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Boyd Beats Ford in Special Election, Democrats Keep House

With the help of $1 million in campaign cash, Democrat Heather Boyd won Tuesday’s special election in House District 163 defeating Republican Katie Ford.

This leaves Democrats in control of the House after the resignation of Democratic Rep. Mike Zabel — forced from his seat by allegations of sexual assault — left the party’s majority in the chamber in doubt.

Unofficial election numbers as of Wednesday morning showed Boyd with 60 percent of the vote compared to Ford’s 38 percent. Libertarian Alfe Goodwin pulled down about 1.2 percent.

“This election has been about all of you in this room and countless others who aren’t here today who cared enough and believed enough and worked hard enough to make the difference,” Boyd told supporters at a post-election party.

In a statement Ford said, “At the end of the day, I ran a campaign with honesty and integrity and that is more important than winning.” On Facebook Ford wrote that she “knew [the race] would be an uphill battle.”

“I wanted to represent the incredible community we have here,” she said. “Unfortunately, we fell short and my opponent has won.”

The race became a major front for state Democrats over the past several months, with the party pouring around $1 million into the district to help shore up Boyd’s chances. Republicans, in contrast, spent around $150,000 backing Ford.

On the eve of the election, President Joe Biden swooped in to offer Boyd a boost. “With control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on the line, this race will determine the future of so many fundamental freedoms that Pennsylvanians hold dear,” Biden told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Heather is an experienced public servant who will protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, stand up for common sense gun safety laws and expand access to voting rights,” he said.

Berwood Yost, the director of the Center for Opinion Research and the Floyd Institute for Public Policy at Franklin and Marshall College, told DVJournal that these kinds of endorsements of state candidates have become “more common” in recent years.

“Barack Obama has endorsed many state legislative candidates the past few years,” he said. “Since a loss in this race would flip control of the state house, I’m not at all surprised that Biden provided his endorsement.”

Republicans tapped Ford for the slot in March of this year. A lifelong Upper Darby resident, she was trained as a combat medic and served in the U.S. Army for eight years.

Ford had touted her status as a political outsider.

“I’m not a politician and never have been,” she said this month. “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.”

Boyd, on the other hand, has a well-established career in Democratic politics. The Upper Darby Democratic Committee chair, Boyd formerly worked for Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon and was chief of staff for Delaware County state Rep. Leanne Krueger. She also served on the Upper Darby School Board from 2015-2018.

The race was kicked off earlier this year after Zabel resigned the seat in March amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment from female colleagues. At times, his alleged behavior was used as a line of attack from the Ford campaign.

Democrats “[chose] as my opponent the political boss who enabled Mr. Zabel’s re-election, even though news reports show she knew what was happening,” Ford claimed in March. Earlier this month she took a thinly veiled swipe at Boyd when she argued: “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.”

Boyd, on the other hand, contended that she had worked to “change the rules to protect all women” in the state government.

“As a woman who has worked in Harrisburg, I’ve witnessed sexual harassment. I’ve experienced sexual harassment,” she said.

The significance of the race, and the control of the state House, was not lost on Democrats from Biden on downward.

“The control of the House is at stake, so we are not taking anything for granted,” Democratic Rep. Leanne Krueger told the Inquirer this month. Gov. Josh Shapiro filmed a TV ad for Boyd, focusing on abortion rights. That ad, along with another abortion rights spot and one that hit Ford on her family’s finances, ran continuously in the leadup to the election.

And Delaware County Democratic Chair Colleen Guiney told media earlier this year: “The House majority runs through Delaware County in May.”

On Tuesday, it did just that.

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Days Before Special Election, Race for New Delco State Rep Heats Up

By the time the special election determining which party controls the state House is held on May 16, Democrats will have spent upwards of $1 million to support Heather Boyd.

The Republicans will have spent a fraction of that, around $150,000, to try to elect Katie Ford. The two women, and Libertarian Alfe Goodwin, are vying to replace former state Rep. Mike Zabel, who resigned after three women came forward with sexual harassment allegations.

“I’ve been in politics since I was 13,” said former Upper Darby Mayor Tom Micozzie, whose father had held that seat for 38 years. “People don’t usually spend money if they think they’re winning.”

Disgraced former state Rep. Margot Davidson was spotted knocking on doors for Boyd, two sources told DVJournal.

The Democrats control the House 101 to 100, so a lot is on the line. And even with a 22,000 to 14,000 voter advantage they are pulling out all the stops. (Another 8,000 are unaffiliated.)

“The Democrats’ investment in this race isn’t that surprising given its crucial role and some concern about the less predictable nature of special elections,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.  “It would be a monumental blow to the party to lose this race and their majority in the House.”

Ford, a former Army medic who is now a special education instructor, and Boyd, a party insider who is chair of the Upper Dublin Democratic Committee and worked for Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon before launching her run in March, debated once.  The debate did not garner much news coverage, although the DVJournal reported on it, so it is unclear how many voters watched.

Although Ford insisted during the debate that she is pro-choice and will not vote to change Pennsylvania’s law or for a constitutional amendment regarding abortion, she is being hit with commercials that say that she will do just that, including one from Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat.

Asked about this, his spokesman said that Shapiro answered this question at an event Monday, saying he believes Ford changed her position recently and will always protect a woman’s right to choose.

Borick said, “We see continued evidence that the issue of reproductive rights is a significant boost for Democratic candidates, and they certainly think highlighting the topic in a southeast Pennsylvania race can drive turnout.”

State Republican Party Chairman Lawrence Tabas defended Ford.

“Democrat politician Heather Boyd and Harrisburg Democrats are trying to trick voters into believing 163rd Special Election is about women’s rights, but it’s a smokescreen,” said Tabas.

“Heather Boyd declined to defend women’s rights when she helped cover up sexual harassment and voted to defund the police. Katie Ford will protect women’s rights by keeping our streets safe and rejecting ‘good old boy’ politics.”

Jake Zane, executive director of the Delaware County Republicans, said, “Outside dark money has been pouring in on their side. Katie has done a very good job, an outstanding job, raising money from grassroots individuals. And I really hope the voters of the 163rd District will see past all the special interest groups that have spent $1 million lying about Katie, misrepresenting her, who she is as a person and her record. Katie is a working mom, a family woman, and the wife of a police officer. She’s focused on going to Harrisburg and working on the issues that  actually matter to people: safe streets, crime, mental health, making sure our schools are funded in a fair and equitable way while, at the same time, senior citizens aren’t taxed out of their homes by exorbitant property taxes.”

Colleen Guiney, chair of the Delaware County Democrats, said, “Anyone making accusations of ‘dark money’ use don’t understand what ‘dark money’ is — money raised by organizations such as the Commonwealth Foundation, where their donors are hidden. The money raised by Heather is all 100 percent in the light, being totally reported.”

She accused the Ford campaign of mistreating the first victim to come forward and accuse Zabel, who told Boyd in 2021 what had occurred. That victim is now supporting Boyd, Guiney noted.

Micozzie said people in Upper Darby are very unhappy with Mayor Barbarann Keffer, who succeeded him in the office and is not running again after a DUI arrest.  And that unhappiness must be tarnishing Boyd, who, as the chair of the local Democratic party, has responsibility for those she helped elect, he said.

Micozzie is the former leader of the Upper Darby Republicans, so if poor management of the township had happened under his watch, he would have been held accountable, he said.

“Now you want to be a state rep,” Micozzie said of Boyd. “I mean, you have to take ownership over something in life, right? I think the Democrats are underestimating the impact people are feeling in the greatest part of the (167th) district.”

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Candidates for State House Special Election Spar

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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Two Women Vie to Fill Delco Vacancy Left by Zabel Resignation

Democratic state Rep. Mike Zabel was forced to resign his Drexel Hill seat three weeks ago following multiple allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching of women. With a special election set for May 16,  two women are now vying to fill that vacancy.

And while both candidates are female, they have very different backgrounds.

Democrats have nominated a political veteran, Upper Darby Democratic Committee Chair Heather Boyd. She formerly worked for Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon and was chief of staff for Delaware County state Rep. Leanne Krueger. Boyd also served on the Upper Darby School Board from 2015-2018.

Republicans are countering with Katie Ford, an Army veteran and special education therapist who has never held elected office or worked in politics.

Boyd had the backing of the Democratic committee, which gave her 91 percent of the vote over two others who applied.

Heather Boyd

“As a former teacher and local mom, I am running to make sure that every person and family in our district gets the resources and representation they deserve,” said Boyd. “I will work tirelessly to make sure residents of the 153rd District have a seat at the table in Harrisburg.”

The state House is closely divided, with Democrats in control at the moment by one vote, so the contest for the 163rd will be a closely watched race.

“The House majority runs through Delaware County in May, and Heather Boyd is the clear and resounding choice of local Democrats,” said Delaware County Democratic Chair Colleen Guiney.

Ford said she has never been involved in politics but decided to run to “make a difference for real people like you by serving communities every day. Service is part of who I am, be it as a trained combat medic in the U.S. Army, a local volunteer, an education advocate, or a special education therapist. Now is the time for regular citizens like myself to once again step forward and put the interests of people before the interests of politicians.”

While the 2023 special elections have been lopsided affairs thus far, Republican strategist Christopher Nicholas said voters should expect a competitive race. “Both House Democrats and Republicans realize this race will decide control of the chamber.”

Not surprisingly, Rep. Scanlon is endorsing her former staffer.

“I have known Heather Boyd for over a decade as a dedicated public servant and effective community organizer. She has been a valuable leader on my congressional team, sharing her passion for issues involving children and families, and helping develop a robust and responsive constituent services program that has assisted tens of thousands of people in our community.”

Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) said, “I’ve spoken with Katie, and she is a fantastic candidate for the State House! Her work and dedication to her community speaks for itself. Volunteer. Mom. Veteran. Please tell all your friends, family, and coworkers about Katie Ford.”

Ford brought up the sexual harassment scandal that caused Zabel’s resignation, saying that Boyd, as Upper Darby party chair, knew that he’d harassed his campaign manager.

“They have chosen as my opponent the political boss who enabled Mr. Zabel’s re-election, even though news reports show she knew what was happening. And even as she claims to fight for women. To this day, she still has not denounced what occurred. This is hypocritical and politics at its worst.”

“My opponent is the political boss who put into office local officials whose leadership, if we can call it that, has resulted in issues with (American Rescue Plan) funds, alleged fraud… It’s more of the same. Is that what we want?”

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