Two women running in a special election for state representative in Delaware County had sharp elbows out during a debate.

Those women and a Libertarian are vying for the 163rd seat vacated by Rep. Mike Zabel, a Democrat, in the wake of sexual harassment allegations—a seat that could tip control of the House back to Republicans.

Two women –Republican Katie Ford and Democrat Heather Boyd—sparred in a debate that aired on PHL 17 over the weekend.

Asked about sexual harassment, Ford said, “The first thing I would do is make sure that didn’t happen. And make sure that it didn’t get covered up. And make sure the women who have gone through these challenges are represented correctly…And if something happens, I’m not going to put politics in front of common sense, and common sense says that if someone comes to you and says they’re being sexually harassed, you do something about it. You don’t just let it go. And you don’t continue to endorse someone. You don’t continue to champion for them.”

GOP House candidate Katie Ford

Boyd, chair of the Upper Darby Democrats, said, “The culture of Harrisburg has definitely been one that’s not been a safe one for women. As a woman who has worked in Harrisburg, I’ve witnessed sexual harassment. I’ve experienced sexual harassment.  When (lobbyist) Andi Perez (one of Zabel’s accusers) came to me, she asked for my confidence that I help her change the rules and change the culture of Harrisburg.  So when I met her in 2021, she asked for my help in securing the rule change, which is what I immediately worked to do…She wanted to change the rules to protect all women, and I worked to help her do that.”

“You continued to champion for him,” said Ford. “You continued to let him run. You were the political party boss. Why did that happen? You can protect privacy. But you can also go after the people who are doing this. You’re a woman. You should know better.”

Boyd denied that she endorsed Zabel after she learned about Perez’s allegations.

“Katie Ford fully does not know how the democratic process works,” said Boyd. She claimed she tried unsuccessfully to find someone to run in the 2022 primary against Zabel.

Abortion has become an issue in the campaign, with Democrats, including Gov. Josh Shapiro, hitting Ford with negative ads on the topic that the party sees as a winning issue since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“Deciding when, where, and how to have a family is a fundamentally private decision,” said Boyd, who stated she supports “a woman’s right to choose.”

“I don’t think the government should be making decisions about how a woman makes her choices. I think it’s intrusive. I think it takes away rights.”

Heather Boyd

Asked whether she supports late-term abortions, Boyd said she does not and agrees with Pennsylvania’s current law that limits abortion to the first 23 weeks, with some exceptions afterward for rape, incest, or to save a mother’s life.

Ford said Boyd is running “a $100,000 campaign to smear me on this issue.”

“Number one, I also believe it’s a woman’s right to choose. I’m a mother of a daughter…guess what? Things happen, and women should be allowed to make that decision. I support the current (law) that’s going on right now, and I would not change it.”

Pressed on the issue, Ford said she would not vote on a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion.

Boyd supports a four-bill gun control package that the Democratic-controlled House recently passed. Ford said she also supports those bills but went even further, saying potential gun owners should be required to have training before being allowed to purchase a weapon.

And both candidates called for more state funding for public education.

Alfeia Goodwin

“Obviously, this election has more significance with control of the House hanging in the balance,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor and director of Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

“The district has been trending increasingly Democrat over the past few cycles, and there are significantly more registered Democrats in the 163rd than registered Republicans. However, special elections have regularly produced upsets, and I think Republicans see an opportunity here. Given that independents are usually closed out of primaries and may not even be aware that they can vote in this race, it may pose a bit of a challenge for the Republicans, who likely need a good yield from this group to offset the Democratic registration advantage,” he said.

Ford answered questions from DVJournal about her positions, but Boyd did not respond.

Asked why she is running, Ford said, “I’m not a politician and never have been. What I am is a regular citizen tired of the politicians failing us and ready to step up and make a difference on crime, on inflation, on schools and education, and on helping real people.”

Ford said her top issue is “Bringing common sense to government and helping people. That’s what is needed on every issue, not just one. We need to make our communities safe again. We need schools to do better for our kids. We need to fight inflation to help working families and seniors. These are all things the politicians have failed on because they are playing partisan games instead of doing what’s common sense.”

When asked why voters should choose her, Ford answered, “I am like the people of the 163rd and want to be their commonsense voice. My experience is that of a lifelong resident, working mom, a volunteer in our schools, someone who works with families with special needs children, a U.S. Army veteran, and the wife of a police officer – not a politician.”

Ford is a special instructor for early intervention working with children and their families aged from birth to three. She is a long-time community volunteer and the mother of three. She met her husband while both were students at Upper Darby High School.

Boyd has two children and raised two foster children. She taught history and art history and served on the Upper Darby School Board. She has worked as chief of staff for state Rep. Leanne Krueger (D-Brookhaven) and as district director and senior advisor for U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Philadelphia/Delaware). As well as chairing the Upper Darby Democratic Committee, Boyd founded the Delaware County chapter of NOW.

In addition to Ford and Boyd, Libertarian Alfeia Goodwin is also vying for the office. An Upper Darby resident, she is a retired police officer, Army veteran, and brigade command chaplain.

The 163rd District includes a section of Upper Darby, Collingdale, Clifton Heights, Aldan, and part of Darby Township. The special election will be held on May 16, the same day as the primary.

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