Democrats swept all five contested Lower Merion Board of Commissioners races in Tuesday's general election, keeping a 10-4 majority on the board.
The party beat Republican challengers in wards 1, 3, 7, 9 and 13. Democrat Cheryl Gelber was unopposed in Ward 5, as was Republican Lew Gould in Ward 11.
“I’m thrilled—thrilled,” said Ward 7 incumbent and Board of Commissioners President Liz Rogan, after it was announced she had won reelection handily. “And though I know there are some very vocal concerns and issues that are brought before us, and accusations that what we are doing is inappropriate ... I think this election certainly shows that is not the case.”
The closest race was in Ward 1, where incumbent Dan Bernheim beat A.J. Kait with 53 percent of the vote.
Kait, of Gladwyne, lost the race to Bernheim, of Penn Valley, by 693-605. Though Kait was told he won in the Gladwyne precinct 2-1, he lost in the two Penn Valley precincts.
Also, all five Democratic Lower Merion school board candidates beat the two independent challengers.
Lower Merion Republicans gathered at John Henry’s Pub in Ardmore to watch results come in and were disappointed by the results.
Lower Merion Democrats celebrated at McShea's in Narberth.
Both camps accused their opponents of throwing too much money at the races.
Lower Merion and Narberth Republican Committee Chairman Lance Rogers attributed the township losses to “tremendous spending” by Democratic candidates for Montgomery County commissioner Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards, who won the election.
“They had some powerful and misleading messages they used on TV, and I think those took their toll,” Rogers said. “Republicans stayed home, and Democrats came out.”
“I think that the silver lining is that the township commissioner candidates performed extremely well,” Rogers added, given voter registration numbers.
Richard Kaufman took 37 percent of the vote against Ward 9 incumbent George Manos, an outcome roughly proportional with registration figures.
“[Bala Cynwyd] residents are going to get the neighborhood that they wanted, and they’re not going to like it,” said Kaufman, who while running said City Avenue rezoning was one of the most important issues facing residents.
Vice President Paul McElhaney, the Democratic incumbent in Ward 3, won with 61 percent of the vote.
“I’m disappointed, but the people of Belmont Hills have spoken, and the best man won,” said McElhaney’s Republican challenger Ray Fullbright. “I wish him luck.”
Turnout “actually was better than we were afraid of. It wasn’t Barack Obama’s turnout, but it was pretty good,” Rogan said. A lower turnout would have been negative for Lower Merion Democratic candidates, she said, but much worse for Democratic candidates running for countywide seats. “And we weren’t going to let that happen,” Rogan added.
“Lance Rogers really did a disservice to his own candidates by creating and investing in the [township] commissioner races here,” said Bruce Reed, the former Lower Merion Board of Commissioners president, who resigned in January, paving the way for Rogan’s elevation from board member to president.
“They chose to contest a number of commissioner races that are strongly Democratic districts,” Reed said. “Municipal elections get abysmally low turnout—in your opponents’ area, you want to encourage that. Lance Rogers should have been trying to suppress Lower Merion, a heavily Democratic area—instead he ran a slate of candidates against our Democratic commissioner candidates which caused our voters to come out in droves today.”
Rogan was just as incredulous, saying each Republican challenger for township commissioner was given $20,000 to $30,000 for the race. “And they used it,” she said. “I actually got feedback from constituents that they didn’t think it was fiscally responsible, that it was such negative campaigning that it turned them off.”
In that sense, Rogan said, she agreed with Reed’s opinion—the Republicans’ efforts worked against them.
“With campaigning, grassroots is still the best,” said Marissa Golden, a Democrat elected to the Lower Merion Board of School Directors on Tuesday. “TV advertising doesn’t get people to vote for you, but then again, contrary to popular belief, negative TV ads don’t turn people off.”
Still, too many glossy mailers and too many robo-calls, in a voter-savvy township like Lower Merion—those kinds of things are going to alienate voters, said Bill Leopold, co-chair of the Democratic Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth.
Rogan defeated Republican challenger Beth Ladenheim of Wynnewood, a political newcomer who said she might run again.
“I’m encouraged by the people who responded positively to my message,” said Ladenheim. “I’m disappointed I didn’t get enough people to split their ticket, which is apparently what happened with heavy Democratic turnout. Hopefully next time it would work out better.”
Republican Lew Gould, who ran unopposed in Ward 11, was reelected with 788 votes.
“I’m very happy to be reelected and appreciate the support of the voters of Ward 11,” Gould said, “but I’m not particularly looking forward to four more years of dealing with a township which is intent on doing everything for township employees instead of for township taxpayers and residents.”
Republican Lou Barson, the owner of Hymie’s Deli, lost to Democratic incumbent Brian McGuire in Ward 13 by 859-460.
“Tonight is not a reflection of your efforts,” Rogers told his fellow township Republicans.
State Rep. Mike Gerber (D., 148th) said Tuesday night was historic.
“We have the chance to change the dynamic here in Montgomery County that’s been in place for many, many decades,” Gerber said.
“All of these races are important because the local races will have a direct impact on people’s quality of life—whether it’s a municipal election or the school board. Oftentimes, those positions are where decisions are made that residents will feel on a regular basis—sometimes more than decisions made down in Washington.”
Stay tuned to Patch for and more developments throughout the night.