With two strong candidates running for county commissioner, the Bucks County GOP hopes to win the majority by defeating Democrats Bob Harvie and Diane Marseglia-Ellis in the November 7 election.
Incumbent Republican Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo and county Controller Pamela Van Blunk said Democrats are trying to nationalize the county election with issues like abortion that are not under the purview of the county commissioners. Instead, the two Republicans are focused on local concerns such as public safety.
“Crime has increased significantly in the past year,” Van Blunk said. “We’re going to back our law enforcement.” The two have the support of Bucks County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 53.
According to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System, serious crime increased in Bucks County by 18.7 percent between 2021 and 2022. That was 50 percent higher than the statewide increase of 12.7 percent.
“Gene and I would like to meet with the law enforcement leaders regularly to hear what they need, what kind of assistance,” said Van Blunk.
“We’ve always supported our police,” said DiGirolamo, who received state FOP support during his 25 years in the state legislature. He is now running for a second term on the county board.
“They are a fantastic team,” said Pat Poprik, chair of the Bucks Republican Party. “I believe Gene’s background with the opioid and drug issue is [valuable]; this is a problem we’re facing in this county.” Poprik is referencing DiGirolamo’s time as chairman of the Pennsylvania House Human Services Committee. But he also has a personal connection to the addiction problem.
“I’ve been very open about this. I had a son who was a heroin addict,” DiGirolamo told DVJournal. “I understand what it was like for a family to go through something like that. Thank God my son got in recovery and got help.
“I also have a daughter with a severe mental health issue, but she’s doing very good today,” DiGirolamo added. “A lot of what you do as an elected official in public service comes from what you go through in life. For me, the best part of the job is helping people.”
Poprik says DiGirolamo’s experience in human services and Van Blunk’s comptroller work make them “the perfect match.”
DiGirolamo and Van Blunk are unhappy with how the Democrats are running county government.
“One thing that’s bothered me is the commissioners are responsible for appointing a lot of people on boards and committees,” said DiGirolamo. “Through these last three and a half years, I’ve been really disappointed in the Democrats taking people off these [volunteer] boards and committees, qualified people who have been doing a great job, for political reasons, because they’re Republicans and putting people on who are Democrats. I’ve voted against removing people, but the vote is 2-1. These are people who want to be reappointed.”
“These boards are not supposed to be political. They’re supposed to be bipartisan. I’ll keep a good person on the job.”
The two also promised to be transparent and slammed Democrats for fighting two moms, Megan Brock and Jamie Walker, in court over disclosing emails that show their thinking during the COVID pandemic.
“Right now, the Democratic commissioners are suing two moms, hiding documents. Gene and I don’t hide our emails. And we think the county government should be transparent,” said Van Blunk.
“Transparency is paramount to democracy. As an elected official, you have to be transparent with everything you do,” said DiGirolamo, who was in Harrisburg when the legislature passed the open records law.
“I have never one time in 30 years refused an open records request,” he said.
The cases against Walker and Brock are “a huge waste of taxpayer dollars. They are paying outside counsel. They are also using in-house counsel. And they have spent a lot of time and a lot of money not releasing these emails. And they were also sanctioned; Bucks County was sanctioned twice at $1,5000 a pop by a local judge. Judge Denise Bowman sanctioned them after an in-camera (in chambers) review. Judges do not sanction very often,” said Van Blunk.
Van Blunk said, “Gene and I would bring back decorum during the commissioners’ meetings. We represent all of Bucks County residents. Just because somebody has a divergent point of view from us does not merit ridicule. The Democrat commissioners are actively laughing at people who come up and make comments. I’ve seen them visibly laughing, which is completely unprofessional.”
DiGiralomo said, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. If you’re not getting criticized, you’re not doing your job. Criticism can be very helpful. First, it gives an opportunity to explain. Second, it allows you to re-evaluate why you did something and maybe change your mind.”
“You can’t make everybody happy all the time. It’s impossible. But if you make a decision that’s controversial, you’ve got to be able to explain why you made that decision,” he said.
DiGiolamo grew up on his family’s farm in Bensalem and continued to farm and run a farm stand until it became untenable as the township became more developed.
After serving as the township auditor and on its drug and alcohol board, he was elected state representative when former Sen. Tommy Tomlinson ran for the state Senate.
Van Blunk grew up in Central New Jersey but says, “I’ve lived in Bucks County half my life.”
The pair promised to be careful stewards of taxpayers’ money.
The current Democratic commissioners are “very proud of the fact they haven’t raised taxes,” Van Blunk said. “However, they’re omitting the (millions) they’ve received in (COVID relief funding) and the long-term lease of Lake Galena and the opioid settlement.”
As county controller, Van Blunk has saved money by finding waste and abuse, including rental assistance that was approved but had been applied for fraudulently.
“We caught a guy literally faking his mother’s death certificate to try and collect rent from his mother’s home,” said Van Blunk.
During the pandemic, DiGirolamo was able to steer COVID relief money to small businesses to keep them operating.
“Pretty close to a third [of the funding] went to small businesses, not loans but grants they applied for,” said DiGirolamo. “I think that was a good use of the money. In my mind, there is nothing more Republican than helping small business owners.”
Harvie and Marseglia-Ellis did not respond to requests for an interview.