Date: April 29, 2005
Byline: Joe Barron
Three Springfield township commissioners plan to retire at the end of the year, and five candidates have put their names forward as possible successors in the May 17 primary
All five are running for elective office for the first time.
In Ward 2, Wyndmoor, the township Republican Party has not fielded a candidate to replace incumbent Democrat Marc Perry. Jeffrey T. Harbison, the Democratic committeeman for Ward 2, District 3, will appear on his party's primary ballot, and unless the Republicans mount a write-in campaign, will run unopposed in November.
Harbison, 46, is the president of the Wyndmoor Civic Association, which renovated the Wyndhill Park tot lot last year and is planning to improve the look of Willow Grove Avenue.
Trained as a lawyer, he worked as a law clerk in the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and in the Pennsylvania Department of General Services during the administration of Gov. Richard Thornburgh, but he gave up law in the 1980s to earn a degree in business. He has earned his living as an entrepreneur since then and recently sold off his packaging and software companies.
"I'm running partly because Marc asked me, and partly because through the civic association I've really enjoyed helping people and I'd like to continue doing so," Harbison said in an interview. "I'm most interested in good government and making sure the people feel heard."
In Ward 6, which straddles Flourtown and Oreland and is currently represented by Commissioner Robert McGrory, Republican voters will see the name James E. Daley on the primary ballot. Daley's opponent in November will in all likelihood be Tom Sweeney, the only candidate running in the Democratic primary.
Daley, 36, is a prosecutor for the Pennsylvania State Police specializing in liquor control violations, code enforcement and administrative law in Philadelphia, Delaware and Chester counties. Last year the township board of commissioners appointed him to fill a vacancy on the Springfield Zoning Hearing Board.
In an interview, Daley said he sees his candidacy as an opportunity to continue the sort of dedicated public service McGrory provided in Ward 6. His experience on the zoning board has given him an appreciation for quality-of-life issues such as the county Rails to Trails program, he said. While he remains open-minded about converting old railroad beds into hiking trails, he is aware some residents fear the idea and wants to see those fears addressed, he said.
Sweeney, 32, who practices law with a Philadelphia firm, said in an interview he is running because he has long been interested in local politics. He received a taste of public service after his graduation from college, when he volunteered for an inner-city teaching corps in Chicago.
"It was awesome," he recalled. "I learned a whole heck of a lot more than anybody I taught."
From 1993 to 1995, while an undergraduate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Sweeney worked on the staff for the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. From that experience, he said, he learned that the need for openness and accountability is the same at every level of government, and he would adhere to those principles as a township commissioner.
In Ward 4, Erdenheim, Republican Patrick Lawn is hoping to succeed his older brother Timothy, who will step down after the November election after five years on the board of commissioners.
Patrick, 40, grew up in Erdenheim and, after a few years of residence in Willow Grove, settled there again in 2000. He is the owner of Physicians Insurance Consultants on Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown, where he has worked since 1988. The company specializes in doctors' malpractice insurance.
In an interview, Lawn said he is not running to create a family dynasty in the Fourth Ward. Rather, he said, he is running to get involved in his community, which, as the father of four children, he has not had the time to do.
"It's about time, I guess," he said. "I've been here four years."
With few large businesses in town, Springfield relies more heavily on its property owners for tax revenue than some surrounding communities, Lawn said. Rising taxes, from both the township and the school district are forcing elderly residents to leave Springfield, according to Lawn, and he would like to stop the trend, he said.
"First and foremost I don't think we can arbitrarily throw everything on the taxpayers," he said. "Unfortunately, our taxes are high."
The Democratic candidate for township commissioner in Ward 4 is Alison Peirce, 53, a career development and education consultant for business executives. During her 20-year career, Peirce has taught management and executive career development at such institutions as the Wharton School of Business, the University of Rochester and Northwestern University. She has been an independent consultant for four years.
Peirce said in an interview that she was asked to run for township commissioner by Jason Salus, the chairman of the Springfield Democratic Committee, and Kathleen Lunn, the Democratic township commissioner from Ward 1.
"It's not something I was seeking to do," she said, "but its something that I definitely think needs to be done."
A professor at Wharton once told her that the secret to success is to "spend imagination before you spend any money," and she has made the philosophy a centerpiece of her campaign, with an emphasis on the preservation of local history and green space.
"I think we have the opportunity to foster more of a sense of community while in effect being better stewards of the resources we have – which are limited," she said. "Development has its place, but I think that we can control the process more."
When considering development, she said, the township should try to wrest more concessions from builders for general improvements to the township's infrastructure.
"We seem to not exact the maximum we could for the benefit of the community," she said.