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In Chester Mayor’s Race, Democrat Stefan Roots May Face Off Against…Himself?

Stefan Roots has beaten Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland in the Democratic primary for Chester mayor and will be on the ballot in November. And it’s possible Roots may be running against himself.

Without a Republican candidate in the race, the GOP nominee will be determined by the results of the 205 write-in ballots. And given that Roots has received a significant number of write-in votes from Republicans in the past, speculation is rife within City Hall that he is likely to be the GOP nominee, too.

Delaware County Spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky said the county was still counting votes and could not confirm on Thursday whether the write-in Republican votes were for Roots or other candidates.

Roots told DVJournal on Wednesday that if he did get the most Republican write-in votes, it wasn’t part of his plan.

“I did not cross-file,” Roots said. “So, if Republicans voted for me, I’d be curious to know how many.”

“When I ran for council, I got 94 write-ins. Between then and now, I learned that if I’d gotten to 100, that would automatically put me on the ballot in the fall. I guess I’m a Republican and a Democrat. I’ll be competing against myself.”

Roots mentioned in a May 16 article that he was confident he would get enough Republican votes to run in November.

Asked about that article that mentions Republicans voting for him, Roots said it was not part of his strategy, but he would not be surprised, given that he had 94 Republican write-in votes when he ran for council, that more Republicans would write his name in.

“I assumed it was the same 94 plus at least six more,” he said when asked to clarify his remarks. Since he has been on council, he said more people know about him. “There was not any effort on my part. If they did it on their own, they did it on their own.”

On the Democrat side, Roots received 2,027 votes to Kirkland’s 730. Patricia Worrell tallied 552.

Kirkland did not respond to requests for comment.

Roots, a blogger and councilman, campaigned on the promise that he would offer a fresh start for the beleaguered city, which is under the control of a state Receiver because of longstanding financial difficulties.

“There will be changes,” said Roots. “I think the degree to which things will change will probably be more incremental than a big bang.”

Roots added, “There’s the Receiver, and court cases will be heard and hopefully settled even before I take office, which won’t be until January.”

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” said Roots. “You know, I wish I could wave a magic wand and throw all the appeals out the window and just focus on getting things right. But our mayor and council members have chosen to challenge receivership in the direction the courts want to go. I’m still a council person, and I can’t reverse any of that in the meantime.”

Asked about Covanta, the trash incinerator that has been an issue for many Chester residents, Roots said he would be more aggressive than Kirkland in demanding benefits for the city from Covanta.

“I’m looking to work with them to partner in beautifying Chester,” said Roots. “It’s long overdue. They want to be a partner, and I don’t think the city has asked enough of them up until now. They’re going to hear my knock at the door quite often.”

Roots said there are seven months for him and his team to make the transition to a new administration.

“The team I’ve assembled is champing at the bit,” said Roots. Chester has been losing “one brick at a time,” he said. “It’s time to put the pieces back together again in the other direction.”

As a little reward for winning, Roots went to his favorite shoe store Wednesday morning and bought himself a new pair of black dress shoes.

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Mayor Candidate Worrell Hopes to Lead Chester to the Future

Patricia Worrell says nobody wants to see the city of Chester lose its charter and dissolved over its fiscal woes. But, she argues, the best way to ensure it doesn’t happen is to elect a mayor with the skills to stop it.

Worrell, 63, is one of three Democrats vying in the May 16 primary for the chance to serve as mayor of the troubled city. Worrell, a longtime member of the city zoning board, and Chester Councilman Stefan Roots, 62, are challenging incumbent Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, who is 68.

Worrell spoke to DVJournal about her assessment of the city’s current state and where she hopes to take it if she’s sworn in next January.

“On every level, we have major, major issues, the most major issue being our finances,” she tells DVJournal.

Worrell’s background in human resources, business management, and real estate brokerage fields makes her uniquely qualified to head up the government of Chester after years of the city’s decline into potential dissolution.

City receiver Michael Doweary said last month that “everything is on the table” regarding the city’s dire straits. “If a comprehensive solution is not found by the end of the year, there may be no alternative for Chester but disincorporation,” Receiver Chief of Staff Vijay Kapoor said.

Worrell expressed confidence that the situation would not come to that.

“I don’t believe the city will be dissolved,” she said. “I believe that [Doweary] put that out there because that’s the natural next step after bankruptcy if it doesn’t work. But I don’t think the state, county, or even local officials want that to happen.”

“Nobody wants that to happen,” she continued. “I believe that even through their disagreements they will work to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

Worrell said her plans for steering Chester out of its dire financial straits and into more prosperous waters include hiring “qualified staff” to oversee the city’s management. She also said she will use her experience as a real estate broker to help drive a homeownership renaissance.

“I’d like to see homeownership reversed to 60 percent or more homeownership instead of renters,” she said. “That would be one of my first areas of focus.”

She said the city “needs to be a part of the entire community and get involved,” she said. “We need street cleaners and other workers helping to make our community inviting for others to come in and live.”

The candidate said she hopes for a “historic turnout” during the primary this month.

“These local elections are just as important, if not more important, than presidential and state elections,” she said. “I would be happy to see more people get involved in the process.”

Worrell offered qualified praise of Kirkland, though she argued that he is not the person to lead Chester into a more successful chapter of its history.

“He’s been a good asset to the city at the state level,” she said. “But when it comes to the politics, local government means hands-on. You have to have in-depth experience. It’s like running a business. And he does not have the experience of running a business.”

“I just don’t think he realized the particular experiences that it takes to run a local government,” she continued. “At the local level, it’s really hands-on. He just did not have those qualifications.”

Roots did not respond to queries about his own campaign. Kirkland’s press secretary Amanda Johnson told DVJournal the mayor is not currently giving interviews.

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‘My Plea for a Community That I Love’: Embattled Chester Mayor Speaks Out

“We’re the oldest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” says Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland. But, as he was painfully aware, it is also the only one in danger of being wiped off the map.

Founded in 1682, Chester was where William Penn first disembarked into the province that still bears his name. The city’s courthouse is the oldest public building still standing in the United States. It saw action during the Revolutionary War. It was known as a “Saloon Town” in the early 20th century. Its Sun Shipbuilding was at one time the largest shipyard in the world.

But after decades of financial chaos and mismanagement, Chester now teeters on the edge of insolvency, with the state-appointed receiver suggesting that dissolution may be the inevitable fate of the 350-year-old city.

Kirkland is determined to avoid that outcome.

“For them to even mention disincorporation is simply wrong,” he said.

Kirkland began his tenure as mayor of Chester in 2016. A former state representative for 23 years starting in 1993, he took the city’s reins after it had been financially struggling for years.

Chester first entered state financial oversight under Pennsylvania’s Act 47 in 1995. Kirkland said when he came aboard as mayor, “We worked with [state officials] hand in hand. Everything was fine. We were moving in the right direction.”

“Then COVID hit,” he said. “When it hit, it changed everything for the worse.”

Other officials have disputed the narrative that COVID changed things. Receiver Michael Doweary has noted the city lost nearly $7 million in 2019, which Doweary said was “the seventh annual loss in eight years.”

Kirkland said the city was promised, “serious financial support to help us with our pension problems.”

“At the onset, there was a lot of work that was done together between myself and the receiver,” he said. “But then things started getting a little dicey. During that period, I took offense to some things; he took offense to some things.”

Tensions persisted between city officials and the state’s appointee. Kirkland said the receiver sought to remove the authority of city council members to head up departments, something the council was unwilling to concede.

Still, “we reduced staff at the receiver’s request. We reorganized in various departments.”

Kirkland said during his time as mayor, he had overseen deliberations for selling the Chester Water Authority to the private company Aqua PA. That controversial proposal has been ensnarled in court proceedings for many months.

Both Chester residents and CWA itself have opposed the plan, with residents fearing that Aqua would greatly increase rates once it acquired the water system. CWA, meanwhile, has argued the city council lacks the authority to sell off CWA’s assets.

“We’ve also talked of bringing developers in to develop housing in downtown Chester,” Kirkland said. He added the city “just did some groundbreaking” on “a $55 million expansion of Philadelphia Union’s facility” in the city. “It would draw people from all across the country to that area.”

Kirkland said the city has also worked to address its massive outlay crisis, specifically its pension obligations, which he said were “the biggest headache” on the city’s budget.

“We’ve modified some things so folks don’t walk out of here with these huge pensions anymore,” he said.

The city’s pension struggles have also resulted in downstream personnel decisions.

“Some police officers are retiring or walking away because of the pension situation,” he said. “They don’t feel like the future looks bright. It’s now difficult to retain police officers.”

Kirkland said the receiver’s office has indicated that the city may be disincorporated as early as “the end of the year.”

“I will credit them with saying that’s not what they want to do,” he said. “But if things don’t turn around, that’s what will happen.”

To try and stave off further financial collapse, Kirkland said he and a delegation from Chester planned to travel to Harrisburg this week to petition the Pennsylvania government for relief using the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” of nearly $8 billion.

“I’m going to meet with the governor’s office,” Kirkland said. “My goal is to meet with the members of the appropriations committee, the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, and the Speaker of the House. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to meet with members of the [Department of Community and Economic Development] to talk to them about the needs of Chester, how they can be helpful, if they can be helpful, to the city of Chester.”

The mayor said that nearly a quarter-century as a state representative has given him relationships in Harrisburg he hopes will see Chester through the crisis.

“I want to be able to talk to the legislators,” he said, “to make my pitch and plea for a community that I love and a community they should not leave behind, cannot leave behind.”

“There’s $8 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund,” he added. “Well, it’s storming right now, and we could use that umbrella.”