With election day still eight months out but the May primary fast approaching, the race to represent the Seventh Ward on the township Board of Commissioners is shaping up to be an interesting one.
Not one, but two candidates --Democrat Ted Erfer and Republican Beth Ladenheim-- have declared their intention to run for the seat that board president Liz Rogan has held since 2004. Most surprising though is the challenge that is coming from within Rogan's own party.
Rogan, who said she learned of Erfer's candidacy a week before the March 8 entry deadline, said a primary challenge to a sitting board member, let alone president, is somewhat unusual but she will prepare diligently for the challenge.
"I wish it would be easy and I wouldn't have to worry about it, but it's going to be a huge challenge and I take it very seriously," said the incumbent.
Erfer said he expects the grassroots support that got him in the race to buoy him in the primary and beyond.
"A lot of people have approached me to run from the neighborhood and the township, a bunch of people from both parties. There's a lot of people who are concerned about the spending and the tax increases," said Erfer, a "sort of retired" 32-year resident of the township.
"I think if we controlled spending you wouldn't have to go into tax increases all the time. I'll be discussing this more specifically during the campaign, but if you go through the budget there's plenty [of wasteful spending]. A quarter million dollars for the fountain in Ardmore? That's just one of the minor ones. The attitude seems to be that people in Lower Merion have bottomless pockets," said Erfer when asked to identify specific expenditures he would have opposed.
The fountain Erfer referenced, located on the corner of Ardmore Avenue and Lancaster Avenue in front of the Bryn Mawr Trust building, cost the township $136,932 for plumbing and all materials. It was approved on a 9-4 party-line vote, the board's Democrats in favor and its Republicans opposed.
Erfer argues that opposing spending is not an exclusively Republican province.
"I don't think that's a Republican idea, wanting to watch what you spend. I just think the people of Lower Merion should have more of a say when the taxes go up. It happens every year," he said.
Upset over township spending was the entry impetus of the race's Republican as well. When asked, Ladenheim also cited the water fountain, amongst others, as an example of profligate spending.
"When I went around petitioning for signatures, people were mentioning the libraries being overhauled and the millions of dollars going into that. The fountain in Ardmore seems to be very superfluous too," said the candidate.
Ladenheim, a self-described stay-at-home mom and political naif --"I'm just an average citizen who's stepping up," she maintains-- said she wants to balance the distribution of power on the board as well as the township's budget.
"I would like to see a Republican in the seat. There's too much weight on the Democrat side, and there's much too much spending. We're in a lot of debt in Lower Merion and we have to change that because it's going to affect our property values, our neighborhoods, everything. These things have to be corrected," said Ladenheim.
The township ran a $300,000 deficit in fiscal 2010 and has a General Fund balance of $11.2 million, about 40 percent more than board policy recommends they keep in reserve.
Rogan, for her part, said she stands by her record as president.
"We're very aware of the economic climate in the country and the world, and we consider every expenditure to be very serious. But if the community wants a given set of services... it's going to cost a certain amount of money."
She added that concerns about the water fountain are out of proportion to the expense.
"The water fountain cost $135,000, and I suppose the board could have taken that out, but in the grand scheme of a $50 million budget, $135,000? Some of which was paid for by a grant? I suppose we could have eliminated that. If that's the one thing I did that was wasteful, then I've done a pretty good job."