” locations and technical assistance, but finding investors is “a real challenge,” a fellow commissioner and retirement board member, Kathi Cozzone, added in a statement. Another commissioner and retirement board member, Terence Farrell, said the $2 million is only “a small percentage” of the county’s pension millions, and offers “potential return on investment” while also boosting business.
The retirement plan managed $386 million, and faced liabilities totalling $437 million at the end of last year, according to fiduciary data on the plan published in the county’s most recent annual financial report (see p. 80).
Chester County assumes its overall pension investments will return 7.5 percent a year over time, net of fees and expenses; it expects a relatively modest 5.5 percent from the category including venture capital and other private investments. Ben Franklin says “they will probably be consistent with that,” Kichline told me. Given the strong economy, “we don’t think this is a strong risk.”
Ben Franklin officials weren’t immediately available for comment on their past returns.
Chester County’s pension liabilities trailed its pension assets by $51 million, or 12 percent, compared with a gap of more than 50 percent for the pension system in Philadelphia, where retirees outnumber police and other workers who pay a portion of their wages into the fund. In Chester County there are more than four working employees for every retiree. Unlike city and township plans, county pension plan data in Pennsylvania are not audited by the state auditor general.
Chester County’s reported pension funding ratio is also stronger than the audited state workers’ (SERS) and state teachers’ (PSERS) pension funds.
When they were more solvent in the 1980s, SERS and PSERS tried to set up their own local investment and venture capital funds to spur area job growth. Among other investments, they committed $60 million to a Norristown soft-drink company that went bankrupt, causing the loss of the pension funds’ investments. SERS and PSERS now hire professional venture investors who buy early-stage companies in Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, and other venture capital hotbeds, as well as some in Pennsylvania.
Chester County is triple-A rated by Moody’s Investors Service and other major credit-rating agencies, a sign Wall Street is confident the county can pay its pensions well into the future. Source
Nov 21, 2017 Chester County Press Uncle Irvin: D’s ‘Trump’ R’s
For the first time in more than two centuries, the Democratic Party of Chester County has elected four of their own to county row offices, including County Treasurer and Controller.
In some ways, this is not as surprising as it seems. Population increases and a change of new voters has already given Democrats a big boost in party registration over the past 20 years. The two parties are now virtually the same. Democrats have already carried the county in the Presidential and Senatorial elections, but have failed in county races quite miserably.
Now, with a little help from the widespread discontent over President Trump and the reckless and failed leadership of the last two GOP County Chairmen, Skip Brion and Val DiGiorgio, the GOP County Committee has virtually collapsed.
A couple of things we can look for:
1. Next year’s General Assembly races and the fate of GOP incumbents John Lawrence and Eric Roe, and Republican Congressmen Ryan Costello and Pat Meehan.
2. The mass firing of GOP employees of the four row offices in January and the hiring of Democrat replacements in the tradition of “To the victors belong the spoils.”
3. The 2019 county races for County Commissioner, District Attorney and Sheriff.
The security blanket that went with Republican endorsement has been shredded, giving a breath of fresh air that could mean better local government for Chester County.
(This is part of an occasional column written by Uncle Irvin. As always, the column is the opinion of Uncle Irvin, and is not a news story.) Source
Nov 11, 2017 Chescotimes.com Tuesday’s election results were not all about Trump
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
Not to mince words, but Tuesday was a bit of a stunner.
With the county’s Democrats sweeping the county row office races and making pickups in virtually every category from township supervisor to District Justice, it is clear that Chester County is no longer a one-party county.
And yes, to be sure, it was a bit of a referendum on President Donald Trump, as we saw in neighboring states and counties. But don’t assume that’s all it was, because you’d be missing a lot of the story.
Is it shocking that Democrats in Delaware County broke through, won row seats and two County Council seats? Nope. The Delaware County Republican Party has been akin to an old, rotted pier waiting quietly for the right storm to come in and completely tear it down. Democrats already had an edge in voter registration and have been making inroads for more than a decade, winning legislative seats and even a Congressional seat.
Truth be told, many us around politics have felt that the Delco GOP would just collapse one day and cease to be relevant — that day was Tuesday. Once voters see that the world won’t end — and their trash still gets picked up — Democrats will keep winning with regularity and likely become the permanent controlling party there.
The Chesco GOP is a whole different story. This has been, until we started to see some cracks at the seams in 2016, a smoothly operating machine. It always seemed likely that the Chesco Democrats would have to gain a foothold, maybe by winning one row office seat, and then slowly work to get to parity over the space of a number of election cycles.
Tuesday changed all of that.
I think two major issues took what should have been a gradual process and turned it into a sudden one.
First, like it or not, the Chester County Democratic Party has its stuff together.
Really has it’s stuff together.
Under Chair Brian McGinnis fundraising is way up, the party has filled many of its empty committee person slots and built up new — and effective — Get Out The Vote and candidate marketing efforts.
2017 was a testbed for a lot of what the county Democrats expect to use in 2018. Obviously, much of what they tried worked well, boosting turnout and participation to record levels on Democratic side. While every party has its internal tensions, Trump has served as a great unifier for the local party organization and McGinnis’ efforts over the last few years are paying dividends.
The Democrats were confident that they would win — even though pundits, including myself — thought it would still be tough sledding. Personally, I figured that Patricia Maisano was the party’s best bet to win a Row Office, running against Jack London (a head scratcher of a pick, to be honest) for Treasurer. She had a lot of Republican support in the southern part of the county, raised a lot of money and was one of the strongest candidates the Democrats had put forward in years. I did think — and wrote in this space earlier this year — that the entire slate was really strong, really impressive and would show well.
But a sweep? I didn’t think it was possible — the numbers in terms of registered voters, still solidly in favor of the GOP, made the math tough. Apparently, though, the new math has a lot of those registered Republicans voting for Democrats, at least in this cycle.
So not only was it possible to win, but Democrats won some of these races by nine points — and the closest was five. The ripple effect was enormous around the county, impacting municipal and school board elections.
Yes, the Democrats are going to have to show they can repeat it, not to mention handling governance — but consider this: winning means more money from donors (especially as traditional GOP donors start to hedge their bets) and better candidates (who also tend to raise more money). Not only will party leaders no longer have to arm twist to get candidates to run in some legislative races, we’re already seeing multiple candidates line up in some districts, a number of whom would appear to be formidable candidates.
One other benefit: while typically Democratic enthusiasm for an incumbent governor — such as Gov. Tom Wolf — might be tempered, the state’s Republicans might be poised to do them a big favor by nominating state Sen. Scott Wagner, who is kind of the Trump of York County.
Wagner is all in with Trump and even has the official blessing of Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. By essentially tagging Wagner as the Trump of Pennsylvania — undoubtedly the President will come to tout him in campaign season, deepening the link in voters’ minds — Democrats will be able to boost their turnout in the collar counties, including Chester County and depress turnout of old-school moderate Republicans.
So…it’s clear the Democrats should have the wind at their backs in 2018.
But it’s not just that reason that 2018 looks like a wave in Chester County.
The Chester County Republican Committee has issues.
Although the party chair — and also the state GOP chair — Val DiGiorgio attempted Wednesday to spin the loss as being from external factors (read, Donald J. Trump), the numbers tell a different story.
Republicans under performed the region — yes, Democrats won in places such as Delaware County (where, by the way, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans), but the margins were tighter and in line with trends that have been building in the county for years.
So while it might be easy to blame the Trump factor, there was more to the story or Republicans wouldn’t have seen row offices lose by nine points or lose Township Supervisor races in places such as East Marlborough.
Internally, the party is divided — an issue many local Republican parties are struggling with — as Tea Party/Trumpers battle the old-school and more moderate establishment members of the party. But there seems to be a leadership vacuum at the top of the party. When DiGiorgio won the state chairmanship, he took the entire Chesco GOP staff with him — but didn’t step aside locally to allow new blood to grow into their new roles.
In five years, we’ve seen a party that ran like clockwork and over performed — Mitt Romney’s 2012 win in the county over President Barack Obama was a testament to excellence in a county party — and become a dysfunctional, disorganized group that now is just not getting the job done.
To be sure, it is not all the fault of DiGiorgio, a gifted, if overly bombastic political operator. The slow process of weeding out the old-school GOP committee members, the capable, moderate and experienced ones who got things done, and replacing them with erratic true believers has taken its toll.
But mix that with DiGiorgio being locked in on statewide races — managing to win the state Supreme Court race and get the ballot property tax initiative passed show he was laser focused on the statewide races — no one seemed to be home, locally.
As I write this, it’s clear that a number of state house seats are going to be in peril — and that’s assuming we don’t see retirements from some of the long-standing members and I think we will. Peril is the best case scenario, assuming the county GOP rights the ship and gets new, local leadership. Losing four or five is probably the worst case scenario and looking more likely by the day.
Meet the new tax bill, same as the old tax bill.
I read through the U.S. Senate version of the tax bill and it is a little less awful than the one in the house in terms of my personal finance. In the Senate plan, we get the medical expense exemption back — that was more than $30,000 for us in 2016 — but lose the property tax exemption.
As small business owners, we own two properties, one residential, one commercial. We pay property taxes to two townships, Pocopson (which also has an Earned Income Tax) and Valley, two school districts (Unionville-Chadds Ford and Coatesville Area School District) and pay twice to good old Chester County.
Under either plan, based on our 2016 taxes, we will see a net tax increase, albeit larger under the House plan. I suspect those of you who are in the entrepreneurial class and have kids will experience similar numbers.
A number of Republicans — including U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan (R-7) — seem to be arguing that anyone claiming such a terrible thing is merely using Democratic talking points. I’m just using numbers — numbers that should shake out similarly for a lot of Meehan’s Chadds Ford neighbors.
Both versions of the bill appear to shift tax burden from the wealthiest to middle and upper middle class families. In my case, I’ve done the math with real-life numbers, it’s not a talking point, it’s reality. But, hey don’t believe me. Pull out your 2016 returns and see how the numbers fall for you before passing judgment. If you’ve been relatively healthy and have employer-based health insurance, the house plan might work better for you.
As I noted previously, there are a lot of folks in Chester County who won’t get a tax cut and may see a tax increase from this plan. With 2018 Congressional elections already looking shaky, this may well be the final deal breaker for a lot of voters, many of whom usually vote Republican.
The Roy Moore story is a giant headache for Republicans — the U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama is alleged to have had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor female in 1979, according to a story in The Washington Post. Moore categorically denied the allegations.
Prior to Thursday’s allegations, Moore was a trainwreck — albeit one favored to win in Alabama — with claims he diverted money from a charity to his personal use and having been removed from the bench twice for ignoring the rulings of higher courts, plus his propensity for bigotry when it comes to gays and lesbians.
You’d think this story would be enough, but it doesn’t appear to be.
As concerning as the story is — and it is another carefully crafted, highly detailed, exceptionally reported story from The Washington Post — two things stand out for me.
First, this story from The Toronto Star suggests at least three Alabama GOP county chairs would still support Moore if the allegations are true. When partisan politics entirely overwhelms morality we have a serious problem.
Second, Moore’s denial of The Post’s story reads almost exactly word for word like the denial by other Republicans in Congress of late when confronted by a deeply reported, meticulous story that puts them in a negative light in The Post.
To further claim that The Post or other media entities are collaborating with the Democratic National Committee — hilarious on the surface of it, but kind of sad when one sees the level of critical reporting on that body and other party organizations, such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (which, by the way, I have essentially used as a piñata in this column for the epically poor way it ruins — I mean runs — local Congressional campaigns).
It’s almost reached a point that any reporting that is not fawning over certain elected officials is labelled “fake news.”
It’s deeply insulting to those of us who do this for a living and an exceptionally poor tactical decision because it just makes the media work even harder to get their story.
And not for nothing, how crass is it to send out fund raising emails on the Alabama story as Moore has done?
One more migraine-sized headache for our three local Congressman: you know those slightly gerrymandered districts they get to run in? The state’s Supreme Court said this week, essentially, “not so fast.”
The state Supreme Court ruled this week that the Commonwealth Court must hear a case challenging the current districts and rule before Dec. 31 — allowing a redrawing of the Congressional district lines before the 2018 elections, should the courts (and appeals, which will likely run all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court) find that the districts are illegal.
The centerpiece of the suit is the now legendary 7th District (the district that I currently happen to be disenfranchised in) — considered by many to be the most gerrymandered district in the entire U.S.
At least of two our local Congressmen — Meehan and U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello may be in serious trouble in the current districts, based on what we saw Tuesday.
Putting them in fairer districts might be too much for either to overcome. Source
Nov 8, 2017 Unionville Times SHOCKER: Democrats sweep row offices, win up and down ballot
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
Democrats (from left) Patricia Maisano for County Treasurer, Christina VandePol, Coroner, Margaret Reif, Controller and Yolanda Van de Krol , Clerk of Courts, swept to historic wins, Tuesday. Photo courtesy Chester County Democratic Committee.
Chester County’s Democrats won a stunning victory Tuesday, sweeping all four county row office races, meaning Democrats will hold those seats for the first time since before the Civil War. Additionally, Democrats swept to victory in a number of hotly contested District Justice races and held onto a number of key mayoral seats.
An energized voter turnout — 31.7%, a high number for an off-year, municipal election, appeared to fuel the Democratic surge to victory. A number of polling places reported vote totals higher than the entire 2013 turnout — the last time the same offices were up for election — by midday.
While it appears some external factors — such as voters’ displeasure with President Donald Trump — played a factor, Democrats were able to recruit its strongest slate of candidates in recent years, put together a true Get Out The Vote effort and were able to mobilize voters via traditional and social media.
Although Chester County Democratic Chair Brian McGinnis said he was always confident of a sweep, the margin of the win even surprised him a bit.
“I kept telling people that we were going to sweep and people didn’t believe me,” he said.
He said the combination of outstanding candidates, a great message and a united and organized party made the difference in the end.
“Now the hard part is coming,” he said. “Now, we have to govern and keep our promises to the people of Chester County for transparency and honesty.”
While Democrats celebrated the historic victory, which led to wins up and down the ballot, the county’s GOP seemed to be laying the blame at the feet of President Trump’s low approval ratings without calling him out by name.
“We are disappointed in the results of Tuesday’s election,” Chester County Republican Chair Val DiGiorgio said in a statement. “There was clearly a Democrat wave in all four of Southeastern Pennsylvania’s suburban counties, and our losses in Chester County had little to do with how county and local governments are governed. It is unfortunate that some of our outstanding Republican officials lost due to things that had nothing to do with local politics.
“The Chester County GOP is as committed as ever to preserving a high quality of life for our residents, as we have done for over 150 years. We welcome to the table those Democrats who were successful yesterday, and will work with them to the extent that they want to keep Chester County such a great place to live.”
Democrat Patricia Maisano cruised past Republican Jack London, 53.6% to 46.32% in the only open seat, for County Treasurer.
But maybe more stunning was how Democrats defeated three incumbent Republican row office holders. Margaret Reif knocked off incumbent Norman MacQueen for Controller by a 54.5% to 45.5% margin. Yolanda Van de Krol defeated Robin Marcello 52.7% to 47.1% for Clerk of Courts. Christina VandePol outpaced incumbent Coroner Gordon 54% to 45.8%.
Democrats won a couple of high profile District Justice races, as well. Democrat Bret Binder defeated incumbent Mark Bruno in the West Chester area seat, while Democrat Al Iacocca won a hotly contested open seat over Jane Donze in the Unionville/Kennett area.
Democrats also saw upset wins in a handful of school board elections. In Great Valley, incumbent Republican Carol Palmaccio was upended by Democrat Bryan Paluch and in Kennett, Democrat Paola Rosas defeated Kendra Lacosta, as Vicki Gehrt knocked off incumbent Republican Heather Schaen. In West Chester, Chuck Linn edged Randell Spackman for a Region 3 seat.
In high profile mayoral races, Democrat Josh Maxwell won reelection easily in Downingtown, defeating Republican Adrian Martinez; in west Chester Democrat Diane Herrin cruised past Republican Tommy Ciccarone and in Phoenixville, Democrat Peter Urscheler outpaced Republican Dave Gatreau. Also, Democrat Lorraine Durnan Bell defeated Pam Benjamin in the Oxford Mayoral race. John P Hagan II, a Democrat, won over Republican Mel Keen for Parkesburg Mayor. James Burns defeated Republican Michael Weiss for Mayor of Spring City.
Although a good night overall for Democrats statewide — neighboring Delaware County saw similar county-level gains, including a historic sweep of row offices and two wins for County Council — Republicans carried the day at the top of the ticket, with Sallie Mundy defeating Dwayne Woodruff for an open Supreme Court seat. Democrats fared better on lower judicial races, with Maria McLaughlin, Carolyn Nichols, Deborah Kunselman winning three of four Superior Court seats. Republican Mary Murray won the fourth seat.
There were a handful of shockers on the municipal level as well. In West Goshen, long a Republican stronghold, Democrats Mary Lasota and Robin Stuntebeck defeated Republicans Raymond Halverson and Theodore Murphy. In East Goshen, Democrat David Shuey was the top vote getter, with Republican Mike Lynch taking the second of two contested seats. In staunchly Republican East Marlborough, Julia McGovern Lacy and Robert McKinstry, Democrats, defeated Tom Simpers and long-time incumbent Eddie Caudill.
Elsewhere, in Caln, incumbents Josh Young, Lorraine Tindaro, Democrats, and John Contento, a Republican, all won reelection as Commissioner. Democrats Murphy Wysocki and Mathew Holt defeated Republicans Robin Bond and Raffi Terzian for supervisor in Tredyffrin. Democrat Karen Nocella held off Howard Sacks for supervisor in East Coventry. In East Nottingham, Democrat Samuel Goodley Jr. won one of two supervisor seats — with Michael Watson, running on both lines, winning the other.
In Franklin, Nancy Moshel Morris, a Democrat, defeated Penelope Schenk, for supervisor. In London Britain, Democrat Alieen Hoag Parrish cruised past Republican Russell McKinnon for supervisor.
In the statewide Commonwealth Court race, the parties split, with Ellen Ceisler, a Democrat, and Christine Fizzano Cannon, a Republican, winning one seat each. In West Marlborough, Democrat Jacob Chalfin won unopposed for supervisor. In Uwchlan, Democrat Bill Miller defeated Joe Toner for supervisor. In West Vincent, Democrat Bernie Couris held off Republican George Dulchinos for supervisor.
In Kennett Square, a borough increasingly trending Democratic, La Toya Myers, Brenda Mecomes, Ethan Cramer and Peter Waterkotte all cruised to Borough Council wins, defeating Republicans Dan Maffei, Gregory Deveney, Mathew McGill and Lori Caldwell.
The New Garden library referendum — to fund the Kennett Library with a dedicated tax — passed 1,014 to 651. West Bradford’s Open Space referendum also passed, 1,800 to 888.
The proposed state Constitutional amendment on taxation for school use — which lost in Chester County – won statewide by a 53.9% to 46% margin. The state legislature still would have to pass legislation to change the percentage of exemption, however. Read more
Nov 7, 2017 DLN Voters give nods in MDJ races
Voters in Chester County were given choices of who should serve as their magisterial district judge in four different district courts in Tuesday’s general election. Early returns showed a victory for Democrats in two hotly contested races, including a prime showdown in West Chester.
Democratic attorney Bret Binder was leading incumbent Mark Bruno in the West Chester-centered seat, while his fellow party member and attorney Al Iacocca led GOP attorney Jane Donze in the Kennett Square race.
In Pennsylvania, magisterial district judges handle small claims, landlord tenant cases, traffic and non-traffic citations, and rule on preliminary hearings for those charged with felonies and misdemeanors. The position has a yearly salary of $89,438.
All election results are unofficial until certified by the county board of elections.
In West Chester, one of the busiest courts in the county and located in the county seat, Bruno was seeking re-election to the position he has held for three consecutive terms, but faced a strong challenge from Binder, a former West Chester Area School Board member.
Bruno had pointed to his three terms on the bench and proven record of dispensing justice in the court as reason why he should have been returned to office, while Binder proclaimed that he would begin fresh initiatives in the court that would reach out to workers, students and veterans.
With a majority of the vote tallied at 11 p.m., Binder led Bruno by 2,872 votes to 2,626, while Iacocca led Donze by 3,753 to 2,555.
Up north, in the court that is centered in North Coventry, police officer John Hipple, running as a Republican, appeared to have defeated West Vincent resident Keith Eldridge for the seat left vacant by the retirement of James DeAngelo.
Results showed Hipple ahead by 3,019 votes to Eldridge’s 2,900.
Finally, incumbent Magisterial District Judge Scott Massey, who had won both the Democratic and Republican primaries, beat back a challenge from Independent candidate Stephen Sheppleman, with early results showing a margin of 74 percent to 24 percent.
The race between Bruno and Binder was among those heavily watched. Bruno cited a long record of service, while Binder, a relative newcomer to judicial elections, said he hoped to add new programs to the court.
In West Chester, Bruno stressed his experience.
“I enjoy this job,” said Bruno, who first took office in 1998. ”I enjoy working with the people in court, promoting community service, and teaching kids how to make the right choice in life. Plus, I’ve heard more cases than any other district judge sitting on the bench, and so my experience is second to none.”
Binder said he was promoting his candidacy as a way of bringing a fresh perspective to how to deal with people who find themselves in court. “If 18 years, it is time for some new ideas,” as well as the expertise an attorney brings to the bench.
West Chester’s District Court 15-1-01 covers the western half of West Chester, as well as the townships of East Bradford and West Bradford. It has among the highest number of cases — criminal, civil and traffic — in Chester County, and among the highest in the state. Both men were running for a full six-year term
The Kennet Square court position pitted two attorneys against one another. The court serves Birmingham, Pennsbury, Pocopson, Newlin, Kennett and East Marlborough Townships and Kennett Square Borough.
Donze, a resident of the area for 23 years, has owned a law firm in the Willowdale Town Center in East Marlborough for the past 19 years, and for the last 17 years, with her husband and law partner, George Donze.
“Being our district judge goes beyond simply knowing and applying the law,” Donze said in a campaign interview. “Our judge needs to be fair, ethical and know our community. Most importantly, I am proud to call myself part of our community. I have lived here for decades, raised my children here, and volunteered my time to local civic groups and charities; I understand the concerns of our seniors and families.”
According to the candidate, for most of his life, Al Iacocca has given back to the community. He’s volunteered on scores of civic and nonprofit organizations, and now he’s looking to extend his role in public service by seeking to become the area’s next district justice.
“I like the ‘Service Above Self’ motto of Rotary,” said Iacocca, an active member of the Longwood Rotary Club. “That’s what my life is about. I think I’m tough, but compassionate. Sometimes we need to let people recover and rebuild. There’s a certain level of resolve. The critical thing is if a crime occurs, we need to make sure it does not happen again.”
Hipple is a North Coventry police officer who took on Eldridge, a business owner. District Court 15-3-01, located in South Coventry, covers Spring City, North Coventry, South Coventry, East Pikeland, East Coventry, Warwick, East Nantmeal, East Vincent and West Vincent.
Eldridge, 36, of West Vincent, graduated from Owen J. Roberts High School in 1999. He later opened his own construction company in 2006 that he has since continued to successfully run in addition to serving on the West Vincent Zoning Hearing Board.
“A lot of my interest, before running and while I continue to, are things that need to be handled in the Legislature, like bail reform,” he said. “I read too many things about how bail is almost used as a punishment for people who can’t afford it.”
Hipple, 47, of North Coventry, cited his experience in law enforcement as a qualification for office. A lifelong resident of Chester County, he graduated from Owen J. Roberts High School and in 2004 began working as a police officer.
“I know what the community is looking for in terms of value and integrity and I believe I have those values,” he said. “I’m going to uphold the law and make the decisions based on the information that’s presented to me. I’m looking for the support of the community.” Read more
Nov 7, 2017 DLN Chesco Dems poised for ‘blowout’ win in row office elections
Early returns Tuesday showed a possible stunning victory for Democrats in Chester County races for four row office positions, reversing a decades-long trend of Republican domination in countywide elections.
As of late Tuesday night, each of the party’s candidates for the administrative seats in the courthouse were leading by significant margins in key precincts, or at worst neck and neck with their GOP counterparts, including incumbent office holders, putting them in hopes of sweeping the table in a reaction to an apparent distaste for the presidency of Donald Trump.
The returns were overwhelming in Democratic precincts in areas such as West Chester — where the margin of victory was sometimes more than three to one. But more tellingly the challengers were ahead in rock-hard Republican bastions such as East Pikeland, West Marlborough, and East Goshen, where Democrats had traditionally been hard pressed to compete. In those precincts, each of the four row office candidates – all of whom are women – were leading by sometimes double digits.
In one West Chester precinct, the GOP candidates did not reach even 10 votes, while their Democratic opponents neared triple figures.
“It might be a Democratic blowout,” said one county elected official.
With 167 of 228 precincts counted as of 11 p.m., about 73 percent of the county total, Democrat Margaret Reif led county Controller Norman MacQueen by 39,837votes to 32,261; Yolanda Van De Krol led Clerk of Courts Robin Marcello by 39,072 to 33,741 votes; and Dr. Christina VandePol led Coroner Dr. Gordon Eck by 39,867 to 32,976. Democrat Patricia Maisano led Republican Jack London by 39,734 to 33,264 in the race for county treasurer.
All vote totals are unofficial until certified by the county board of elections.
Since its incorporation in the 1700s, the county has never elected a Democrat to one of the nine row office positions, and currently the only countywide official from the party is a minority commissioner post mandated by law.
This year, the Democratic Party had hoped to change that, motivated by a surge in interest and participation after the election of President Trump. But the county’s Republican Party declined to surrender its 150-year-old traditional power in the courthouse quietly, citing the continued fiscal conservativism it claims has led to a list of achievements in the quality of life for the county’s 515,000-plus residents.
Democrats had urged voters to reject the “one party” rule that they said was unfair in this growing county, while Republicans pointed to the outstanding financial position the county is in, which they said would be threatened with a change in leadership.
County positions open this year were those elected posts that handle courthouse and county administrative functions, including controller, clerk of courts, coroner, and treasurer. The county controller for is responsible for overseeing the county’s financial dealings, clerk of courts for handling criminal court filings, the coroner for dealing with deaths in the county, and the treasurer for collecting county and some local taxes.
Running as teams, the two sides expressed different themes to attract voters: Democrats argued that they would provide a check on GOP dominance, while Republicans cited their overall experience in governing. At the top of the ticket is the controller’s office, which acts as a fiscal watchdog on the county and thus has enormous influence over financial operations in the courthouse.
“It is sort of like the fox watching the hen house,” said Reif of seeing a Republican in the county controller’s office, responsible for auditing the accounts of the other county offices while maintaining party allegiances. “There always should be checks and balances. It’s critical.”
Reif, 49, of Uwchlan has a degree in economics and finance, and is controller for Youth Mentoring Project, a Malvern-based nonprofit organization. She previously worked as an investment liaison at Vanguard, and helps run a family business, Level Best Carpentry.
McQueen, 51, of Willistown, where he had served as a member of the township board of supervisors is graduate of West Chester University and Eastern University. He is an investment advisor with 25 years of experience and was a partner at Northeast Advisers.
“In the past four years, I think we’ve done some great work,” he said, pointing the publication of a “junior” version of the county’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report that makes the county’s fiscal position more accessible. “I do think the county is in excellent financial health,” citing a collaborative effort between departments and the commissioners’ office.
Van De Krol, 56, of Tredyffrin is a 20-year veteran of the financial services industry, including two years as vice president for Citizens Bank before her retirement this year. She served as president of the Tredyffrin Library Board, and previously ran for supervisor in that township.
“It is always good to have a financial knowledge” when seeking an office like the clerk’s, she said. “There are budgets to run and we need to spend taxpayer dollars wisely.” She said that if elected, she would seek to upgrade the office’s capabilities. “We are woefully behind technologically. We should be using our resources to get the office up to speed.”
Marcello, 51, of Franklin is a licensed insurance producer and registered securities representative. She is a founding member of the Jennersville chapter of the Business and Professional Women, and had served as a township supervisor in Penn.
She said her four years in office had been successful, and that she had established good working relationships with the courts and the county administrative offices. “We are working together to improve the interaction between departments, and find them vastly improved,” she said. If re-elected, she said she would bolster the office’s technological abilities, allowing for more outside access by attorneys and the public to records.
VandePol, 69, of West Whiteland is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and worked in medicine and research in a variety of positions. She currently teaches Human Anatomy and Physiology at Delaware Community College.
She said she would use the coroner’s office as a “bully pulpit” to discuss community concerns such as the opioid crisis. “I am a proactive person,” she said. “I can’t just see a problem and then do nothing about it. As a public servant, the coroner should be contributing medical and scientific expertise to the battle against the opioid emergency.”
Eck, 64, of West Brandywine, has been in family medical practice for 32 years after having graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his medical practice, he serves as medical director of Abraxas Academy, a juvenile detention center.
Among the achievements Eck listed as important are his work getting professional certification for his assistant and the office itself, and his work with those whose lives come in contact with the office. He established a policy of working with the families of the deceased and sometimes even went on visits to their home. “Isn’t it wonderful for a government office to be known for its compassion?” he said.
Maisano, 66, of Kennett, is the founder and chief executive officer of IKOR International, a company providing patient advocacy and professional guardianship services to the disabled and seniors.
She said her campaign was focused on “trust, transparency, and integrity. It should be about what you bring to the table, and having all people have a voice. This county has only had one voice for hundreds of years, and that’s what brought me to the table.”
London, 49, of London Grove, owns London Financial Group and previously served as a law enforcement officer with the Warminster Police Department in Bucks County. He is also an award-winning powerlifter and bodybuilder.
“Being treasurer would be a perfect fit for me,” he said, citing his 24 years of finance background. “I know it’s a money-in, money-out position, and right now the office is run very well. The county is run amazingly, and we need people who will run for the right reason: not a paycheck, a chance to serve.”
The signs of a possible breakthrough by Democrats were visible in the days before the election. The party has cut into the GOP’s voter registration edge, signing up 1,269 new voters to its rolls since the May primary. There have been newly organized voter turnout groups, and a presence on social media making the case for Democratic votes.
The county, indeed, has seen voters willing to cast their ballots for Democrats in recent years, with former President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton winning in general elections. Clinton led Trump here by more than 9 percentage point in the 2016 presidential race, even as she lost statewide.
But Republicans, despite actually losing registered voters since May (by 413), still command the voter rolls, and have proven successful in past off-year row office races, even as national and statewide seats have gone to the Democrats.
According to Chester County Voters Services figures, there were 151,240 registered Republicans for Tuesday’s general municipal election, compared with 133,570 Democrats and 60,659 independent or minor party voters. In 2015, when five row office positions were open, the GOP candidates bested their Democratic opponents by an average of more than 17 percentage points.