Blogs > Daily Local Dan

A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

McIlvaine Smith: candor and laurels

It's rare that a news article about a politician attracts nothing but positive reader commentary. But my story on State Rep. Barbara McIlvaine Smith's decision not to seek reelection did.

Well, until a commentator named "ThinkItOver" had to ruin things by making everyone aware of this streak of positivity.

No sooner did ThinkItOver write: "A rare moment when comments agree . . ." (Nov. 24, 2009, 8:40 p.m.) than someone who goes by the handle "cynical" had to chime in with: "That was a touching story--sob. It was actually a bad case of sour grapes . . ." (Nov. 24, 2009, 9:39 p.m.).

Before that, all 16 comments were positive. After that, well, things turned partisan and bitter. As usual.

What were the first 16 commentators so pleased with?

They praised McIlvaine Smith, D-165th of West Chester, for saying unequivocally, and in a non-partisan way, that Harrisburg is a ridiculous place where it's nearly impossible to pass meaningful legislation or change the status-quo.

Here's an excerpt from my article on her departure:

" 'The system is such that it's not set up to accomplish anything or to resolve issues,' McIlvaine Smith said. 'The way it's set up, the leadership in all four caucuses has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.'

"The Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, she said, continually stand in the way of meaningful reform.

" 'When I was elected, I got to Harrisburg with 50 reformers,' she said. 'But the leaders pulled them in.'

"By means of a combination of nice dinners and special treatment, the leaders convinced the freshman legislators to give up on the ideal of reform, McIlvaine Smith said.

" 'I can't tell you how many times I heard, 'We don't want to hear any more about reform; we're done with reform,' ' she said.

"The problem, she emphasized, is with both political parties. She said that they refuse to work together and to accept change."

McIlvaine Smith told me that, after this year's blown deadline budget negotiations, she knew she had to get out of the capitol. She concluded that the legislature can only be fixed from the outside. If you join it, you either assimilate yourself into the system or you remain on the sidelines. She called for a constitutional convention.

When I was writing the story, I imagined readers criticizing McIlvaine Smith for being a quitter. I imagined them telling her to get back in there and, you know, "be the change you wish to see" or whatever.

Instead, they praised her candor and agreed with her opinions on our state legislature. (The Republicans, of course, might just been using the praise to mask their happiness at seeing a successful, reelectable Democrat go.)

The commentators saw a certain heroism in leaving something you believe is irreparably corrupt. If we remain part of an irreparibly corrupt system, the joy we feel when we get out of bed, I suppose, becomes something dark and stained with motor oil.

Aah, and for the first sixteen comments, we were all reflecting, across ideological lines, on this basic truth. Then, after "cynical" came along, we ended up with:

wrote on Nov 25, 2009 at 6:20 PM: " Let's see, democrat quitting, yes Virginia there is a Santa, I know you Democrats love to blame Bush for all our problems, but the Bushmonster has been gone for a year now and the new guy has put us all further in the hole and all the little dems down the foodchain cheer. hope they all quit!!!! "


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's Free Thought Society Season!

Yes, that's right. The Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia is at it again.

This year, the Free Thought Society has asked West Chester Borough Council for permission to hang above borough streets a banner that reads:

"Happy Holidays from the Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia. Please visit our virtual Tree of Knowledge at"

If you are not aware, the Free Thought Society is the group of evangelical atheists who are responsible for the controversial Tree of Knowledge displays that for the past two holiday seasons have sat next to the Creche and the Menorah on the Historic Chester County Courthouse lawn.

The point of the tree, I'm told, is to make it known that people who don't believe in the God of Abraham still enjoy celebrating the holidays. The other point of the tree is to get you to read more Richard Dawkins - the tree is decorated with the covers of books that, according to Free Thought Society members, are "classics in the atheist tradition." Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are, unsurprisingly, top contributors to this particular atheist canon.

Anyway, borough council appears unlikely to grant the Free Thought Society permission to hang the banner. At its work session tonight, borough council members voted unanimously to deny permission. They will, however, discuss the FTS request again at their Wednesday, Nov. 18 regular meeting.

So, if you're concerned about the banner, that's the time to speak up. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Borough council members gave the following reason for denying the Free Thought Society permission to hang the banner:

In West Chester, non-profits, church groups, educational organizations, fraternal organizations, and civic associations may hang banners that advertise community events. Borough council members reasoned that the banner's main purpose is to advertise the Free Thought Society's website. The website, council members argued, is not a community event.

Council members said that, if the sign read: "Happy Holidays from the Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia," all would be well. The "Holidays" are, after all, a (very loosely defined) community event.

Borough manager Ernie McNeely suggested that, if the sign read: "Happy Holidays from the Free Thought Society of Greater Philadelphia. Check out our Tree of Knowledge display on the courthouse lawn," it would probably be acceptable. The physical Tree of Knowledge display, McNeely said, is a community event of sorts. Or it is, at least, physically in the community.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out. I expect that the Free Thought Society may object to borough council's decision. The county's good Christians and Jews are likely to support the decision.

As far as I can tell, though, borough council's decision is based on a legal technicality rather than on an ideological conviction. At least half of the borough council members said that they are not opposed to the Free Thought Society.

Every holiday season, I celebrate the fact that I work in a town that regularly serves as a battlefield for our country's silly "culture war." I'm waiting for a brave Muslim to ask for permission to put a "Holiday Crescent Display" on the courthouse lawn. However, it appears that the county commissioners are trying to restrict the number and size of the holiday displays. Might there not be room for anyone but the aetheists, Christians, Jews and businessmen?

Labels: ,

Monday, November 16, 2009

West Goshen residents will demand library funding

A group of West Goshen residents will go to the Wednesday, Nov. 18 Board of Supervisors meeting to ask the township to start making annual contributions to the West Chester Public Library.

I'm not sure how much luck they will have. Last month, Supervisor Robert White said that West Goshen would rather support "active recreation." And, he made no promises to a resident who asked that the township reconsider its position.

Here is a link to a library funding petition that, I'm told, is currently circulating in West Goshen.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bold statement of the week

This week's award goes to Laura Hunter, a West Goshen resident who lives within earshot of the Major Louis H. Close Pistol Range.

In my Nov. 11 article on the unknown vandals who bulldozed much of the range, I quoted Hunter as saying:

"It's not uncommon for neighbors to hear things and not report them."

Hunter continued (I cut this part of the quote from the final version of my article):

"We live in the armpit of the nation. We pay the same taxes as everyone else in West Goshen, but you would not want to live here."

Hunter was explaining that although she and other neighbors heard noises on the night the pistol range was bulldozed, they did not report these noises to police. She told me that, in her neighborhood, it's not unusual to hear odd noises.

This is because several days a week, local police fire guns at the pistol range. And the sewer plant next to the range generates additional racket. (It was at the sewer plant that the unknown vandals found the bulldozer.)

Anyway, after I talked on the phone to Hunter and several of her neighbors, I drove out to their neighborhood. I was expecting to find the "armpit of the nation." Instead, I found cul-de-sacs lined with relatively large homes. "Aah," I though. "Irresponsible real estate developers are to blame."

That's the same conclusion reached by some of the readers who left comments under my article. Other commentors blamed the residents for not properly researching the neighborhood in which they were about to buy houses. Still others, noting that the range is used solely to train police officers, blamed the neighbors for complaining at all. Their arguement was as follows: The West Goshen police keep you safe. If you lived in Philadelphia, you would be less safe, and you would hear more gunshots.


SAM wrote on Nov 12, 2009, at 9:18 AM: " . . . Perhaps these neighbors close to the gun range should move to Philly... Oooo wait, they may complain about the gun noise there also. :-)"

berry8353 wrote on Nov 12, 2009, at 10:01 AM: "Its not a war zone, its a shooting range. It very well could save my life someday. If you want to live in a war zone go to the city. Thats a real war zone. I guess you can say I'm fortunate enough to have a well staffed police department. Thank god . . . "

I have a big problem with comments such as these. I lived in Philadelphia for five years and never heard a gunshot. The one time I had to call the police (my bike got stolen), an officer was at my door in three minutes.

I lived in Philadelphia's Fairmount neighborhood, one of the many safe neighborhoods in the city. My point is this: suburbanites often congratulate themselves for not living in Philadelphia, as if the whole place were a hellhole from which they'd heroically escaped. Due perhaps to the Philly press's habit of sensationalizing gun violence and the prejudice of the white middle class against rowhomes, many lifelong suburbanites consider Philly real estate off-limits. They never discover the advantages of urban living (there are dozens - a topic for another post). Instead, these suburbanites engage in a generations-long search for houses that have fresh coats of vinyl siding. This search has recently led them to the injudiciously placed subdivisions that are destroying Chester County's landscape. The result: Philadelphia, which has many nice, already-built houses, suffers a lack of upper-income residents. And Chester County suffers a glut of tasteless subdivisions (with the attendant traffic clogs and local tax increases).

Many Philadelphia residents have it far better than the unfortunate residents of the homes that surround the Louis H. Close Pistol Range. Pistol reports, endured day after day, creep into the subconscious and begin to fry the mind. If you are subjected constantly to this traumatic noise, it's easy to believe you live in the armpit of the nation.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dr. White was right

It's true. West Chester Borough spends more on its library than on its roads.

At least, in 2010 it might.

Robert White, a dentist, West Goshen Supervisor, and frequent utterer of controversial statements, told me last month that his township has no intention of giving an annual contribution to the West Chester Public Library. Then, he delivered this zinger:

"West Goshen decided to spend its money on active recreation and fixing roads. The borough must just spend its money on the library, because its roads are atrocious."

Afterwards, he said something like, "And you can quote me on that."

Well, Dr. White was right about the borough's spending priorities. In its 2010 proposed budget, the borough has set aside $105,000 for the library. However, citing Great Recession-related financial difficulties, borough officials tentatively canceled $99,000 worth of road milling and resurfacing projects. This brings the total money the borough will spend on milling and resurfacing to $0.

I'm not saying the borough is wrong to support the library or to cancel the road repairs. West Chester's roads don't bother me. And, if I had to enumerate the things that give my life meaning, books would make my list. Smooth roads wouldn't. (Rough roads might ... but I'm not sure I can succinctly explain why.)

The borough's 2010 budget contains $156,000 to purchase two dump trucks. These will be used to replace the worn out ones that now collect garbage, plow roads, and, if I'm not mistaken, spread road salt. So it's not as if the borough is spending nothing to make its roads easier to drive on. And if Borough Council President Sue Bayne gets her way, the borough might forgo purchase of one of the trucks and use the money to instead complete a few paving projects.

Re: the library funding, Dr. White said that West Goshen provides to the greater West Chester Area ample parkland and $300,000 a year worth of recreation programs. And, he said, residents already pay to support the county library system. Therefore, he said, no contribution to the West Chester Library is necessary.

The West Chester Public Library asks the municipalities in its service area to contribute a dollar annually for each of their residents. West Chester Borough, which has 18,000 permanent residents, contributes more than $100,000. West Goshen Township, which has 20,000 permanent residents, contributes nothing. The county also assesses a library tax, but revenues from this tax go primarily to the big library in Exton, not to the smaller libraries throughout the county.

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bold Statement of the Week

This week's award goes to Walter Hipple, who sits on West Chester's Planning Commission and Historical Architectural Review Board.

Hipple has been very critical of the West Chester urban forester's recommendation that Tony Stancato line his development at Gay and Everhart streets with Japanese Lilacs. Hipple said he would prefer Zelcovas. At a borough council committee meeting on Nov. 2, he said:

"[Japanese Lilacs] are a spindley, and in my judgement, a contemptable tree. Lots of trees are superior to Japanese Lilacs."

He continued:

"I don't even approve much of their blossoms. Those who like them would say they are creamy. I would say they are dingy."

I applaud Hipple for taking such a strong and uncompromising position on aesthetics. We live in an age of ugly buildings, of computer generated public parks. People seem to care more about functionality than aesthetics. The few people who genuinely care about aesthetics (whether or not their tastes coincide with Hipples) need to speak up. The two most oppressive things in the physical world are strip mines and charmless streets.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Voters of a certain age

In the West Chester region on Tuesday, old people voted, and young people didn't. Republicans voted, and Democrats didn't. Observe:

Hershey's Mill is a large, age-restricted community in East Goshen Township. Residents of this community vote at two precincts, East Goshen Five and East Goshen Eight.

On Tuesday, turnout at these two precincts was 49 percent. Of the 2,346 registered voters, 1288 came to the polls. Republicans outperformed Democrats in both precincts by about 2.5 to 1.

West Chester Borough is loaded with college students and young professionals and has a strong Democratic majority. Average turnout across the borough was less than 20 percent. Here's a breakdown:

WC's young voters: In the Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth precincts, where many students and young professionals live, turnout was 12 percent. Of the 6865 registered voters in these precincts, 828 came to the polls. Democrats outperformed Republicans here by about 2 to 1.

WC's minority and low-income voters: In the Second Precinct, where many of the minority and low-income voters live, turnout was 10 percent. Of the 1,549 registered voters, 150 came to the polls. Democrats outperformed Republicans here by about 3.5 to 1.

WC's older, more affluent voters: The borough's First and Seventh precincts contain the bigger houses, where many settled, financially well-off adults and senior citizens live. Voter turnout was 22 percent. Of the 3,323 registered voters, 729 came to the polls. Democrats outperformed Republicans here by about 2 to 1.

To put a finer point on it, Hershey's Mill has 2645 registered voters, 1288 of whom came to the polls. West Chester Borough has 11,737 registered voters, 1,707 of whom came to the polls.

If the Democratic West Chester Area School Board candidates performed worse than expected, young West Chester Borough voters are to blame.

Perhaps the borough's Democrats are too new to this whole voting thing. Perhaps they are too young. Perhaps they exhibit the existential ADD brought on by too much exposure to Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, Blackberries, iPhones and Google News. Perhaps they'll only come to the polls if an exciting presidential candidate uses this ADD-inducing media to disseminate to them vaguely optimistic catchphrases.

My concern here - my motive for writing this post - is not partisan. I am really, really angry that people my age don't vote. I want healthcare reform, and I don't care whether it comes through a government-run program or through more effective competition in the private marketplace. I want a decent, affordable policy I can take with me from job to job - I believe that, like auto insurance, health insurance should be mandatory and should not be an employee benefit. Many people my age feel this way. Yet we don't vote. The legislators, therefore, don't care how we feel. They care how the Hershey's Mill voters feel. The Hershey's Mill voters vote in every election, and the Hershey's Mill voters, most of whom already have "socialized medicine" (it's called Medicare), will use whatever twisted logic they can to keep their Medicare intact. Basically, they don't want socialized medicine for young people. And the Democratic majority in Washington doesn't want to try increasing competition in the private healthcare marketplace. Legislators, lacking enough support among the electorate (read: seniors) for Medicare-for-all-ages, and lacking enough support among their own ranks for a private healthcare solution, will come up with some muddled thing or another that does nothing for people my age.

I feel like I'm yelling at a pickett fence. I do not want to hear anyone with Medicare complain about "socialized medicine." Unless, of course, they give up their medicare and join me on the private healthcare market.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


From an e-mail that conservative blogger Bob Guzzardi, of Ardmore, sent out today:

Well run campaign by highly qualified and committed candidates – special thanks to the skilled Marian McGrath and the Gwenne Alexander for their guidance in West Chester School Board race. Good candidates, good ideas, good communication, good campaign. Even Dan Kristie noticed the mindless mantra that Democrats used to demonize common sense candidates. Even the less than sympathetic Dan Kristie reported: “ Democratic voters, as they left their polling places, reported that the school board race was heavy on their minds. They said, as if they
were repeating a set of talking points,
that they feared the Republican candidates would bring "extremist views" to the school board.” ( emphasis added).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The results are in

A quick recap of the West Chester Area's big races:

The four Republicans won the school board race.

Tom Paxson, the endorsed Democrat, won West Chester's Fifth Ward Borough Council race. Write-in candidate David LaLeike, and Independent who claimed to have spent no money but his own on his race, did get a respectable number of votes, but he couldn't beat Paxson.

Steve Soles, the Republican candidate for the West Whiteland Board of Supervisors, beat Democrat Joe Denham.

Republican Carol DeWolf, the chairwoman of the Westtown Board of Supervisors, kept her seat.

And that's it. The rest of the races were uncontested.

These results were way too predictable.