The PA Suburban County Races to Watch This Fall

(Delaware County Democratic slate | Photo: MediaNews Group File Photo, Delco Times)

Philadelphia has a more interesting general election than usual this year, with a competitive District Council race in the far Northeast in District 10, and what appears to be one of the more organized efforts yet to elect left-wing candidates Kendra Brooks and Pastor Nic O'Rourke to the non-majority party At-Large Council seats now held by Republicans Al Taubenberger and David Oh. 

But local politics junkies should also tune into the races just beyond our shores in the suburban counties, where the balance of partisan control of as many as three southeastern County Councils is up for grabs this November. Many of these places are just a short ride away on regional rail, making them an easy canvassing destination for people in Philadelphia interested in impacting the outcomes. 

Why should Philadelphia residents care about what happens in suburban politics? The nature of suburban voter turnout obviously matters a lot in the 2020 Presidential race, House races, and state legislative elections, and the County races are an early test of how engaged each party's base is. And the elections have practical implications for city-county cooperation too on a whole range of issues, most importantly public transportation.

For instance, if even one county flips to the Democrats, the partisan balance of SEPTA's board will also flip to the Democrats, eventually in this term, since each of the five SEPTA counties get two appointees to the SEPTA board. It's still unclear exactly what the practical upshot of this could be, but with big changes coming to the agency like the rumored selection of a replacement for General Manager Jeff Kneuppel coming early next year, and as much as 40% of SEPTA management set to retire over the next several years, the stakes for SEPTA governance are extraordinarily high.

So who's running, and where? Read on for a preview of the county races to watch this November. 

Delaware County

Delaware County Council has been under Republican control for over 150 years, literally since the Civil War, but the odds look decent that it could finally flip to the Democrats this November since they only need to win one of three open seats.

There are 5 total seats on the Council, and Democrats won two of them in the last municipal cycle with the election of Kevin Madden and Brian Zidek—the first Democrats to win in 40 years. Those two won't be up for reelection for another two years, so this cycle, the remaining 3 seats are up.

This year, Chair John McBlain and Vice Chair Colleen Morrone were termed out, and Council member Michael Culp decided not to seek re-election, leaving three seats open.

In the primary, Democrats nominated three women, Dr. Monica Taylor, a kinesiologist and program director at University of the Sciences, attorney Christine Reuther, and Radnor Commissioner Elaine Paul Schafer, who are running together as a slate. All three were endorsed by the Delco Democrats in a crowded primary.

Republicans nominated Thornbury Township supervisors Chair Jim Raith, Kelly Colvin, the Associate Director of Temple University's Center on Regional Politics and a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, and U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spelling, and Mike Morgan, chair of the Foundation of the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce.

There's also a competitive District Attorney race, where Democratic challenger Jack Stollsteimer is running against interim D.A. Republican Katayoun Copeland, who is running for her first full term. After serving 19 years in the Delaware County D.A.'s office, Copeland was appointed in 2018 to serve the remainder of former District Attorney Jack Whelan’s term, after he won a seat on the Delaware County Common Pleas Court. 

Bucks County

In Bucks County, there's one open seat on the three-member County Commission as a result of Republican Commissioner Charles Martin retiring (Martin is also a SEPTA Board member.)

Incumbent Republican Commissioner Rob Loughrey, first elected in 2011, will be running again, and current state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo will be the second Republican nominee. Each party can nominate only two candidates for the three positions. 

On the Democratic side, incumbent Diane Ellis-Marseglia is running for her fourth term on the County Commission, and is joined by Falls Township Supervisor Bob Harvie.

Democrats haven't had a majority on the Commission in nearly 40 years. If Rep. DiGirolamo wins a seat on the Commission, he’ll have to resign from his state House seat, setting up a special election for one of the most Democratic-leaning House districts that’s currently held by a Republican.

Chester County

Like Bucks, Chester County also has a three-member Commission where each political party can nominate two candidates.

The two Republican incumbents ran unopposed in the primary, Michelle Kichline and Terrence Farrell, ran unopposed in the Republican primary. And in the Democratic primary, 12-year incumbent Kathi Cozzone lost her primary, coming in third out of four candidates.

The two winners were three-term Downingtown Mayor Josh Maxwell, who was supported by the Chester Democrats, and Marian Marian Moskowitz, a local developer and board member of West Chester University who's been involved in economic development in Phoenixville. Anti-pipeline activists had been upset with Cozzone over her vote to open the door to the Sunoco pipeline on county land, which emerged as a key issue in the primary. Ginny Kerslake, campaign manager of first-term Rep. Danielle Friel-Otten, came in 4th.

On the Republican side, Terrence Farrell was first elected in 2009, and is the first African-American to be elected Commissioner in Chester County. Michelle Kichline has served since 2014, initially appointed as an interim replacement for Ryan Costello, who was elected to Congress. After serving the remainder of the term, she then went on to win the seat the following year. 

Democrats have never had a majority on the Chester Commission, but things have been moving in their direction lately. 2017 was the first time in over 200 years that Chester Democrats won the 4 row office races: Treasurer, Controller, Coroner, and Clerk of Courts. 

Aside from the Commission, Democratic candidate, attorney Deb Ryan, is the only candidate currently in the race, but Republicans are finding a replacement. Incumbent Republican D.A. Tom Hogan ran in the primary, but then dropped out of the race, leaving the Chester Republicans to find a nominee in time to place on the ballot. The candidate is likely to be one of Hogan's assistant DAs. Hogan said he had achieved all he wished to achieve and wanted to spend more time with his family. 

Montgomery County

The Montgomery County race is a bit of a snooze with incumbent Democrats Dr. Val Arkoosh and Ken Lawrence both easily prevailing in their primaries in their reelection bids to the three-member Commission. As in Chester and Bucks, each party can nominate only two candidates.

Lawrence is running for his first reelection bid since his appointment to fill out the remainder of Josh Shapiro's term, who left the seat early when he was elected state Attorney General, and is widely expected to prevail thanks to Democrats' growing voter registration edge in the county.

On the Republican side, sitting Commission Joe Gale is running again, accompanied by Whitpain Supervisors Chair Fred Connor. Fun fact: Joe Gale's younger brother Sean Gale, 28, also ran in the five-way Republican primary, but alas, the Brothers Gale did not make it onto the general election ballot together. 

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  • David Marshall
    commented 2019-07-27 13:21:58 -0400
    Gene DiGirolamo is a current State Rep, not former. If he gets elected County Comissioner, it will trigger a special election for the State House seat. By partisan registration and top of this ticket performance, this is one of the most Democratic leaning State House districts currently held a Republican, and a very possible flip if it becomes an open seat.
  • Rose Peter
    commented 2019-07-27 09:56:07 -0400
    I have to ask a question is a general election and presidential election the same and few Upcoming Parliamentary United Kingdom General Elections?