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. 

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. 

Runnymede storm drain fixes break sidewalk and curb work

Last week, Jenkintown Public Works under the supervision of George Locke made an attempt to address an ongoing water drainage issue on Runnymede Avenue. According to the Borough, it seems that a spring somewhere between Hillside Avenue and the 200 block of Rodman gets expecially overactive after snowmelts and rainstorms and gushes water down the hill and into the yards of properties on the 200 block of Runnymede. In the winter, this is especially problematic since the water that pours into the street tends to freeze, creating a hazardous condition.

Mr. Locke proposed expanding the capacity of the storm drains on the 200 block of Runnymede to handle the overflow. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not civil engineer, but it seems to me that it might make more sense to address the water at its source.

That said, JPW dug into the street to lay pipe and to install new drains. The work caused damage to existing and recently repaired sidewalks, aprons, and curbs — some of it severe. This section of Runnymede was repaved in 2015, and the patch applied promises to accelerate the eventual deterioration of the street.

We’ve stated this on many occasions: For a town that prides itself on its walkability, it seems to actually care little about it. This is not workmanship worthy of such a town.

For the record, George Locke earns a salary of more than $125,000/year plus benefits.

This gallery shows some of that work.

More news coverage for Jenkintown

More news coverage coming to Jenkintown

Walkable Jenkintown first appeared on the internet in April, 2015, a week after Louise and I received notice that we had to fix the Borough’s sidewalk. I can still provide a litany of reasons why no aspect of this policy makes any sense, but exploring this problem got me far deeper into local issues than I ever expected.

Suffice to say, I picked up the rock and looked under it, and what I found belied Jenkintown’s happy place reputation. Whether my neighbors liked it or not, Walkable Jenkintown became the only consistent source of news and commentary dedicated solely to Jenkintown.

This exploration connected me with many concerned citizens and neighbors, sustainability activists, and members of the local, regional, and national media. Early last month, one of those connections reached out and offered me a job. As of today, I am the new editor of GlensideLocal.

At GlensideLocal.com, I will join Michael Golden’s well-funded effort to fill in the void traditional media left behind by ignoring the communities outside of Philadelphia. As residents of Jenkintown know all-too-well, our own government operates safe from any media scrutiny, and because of that, they’ve gotten away with everything except maybe murder. Jenkintown’s representatives are accountable to almost no one except the political machine that has put them there.

That ends today. GlensideLocal will cover not only its original territory of Cheltenham and Abington, but now Jenkintown as well. Eventually, the name of the site will change to incorporate or acknowledge our little town in some way.

GlensideLocal is part of an expanding group of hyper-local news outlets that currently include MoreThanTheCurve.com and AroundAmbler.com.

We report on pretty much everything, from lost pets to grand openings to government matters. If you have a tip, please share. Anything you think that your neighbors should know GlensideLocal wants to know as well.

What happens to WalkableJenkintown? Not sure yet, quite frankly, but I will keep its archives online to serve as a historical document of Jenkintown’s last four years. Meanwhile, we’ll see where this little adventure in journalism takes me, but I’m happy to say that I get to do more of what I’ve been doing with WJ and now I get paid for it.

My goal with WalkableJenkintown was always to help make Jenkintown a better, more accountable, and viable community. This does not change as I take on this new role.

See you around the Borough!