By Michael Rellahan, Daily Local News
It was a different kind of “#MeToo” moment on display Wednesday as four women, all Democrats, were sworn in as new Chester County row officers at ceremonies held at West Chester University and witnessed by a packed hall of well-wishers, other elected officials, and county staff.
The presence of female officials on the stage did not pass notice by county commissioners’ Chairwoman Michelle Kichline, who shared officiating duties with commissioners’ Vice Chairwoman Kathi Cozzone as county President Judge Jacqueline Carroll Cody administered several of the oaths of office.
“Chester County government, unlike our state and federal governments, has a long history of electing women to leadership positions,” said Kichline, the Republican who announced earlier that her fellow commissioners, Democrat Cozzone included, had agreed to keep her in place as head of the three-member board for another year.
“In fact, one could argue that having so many women at the helm has strongly contributed to our position as the healthiest, the wealthiest, and the best educated county in the state,” Kichline said, offering parenthetical apologies to Commissioner Terence Farrell, seated a few feet away and smiling at the joke.
“In all honesty, the women and men who have been elected for public service in Chester County do contribute to our many accolades and achievements, whether for strong fiscal management, a healthy pension fund, for a government that plans for growth and open space, or for a county that works as one to fight the opioid and heroin crisis.” She pledged to work together with the new officials from the opposing party, “in the best interests of all Chester County citizens.”
The four women who were sworn in — Patricia Maisano, Margaret Reif, Yolanda Van De Krol, and Dr. Christina Vandepol — will all play a role in the continuation of those benefits, suggested Cozzone in her remarks. She remarked on the largely harmonious nature of county government in West Chester, unlike the other county seats in southeastern Pennsylvania.
“I don’t really label it bipartisanship,” she said, referring to her Democratic status and that of her colleagues’ Republican registration. “I see it as looking for solutions, looking for practical ways to serve the needs of Chester County citizens together. Is it always harmonious? No. We have our differences from time to time, but we agree to disagree. And through respect for each other, we are able to accomplish a lot.”
Farrell, in his address to those in the hall, said that even though the county had its share of wealth and prosperity, the real job of government was to pay attention to those who don’t. As the new Democratic row officers looked on, Farrell reminded them that taxpayer dollars go to “support our most vulnerable citizens.
“You might say that we, as elected officials, go to work to help those who don’t enjoy that prosperity,” he said. “As great as our accomplishments are, we will never forget that we go to work every day to help real people in need.”
The commissioners’ comments represented a break from past tradition at the swearing-in event that takes place every two years. In previous years, the role of master of ceremonies has been handled by the head of the Chester County Republican Committee. But with the presence now of Democrats in county leadership positions, that designation was abandoned.
“It was an incredible moment to witness these women take their oaths of office,” commented Democratic Party Chairman Brian McGinnis, who watched the ceremony with others who had contributed to the effort to elect a slate of party candidates. “They worked extremely hard throughout the campaign and it paid off. They will forever be a part of history as the first Democrats elected to countywide row offices in Chester County.”
The Democratic row officers — Maisano as treasurer, Reif as controller, Van De Krol as clerk of courts, and Vandepol as coroner — scored history victories in November, becoming the first of their party to win countywide elections outside of the minority commissioners’ office, which is mandated by county code. Their victory was momentous not only because of its “first-ever” status, but because of its size and the status of the Republicans who went down to defeat winning their races by an average of 7 percent. Two years prior, in 2015, Democrats running for county office lost their races by an average of 17 percent.
Maisano, running for treasurer, outpolled Republican Jack London 57,318 votes to 49,453. Controller candidate Reif bested incumbent Republican Norman MacQueen 57,455 votes to 47,824. Van De Krol, who entered the race in mid-summer, was victorious over Clerk of Courts Robin Marcello, with 56,195 votes to incumbent Robin Marcello’s 50,199. And finally, coroner candidate Dr. Christina Vandepol won the race over incumbent Dr. Gordon Eck, 57,584 to 48,866.
“We put so much hard work into this,” said Van De Krol at the time, who was making her first run at countywide office. “It’s great that it turned out this way. Now, we’re ready to go.”
The sweep means that there will be nearly equal seats in the row office positions in 2018 between Democrats, with four, and Republicans, with five. Given that no Democrat has ever held any one of those seats before in the county’s 300-plus year history is an historic milestone of staggering proportions. The impact is real; for example, the Democrats now control the county’s Pension Board and its investment strategy and policies
Reif, 49, of Uwchlan has a degree in economics and finance and is controller for Youth Mentoring Project, a Malvern-based nonprofit organization. She previously worked as an investment liaison at Vanguard, and helps run a family business, Level Best Carpentry.
Van De Krol, 56, of Tredyffrin is a 20-year veteran of the financial services industry, including two years as vice president for Citizens Bank before her retirement this year. She served as president of the Tredyffrin Library Board, and previously ran for supervisor in that township.
VandePol, 69, of West Whiteland is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and worked in medicine and research in a variety of positions. She currently teaches Human Anatomy and Physiology at Delaware Community College.
She said she would use the coroner’s office as a “bully pulpit” to discuss community concerns such as the opioid crisis. “I am a pro-active person,” she said. “I can’t just see a problem and then do nothing about it. As a public servant, the coroner should be contributing medical and scientific expertise to the battle against the opioid emergency.”
Maisano, 66, of Kennett, is the founder and chief executive officer of IKOR International, a company providing patient advocacy and professional guardianship services to the disabled and seniors.
She said her campaign was focused on “trust, transparency, and integrity. It should be about what you bring to the table, and having all people have a voice. This county has only had one voice for hundreds of years, and that’s what brought me to the table.”
None of the women made remarks at the swearing-in ceremony. Reif, Van De Krol, and Vandepol attended the commissioners’ reorganization meeting earlier, and participated in approving the staff positions for their offices for 2018. All four began work Tuesday at the county’s Justice Center, administrative offices, and Government Services Center.
Also sworn in were new magisterial district justices Bret Binder of West Chester, Al Iacocca of Kennett Square, and John Hipple of North Coventry.
Cozzone, in her remarks about how to work together as a team despite the difference in political leanings, quoted her former aide, Adam Swope, who died in an automobile crash a few days after the November election.
“Adam once told me that nobody knows what you didn’t say except you,” she told those in the audience. “In a wider context, we would all do well to remember this. And then the door remains open for us all, together, as public servants, to meet the needs of our citizens.”