The old saying “politics ain’t beanbag” is playing out in the Montgomery County commissioners race, which is more wide open than it has been in recent memory.
Monday is the last day to register to vote in the May 16 primary. And in the last two weeks of April, the contest for two Republican Montgomery County commissioner spots on the fall ballot has ramped up into high gear.
Radio stations are running ads for incumbent Joe Gale and another narrated by Liz Ferry, touting herself and her running mate, Tom DiBello.
Ferry also has many digital ads on Facebook and other platforms and plans to air TV ads, too. Both Ferry and DiBello were endorsed by the county GOP. Gale did not seek its endorsement.
And there are the mailings, too.
Gale sent at least two cards that urge voters to “bullet vote” or vote for only him while decrying the other Republicans as “liberals” who voted to raise taxes in their previous positions. He slammed Ferry for voting for a resolution as an Upper Dublin commissioner that “deplored” law enforcement for the death of George Floyd and mentioned “the innate racial prejudice in each and every person.”
One Republican voter told DVJournal that after seeing that mailing, he is unlikely to vote for either Gale or Ferry.
On the other hand, a mailer on behalf of DiBello and sent by a political action committee (PAC) offered an upbeat message. It said he would support small business and law enforcement, wants to keep elections fair, and is for “parents’ voices in their kids’ education.”
Asked about negative ads, Charlie Gerow, a Republican consultant, and CEO of Quantum Communications, said, “They work. Otherwise, people wouldn’t use them. But they generally work only in a positive environment. That means it’s best to establish your own positive identity by telling voters about your qualifications and what you’ll do in office before going after your opponent.
“It’s also important that the negatives be limited to compare and contrast ads focused on things in the public arena. Cheap shots and slander usually backfire.”
Asked about his attacks on his fellow Republicans, Gale blamed “party bosses” who want an “insider” on the board to funnel contracts to their favored companies.
He said that he is an “unwavering fiscal watchdog.”
“I have opposed every tax increase sent to my desk, identified hundreds of millions of dollars in wasteful spending, and exposed pay-to-play politics. In addition, I battled the totalitarian COVID-19 lockdowns and shutdowns that brought harm to so many schoolchildren and small-business owners.
“Most notably, I have been Pennsylvania’s leading voice in the effort to restore election integrity. I voted to implement paper ballots that provide an auditable record of every vote cast, opposed the purchase and installation of mail-in ballot drop-boxes, and opposed all contracts related to mail-in voting and the mail-in Ballot Counting Center.” He also refused to certify elections since Act 77, allowing no-excuse mail-in votes, passed the legislature.
“The Republican voters of Montgomery County have the right to know that the GOP establishment is deceiving them by endorsing two candidates who have a proven record of governing like left-wing Democrats,” said Gale.
The commissioners will be paid $98,200 next year. However, Gale voted against the pay raise that the two Democrats on the board–Val Arkoosh and Kenneth Lawrence Jr.–passed as they also raised taxes by 8 percent. Gale said he would not take the pay increase.
But Ferry paints Gale as ineffective.
She said that even though there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the county, she and DeBello have a good shot at taking back the county Board of Commissioners, which has been in Democratic control since 2011.
With five relatively unknown people running on the Democratic side, Ferry and DeBello say there is an opening for Republicans to win this year by wooing independent voters.
“People are tired of Joe Gale working for third place. Tom and I believe we can win if we get out the vote,” said Ferry, who mentioned that Gale campaigned for governor last year while serving as commissioner.”
The three-member board has one seat reserved for the minority party.
“I get things done, unlike Joe Gale, who says he votes against tax increases and then approves almost every expense without asking any questions,” said Ferry.
Ferry said the last two years, she got her Upper Dublin board to pass budgets with no tax increases, despite being the only Republican among the seven members. And before that, she was able to pare costs to reduce tax hikes, she said.
She said she was able to stop high-density development in several residential areas and preserve open space, work to get small businesses open during COVID-19, worked with the Turnpike Commission to build a new zip ramp at Fort Washington in order to revitalize the Fort Washington office park and bring in new companies.
Of the five Democrats running—Commissioner Jamila Winder, Tanya Bamford, Neil Makhija, Kimberly Koch, and Noah Marlier–only Makhija appears to be sending campaign postcards so far.
Cheltenham resident Carol Bassetti, a registered Democrat, said she has received a few from him that “go straight to the shredder.” She doesn’t know about any of the five Democratic candidates running but said she would do her own research.
“I’m not going to look at his advertisements that say he’s the guy,” said Bassetti. “He’s not going to fix cancer or stop the war. I will do my due diligence before the election.”