Gretchen Wisehart

Gretchen Wisehart is the best we can do

As mentioned in our last post, I believe that the concept of strategic voting is a fools errand. I’ve always believed that people should vote according to their own conscience and always in their own best interest. Voting against a candidate rarely works. Statistically speaking, one vote counts for little in state elections and practically nothing in presidential elections. 

However, we have a primary looming for our 154th district that includes three candidates from Jenkintown, and this town does itself no favors at all sending them to Harrisburg. 

The Democratic candidate online forum from the last week showed us why. Jay Conners who seems to be running on his wife’s nursing scrub-tails dribbled stances that he must have pondered for all of a half-minute.

Jennifer Lugar, though poised and measured in her responses, lacked any palpable confidence of her convictions. She’ll get less done than McCarter, if that’s at all possible. 

And Adrienne Redd? Wow! I said in my last post that Ms. Redd does not play well with others, and right on cue, she shoves her foot deep down her throat with remarks about “assault weapons” that brought State Senator Art Haywood out of the woodwork to denounce her.

If you drive past my house, you will see a Gretchen Wisehart yard sign. I will be voting for her but with wincing reservations. 

Watching the forum, it was plainly evident that Ms. Wisehart is the most professionally qualified for the seat. She’s got the chops, she looks good, and she appears approachable. 

Sadly, on the issues, I disagree with her on almost all of her tired Democratic boilerplate proposals related to spending and taxes.

School funding? Ms. Wisehart would spend more and restrict the spread of charter schools. Forgive me if I don’t quite understand the government monopoly on education. If you received a voucher for $24,000 (Jenkintown’s current cost-per-pupil) to send your kid to any school you wanted, would you send them to Jenkintown if you had a choice? Or would you shop around first? 

Infrastructure and mass transit? Ms. Wisehart would “make investments in climate-resilient infrastructure and mass transit that improve our connectivity and environment.” Our infrastructure problem is yet another created by long-standing government policy. Government aggravated and then cited the problem, blamed others, then promised fixes — with more money. Never mind that Pennsylvania already suffers under the highest gas taxes in the country and a Turnpike teetering on bankruptcy. Government subsidy of suburban development created our car-dependency, which is already breaking the back of taxpayers. Throwing more money at it only makes matters worse. 

Horse racing? I hardly thought this would pop up on my radar, but Ms. Wisehart defended a state subsidy for horse racing of $242 million. Read that again. Yes, taxpayers prop up a business where only fools, state governments, and our current president lose money. Ms. Wisehart justified the subsidy saying that it helps to spur development and provide jobs, but it also ignores the opportunity costs of using that $242 million for services that benefit everyone, or better yet, return it to the taxpayers. It also aggravates gambling addiction and exacerbates homelessness. The subsidy siphons away $242 million from property tax relief in a state where tax foreclosures claim 10,000 homes every month. 

Guns? She would pass “common-sense legislation to keep guns off our streets.” I’m not sure what that means since most of the gun violence on “our streets” involves illegal guns. With school shootings, while unspeakably tragic, the stats have long shown a decline despite the media hysteria. I would suggest better enforcement of the laws already on the books before passing still more laws that criminals will continue to ignore. 

Finally, Ms. Wisehart promised greater transparency, but she echoes similar promises made by Barak Obama, who led an administration less transparent than the the one that preceded his. This remains to be seen, so to speak. 

So why vote for her? Simply because of the six running, and because the Republican challengers have no chance in hell, she’s still the best of the lot, and she’s clearly more capable than the bush league faction from Jenkintown. Such is the sorry state — and commonwealth — in which we now live. 

yard sign

Call me a one-party pooper

Pity the voter that lives in the one-party state, county, town or borough, which is the predicament of any forward-thinking Jenkintown resident. Sadly, for us we have a primary coming up that will effectively decide who gets to be our state rep, and thanks to the implosion of the GOP, they will be a Democrat. 

Though I have never registered Democratic myself, I grew up with the understanding that it was the party of blue-collar America, resisting the wealthy and the privileged to clear a path for the American dream for those of us who toil in the trenches keeping the lights on, the water flowing, the streets paved, and the factories humming. 

One quick look at Jenkintown provides a microcosm of what the national party today now represents: Privilege — especially at the local level. How else do you explain the flip-flopping of American politics where the backbone of the GOP is now what’s left of blue-collar America while the backbone of the Democratic party are today the comfy suburbs?

The Democratic scramble to replace the retiring do-nothing state representative Steve McCarter has attracted three Jenkintonians, none of whom have any real record to run on. At best, like many of us, maybe they just want to get out of Dodge.

Jay Conners

Jay has to be running for the salary — $87.000. Probably the best way to describe Jay comes from a conversation I had with one of his fellow council members who described him as a “broken stick.” I can’t imagine what platform Jay’s running on since he has done next to nothing on council and stood by silently as his constituents were materially harmed by the policies he himself voted for.

Jay can take credit for at least one ordinance — the one where Jenkintown forces billion-dollar utility companies with their own fully staffed legal departments to repair any stretch of road that they dig up that we taxpayers just had repaved. Jay got this bright idea after PECO announced it would fix lines under streets paved only months before.  Instead of coordinating the project with PECO, Jay got his name on a pointless law passed to cover up this oversight by our borough manager. 

Jennifer Lugar

Jennifer is a one-issue pony: gun control. On her twitter account, she describes herself as a “suicide widow,” which is certainly tragic and unfortunate, but hardly a qualification for state office. Like Jay, she has no record on which to run. She fills her Twitter feed with rants against the guns, which has no relevance at all in Jenkintown. 

If she aspires for a career in the State House railing against guns, she’s running into this: 

Article 1, section 21 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania states, “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.” 

The state police reports more than 791,000 guns were purchased or transferred in 2017 alone, so good luck with that, Jennifer. Where do you stand on the school tax? That’s a bigger danger to my family than any shooter out there. 

Adrienne Redd

Adrienne is another single-issue candidate, though to her credit, that’s one more than Jay. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Adrienne for nearly three hours one warm summer day two years ago and had a wide-ranging conversation about all-things-Jenkintown and about her pet cause, the environment. She’s a life-long activist in this area and is a fount of knowledge on the topic, but Adrienne has no political experience whatsoever and has shown during the Downs fiasco and the pocket park debate that she doesn’t play nice with others.

You want to set up a recycling program? Advice about solar power? Composting? Call Adrienne. You want her as your vanguard against the spread of government power or as an advocate for fiscal responsibility? Not so much. 

So what am I doing? Against everything I deem holy, I actually changed my registration to Democratic just so that I can vote against this sorry group. Calling myself a Democrat violates almost everything I stand for today. 

While I don’t believe in the concept of the strategic vote since I have only one, and as much as would love to see Jay or Jennifer off of council, I’ll even stoop to becoming a Democrat if it helps keeps them out of Harrisburg. 

Jenkintown Council President Deborra Sines-Pancoe

Lateral damages

The town that works harder to attract visitors than it does to keep its own residents eventually loses both. 

We keep sending that memo to Jenkintown, and it stubbornly refuses to read it. This week, realtor Andrew Smith sent out a memo of his own that asks Council to reconsider a 2017 ordinance requiring inspection of sewer laterals before a property sale. Of all the claims made, the assertion that these inspections waste large, equity-devouring sums of money and do no good should resonate the loudest.

Our borough council has a real problem truly understanding the concept of financial hardship. They pay lip service, but they do not act upon their feeble expressions of empathy. It makes one want to call for them to release their tax returns if only to show the hypocrisy of joining a party that blames the nation’s ills on the apathy of the one-percent.

With this ordinance, rarely does a “For Sale” sign pop up in Jenkintown without a backhoe appearing to dig up the front yard, a brand-new sidewalk, and sometimes a chunk of a freshly paved street. Don’t move here unless you can afford this council’s unsubstantiated environmental agenda.

The lateral ordinance was snuck onto the agenda and passed in 2017 despite Cheltenham’s eventual abandonment of a similar program that they found fixed nothing and cost too much.

This latest example of expensive municipal folly follows the surreptitious acquisition of the Cedar Street property, the vindictive persecution of Peggy and Dave Downs and their subsequent lawsuit, and the grossly mismanaged sidewalk repair “program”. In all three cases, the Council ignored the facts, leaving onerous and unnecessary burdens upon hapless homeowners. 

It’s no coincidence that this municipal dysfunction started about the same time Deborra Sines-Pancoe ascended to Council leadership. It’s also no coincidence that council has become a revolving door or that it has an open seat going into the general election. People who value their time do not want to share that board with her. 

Pancoe has not contented herself with running the main meeting, but she now exerts undue influence into the committees as well. Rick Bunker quit his seat in a huff during a fire commission meeting after Pancoe, who wasn’t even a member, hijacked it. She has even gone so far as to refer to herself alternately as Jenkintown’s manager and its leader. As Council President, she has no managerial authority at all. Officially, Jenkintown has no leader.

Pancoe, a Quaker, serves also as a director for Abington Friends Academy. Quakerism’s central tenet of non-violence should make one wonder how a professed believer can be so blind to the violence that financial disaster can bring to struggling families, the elderly, or anyone who desperately wants to jump ship before she steers it into the iceberg.

Twenty years from now, when the history of Jenkintown’s decline and annexation by Abington is written, look forward to an entire chapter devoted to Deborra Sines-Pancoe’s role in this sad development.

Video of Jenkintown School Board Meeting

Our efforts in the name of transparency eventually prompted Jenkintown Borough Council to livestream its monthly meeting. Now it’s the School Board’s turn.

For well over a year, the JSD tip-toed into the 21st century by providing audio archives of its meetings. At the time, that was much more than its Borough counterpart bothered to do, it’s become painfully obvious that their effort is insufficient. While audio does provide a record of what was said, it does not make it clear who is saying it. It still does not indicate the nuances of the meetings, the expressions, the glances, the body language.

It does not show who actually pledges allegiance and who, like Council President Deborra Sines-Panco, simply stands mum with their hands at their sides.

It’s our intention to start a livestream of the meetings, but the meeting room works like a Faraday cage, inhibiting the cellular signal. In the meantime, please enjoy our archived video of this week’s School Board Business meeting.

yard sign

For the good of the Boro, sit out the primary

Something curious has sprung up on many front lawns here in Jenkintown. Yard signs advertising our incumbent council members, none of whom have any competition, have infested the town. I’ve lived here for 19 years, and until 2017, I never voted in a municipal election — not because I don’t vote — but because I never saw any evidence that one was going on.

When you live in a town with a voting block about 75% Democratic, why bother going through the trouble of campaigning? Indeed, why bother with outreach and town halls or, even in the era of social media, any public discussion about the issues? Council and committee meetings are open to the public, after all, so for what purpose would it serve to spend a day a month on outreach?

The yard signs I’ve seen so far support the reelections of Jay Conners, Jennifer Lugar, and David Ballard (at this writing). Let’s consider their records.

Jay Conners (Ward 4) currently serves as the Council’s Vice President, and he leads the public works committee. On his watch, George Locke turned our sidewalks into a joke thanks to the ill-advised policy of random inspection causing a contractor free-for-all where we all paid double to triple a fair price for sidewalks that are already crumbling. Mr. Locke’s public works department has become the Gang that Can’t Dig Straight as evidenced by the shoddy stormwater work on the 200 block of Runnymede that left brand new curbs and pavement severely damaged. The town is riddled with code violations, embroiled in a civil rights lawsuit, but that doesn’t stop Jay from voting in favor of a 23% pay raise.

Jennifer Lugar (Ward 4) has barely spoken a half-dozen sentences on Council during her tenure. She’s a lovely person, and someone I’ve had in my house, but she fills her Twitter feed with nothing but her gun control advocacy. I understand her very personal motivations for this, but how does gun control bring more business to the commercial district? How does gun control solve our looming sewer issues? 

David Ballard (Ward 3) occasionally posts interesting trivia on the Jenkintown Community page but advances little except voting in lock-step with Deborra Sines-Pancoe’s self-serving agenda of opacity.

And all three of them support George Locke, Sean Kilkenny, and Deborra Sines-Pancoe, one of whom really runs the show. 

This is, frankly, the most do-nothing, rubber-stamping group of party sycophants I’ve witnessed in my long-time observation of local affairs, here and elsewhere. That all said, twelve Republicans would do no better. 

Make no mistake, Jenkintonians: We are sailing into some stormy seas. We ended the last fiscal year with a half-million dollar deficit, this despite ten years of national economic expansion. Our business district, which the entire community depends upon to stay afloat, limps along. A weaker town center means higher school tax. High school tax means lower property values. 

Surrounding towns have left us in the dust. Right now, I hear no one wanting their town to be the “next Jenkintown.” 

I believe that more democracy is better than less. More debate is better, as is more transparency and more outreach. Few things damage a society more than denying its people a voice on issues that affect them directly, and few things threaten Jenkintown’s delicate viability than Council’s endemic floundering. 

What do do? It pains me to suggest this but since a trip to the polls will change nothing, I see little point in going. Please sit out this plebiscite. If you really want to make a statement, then write in “Anyone Else” or perhaps “No One”. 

Jenkintown experiencing the lowest voter turnout in its history could be the best way to send a message to the Machine, which is this: Maybe we can’t get rid you, but we will not support you.