Politics is a dirty business at times. Not for the faint of heart. And politicians of the Democrat persuasion all over the area are all atwitter over the bombshell Philadelphia Inquirer article yesterday. It makes you wonder a very simple thing: guilty conscience?
ELECTIONS: Democrats have controlled Montco for a decade. The primary will test their political machine and pay-to-play culture.
The influence of the machine — and politically connected lawyers — is evident in several examples in this year’s Democratic primary races for Montgomery County commissioner and other row offices.
by Andrew Seidman
Updated on May 1, 2023
The fundraising invitation featured a who’s who of prominent Montgomery County Democrats.
Soliciting contributions ranging from $50 to $10,000, the March 29 event at Sunnybrook Golf Club in Plymouth Meeting offered a chance to mingle with the state House majority leader, two state senators, a county commissioner, and a former party chairman.
But one of the most influential players on the host committee doesn’t hold elected office or even live in the county — Michael P. Clarke, managing partner of municipal law firm Rudolph Clarke.
Clarke and his firm helped Kimberly Koch — the fundraiser’s beneficiary — and her fellow Democrats take over the Whitpain Township Board of Supervisors in the 2019 elections. The new board then hired Rudolph Clarke as the town’s lawyers. Now, Clarke and his allies are supporting her campaign for county commissioner.
“I’m a good Democrat. … We try to make sure that Democrats get elected because all you gotta do is look around this country and look at how out of touch the Republican Party is,” Clarke said in an interview. “So, who should elected Democrats turn to when they get elected? Why wouldn’t they turn to good Democrats? Why wouldn’t they turn to people who they trust?”
The May 16 Democratic primary for two commissioner seats will be a test of a political machine that has developed since the party flipped the three-member governing board from red to blue in 2011 — and established a model that Democrats have followed in Philadelphia’s other collar counties.
Democrats have cast themselves as reformers as they’ve gained more power in the suburbs, particularly after the election of former President Donald Trump. But emails, financial records, and campaign finance data reviewed by The Inquirer — as well as interviews with almost two dozen people involved in local politics — reveal a pay-to-play culture in which the line between business and politics is often blurred.
In February, the hundreds of rank-and-file members who make up the Montgomery County Democratic Committee rebuked leadership by declining to endorse its full slate of preferred candidates, citing heavy-handed leadership and an opaque process.
….The influence of the machine — and politically connected lawyers — is evident in several examples in this year’s primary races…..Tensions have ratcheted up in the months leading up to the primary, with one party official facing possible removal from the committee amid allegations that she violated bylaws by supporting multiple non-endorsed candidates in Facebook posts. Some rank-and-file Democrats say the investigation seems aimed at stifling dissent; one committee member invoked the Soviet-era KGB during an April 20 party Zoom meeting, according to people familiar with the matter….This year’s commissioners’ race comes as the county — the third biggest in the state — faces a leadership shake-up. Commissioner Val Arkoosh resigned from the three-member board in January to join Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration, and fellow Democrat Ken Lawrence Jr. decided not to seek reelection.
The Democratic Party committee tasked with recommending Arkoosh’s replacement interviewed more than 20 candidates and initially tapped Danielle Duckett, the Lower Gwynedd Township supervisor and policy director for State Rep. Chris Rabb, to serve the remainder of Arkoosh’s term.
But the party ultimately rescinded the offer. It wasn’t entirely clear why, but party officials asked Duckett about her bankruptcy filing 20 years ago when she’d been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Duckett also faced questions about the appointment of solicitor in her town, and whether she was a “team player.”
Documents obtained by The Inquirer through records requests help shed light on how the solicitor appointment unfolded.
After Democrats won control of the Lower Gwynedd Board of Supervisors in 2021, Clarke and another attorney got lunch with Duckett and her fellow supervisors.
“I said, ‘So if it’s all right with you, I’d like to make my pitch. And I made my pitch about how we’re good Democrats,” Clarke recalled.
Clarke told the supervisors about the firm’s experience advising municipalities on matters such as antidiscrimination ordinances and contracting rules favored by labor unions.
A few days later, Clarke sent an email thanking the supervisors for “indulging me as I ‘made my pitch’ a few times during our lunch.”
But Duckett and her fellow Democrats broke from local tradition — they reappointed solicitor Neil Stein, who had been hired in 2020 under the previous Republican majority in a bipartisan vote.
Stein offered a low rate, lived in the town, and is unaffiliated with either party….
In February, the county party voted to endorse Winder’s candidacy. But committee members opposed party leadership’s recommendation to endorse veteran State Rep. Tim Briggs — who works for Kilkenny’s firm — for a second commissioner seat, opting instead to hold an “open primary” in which no candidate has official party support.
After Briggs dropped out of the race, four other candidates remained in addition to Winder……During that time, Clarke and his firm gave money and legal services to a political action committee affiliated with local Democrats, including Koch. Kilkenny and Obermayer also donated.
A few months into office, the Democratic-led board voted to hire Rudolph Clarke as solicitor after the supervisors issued a request for proposals. The township later hired Obermayer as labor attorney and the zoning board appointed by the supervisors hired Kilkenny Law as its solicitor.
Obermayer’s chairman, Nasatir, said public entities account for a “very small slice” of the firm’s work and that he’s developed a reputation as a trusted attorney. Kilkenny isn’t endorsing a candidate for the second commissioner seat and said he donates to Democrats “across the board” and not based on business interests.
Whitpain is among at least nine towns and school boards in Montgomery County that have flipped to Democrats since 2017 and later hired Rudolph Clarke, Kilkenny, or both….
The contested primaries have shaken the party.
Salus has been investigating whether Joyce Keller, an elected party official, violated bylaws regarding support for non-endorsed candidates. A complaint seeking her removal alleges Keller signed petitions for multiple candidates and promoted their campaigns on Facebook.
She says she’s supporting Winder and one other candidate, and that she shared Facebook posts in an effort to educate voters.
No final decision has been made.
Salus’ actions have already had a “chilling effect on getting out the vote,” committee member Joyce Pickles said during an April 20 party Zoom meeting, according to people familiar with the matter.
Welcome to politics and is this the subordination of public interests to private goals or just politics as usual?
Now I know they are all abuzz in Montgomery County. This has been building for years. It has been building since before I moved to Chester County, truthfully.
This is how it all starts: Democrats achieve victory over Republicans. Then they become the problem they fought to eradicate. Happens in reverse as well. Time in memoriam.
It’s pretty goddamn simple people. As a country we are designed as a TWO PARTY SYSTEM. You know, for fairness and balance, two words seldom heard in politics? That is the history of how we came to be as a country. Fairness and balance were supposed to do away with petty despots, dictators, a monarchy and courtiers. Nice idea. But here in modern politics, neither party ever wants to pay attention to HISTORY. And what happens kids when we ignore history? We are doomed to Eternal Groundhog Day AKA repeating the mistakes of the past.
What we have can indeed be distilled down to a simple lack of balance. Each political party plays a game of political chicken or whomever gets all of the toys wins. They even do that within their own party’s political hierarchy.
BALANCE. Politics lacks balance, so today there is no art to the art form that is politics.
We have social media, so you would think there was greater accountability in politics, right? Nope only a greater desire to literally bury the truth and even the first amendment.
Today in Chester County she who is kind of politically toothless and should be at least silent at this point reared her head with this gem:
I mean REALLY? If there wasn’t “pay to play” as she termed it, would she have even achieved her political office as a Democrat supervisor in West Whiteland? Seems to me this lame duck on the Chester County Wheel of Fortune might want to buy a clue here? Maybe she should start her own apology tour, but I digress. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you, right?
Chester County Democrats do need to sit up because are they any better than the Montgomery County Democrats currently in the hot seat? And is there or is there not crossover? I have been concerned for some time that Chester County Democrats were in danger of becoming a mirror image of whom they replaced.
Speaking of whom they replaced. A history lesson:
Philadelphia Inquirer: Witness to a revolution
Retired Chester County Judge Lawrence E. Wood chronicled a crusade that remade Chesco politics.
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Inquirer Staff Writer
Published Mar 6, 2008
Rankled by pay-to-play politics, a “rambunctious bunch” of renegade Republicans revved into action in 1970, ultimately prompting reforms that would alter Chester County history.
Decades after the upstarts challenged the entrenched GOP’s balance of power, a former organizer has written a book chronicling the David and Goliath-style uprising.
Author Lawrence E. Wood, who retired from the Chester County Court bench in October 2006, said for years he and the late State Sen. Robert J. Thompson had discussed writing about their 10-year struggle to break the stranglehold of party boss Theodore S.A. Rubino, who was eventually jailed for extortion.
Wood said Thompson’s death in January 2006 kicked him into high gear. Less than two years later, Wood’s self-published
The Independent Years, which he dedicated to Thompson, is being sold online.
Written in a conversational style, the book juxtaposes Wood’s narrative with news clips and recollections from other “independent Republicans,” including Wood’s wife, Rennie; Irene Brooks, Chester County’s first female commissioner; Mickie Deery, whose late husband, Stu, bucked the party and won election as county treasurer; and Rep. Joe Pitts, a long-serving state representative who is now a member of Congress.
Central to the group’s discontent was the fact that Rubino, a Malvern contractor who owned the Knickerbocker Landfill in East Whiteland Township, was the party chair as well as the head of the county commissioners.
Republicans have controlled the county’s three-member governing body since the Civil War and Rubino’s power was virtually unbounded, a situation he encouraged.
“Ted ran the county party with a strong hand, and enforced party discipline when he thought people were stepping out of line,” Wood writes, recalling that he was reamed out by Rubino in 1967 for supporting a non-endorsed candidate.
Rubino’s subsequent refusal to allow open primaries and secret ballots – procedures that could have eroded his control – led the insurgents to run their own candidates, including Wood and Stu Deery….
He makes it clear that Rubino-bashing is not his goal. In fact, he credits the GOP titan, who died in 1989, with creating numerous social-service agencies, including the county Health Department.
“Unfortunately, our story makes sense only when considered against the background of his story,” Wood writes.
The bulk of the text focuses on the ragtag efforts of the disenchanted Republicans to get elected, a process Wood relates with suspense, awe and self-deprecating humor. Ultimately, the group made inroads, securing many of the reforms they had sought so passionately….”If you let people get too comfortable, you wind up with bad organizations and bad candidates,” he said.
Political scandal is nothing new. It happens. And keeps happening because no one pays attention to political history…or common sense. I mean people how do you think we ended up with Trump and things like Klanned Karenhood? Ignoring history. Always thinking they were the smartest people in the rooms.
Politics is an old profession, perhaps only second oldest to what? Prostitution? Gosh did I say that out loud? I think I did. (Twenty lashes with a wet noodle.)
Chester, Montgomery, Delaware, and Philadelphia county all have lots of political scandal to learn from. Bucks County too, only they operate more like a secret society over there.
Oh and free speech non profits I like include FIRE and First Amendment Coalition. One of my favorite rights based non-profits in general in this country remains The Institute for Justice.
Throughout this post are articles involving political scandals. All around the area. Learn from the past. I mean regular people might as well educate themselves because it seems the political parties do not. Yes, Chester County Democrats I am indeed speaking to you as well as Chester County Republicans. Y’all didn’t invent this political wheel, you are all just the latest hamsters on it.