By Steven Hoffman
When Congressman Jim Gerlach announced that he would not be running for another term in Pennsylvania's 6th congressional district, leaders in both parties mobilized to develop a strategy to win the seat in the November election. From 2002 through 2010, the 6th district was one of the country's most competitive and closely watched races, and the fight to win the open seat was expected to be a real donnybrook—especially considering that, these days, a vast majority of the congressional districts are considered safe seats for one party or the other.
It has been five months since Gerlach's announcement and the political slugfest that might have been anticipated has never materialized.
Republicans united behind one candidate, County Commissioner Ryan Costello. Based on what colleagues and peers say about him, it’s no surprise that he would be the choice to keep the 6th district safely under Republican control. They describe an intelligent, thoughtful, hard-working public servant—a rising star in the Republican Party who has limitless potential.
“Ryan is an excellent candidate,” said Val DiGiorgio, the chairman of the Chester County Republican Committee. “He has distinguished himself as a smart and thoughtful leader and a dedicated public servant. He already has a lot of experience as a supervisor, a Recorder of Deeds, and as a County Commissioner.”
Working alongside Costello on the three-person board of county commissioners has given Terence Farrell a unique perspective on Costello’s progress.
“He is obviously a rising star,” Farrell said of the 37-year-old. “He’s bright and analytical and he will always take the time to make a decision. He won’t be impulsive. He knows how to work with people and he’s a good judge of character. He’s had a fairly meteoric rise and I think it’s because of those personal qualities.”
Political insiders aren't surprised that the field narrowed quickly once Costello announced that he was running for the 6th congressional district seat. In politics, clearing the field for a candidate is the ultimate show of respect.
“I think it really shows the strength of his candidacy,” DiGiorgio said.
While Costello will be unopposed in the Republican primary, Democrats will see a familiar name on the ballot when they step in to the voting booth on Tuesday, May 20: Dr. Manan Trivedi is running for this seat for a third time. Gerlach defeated Trivedi handily in 2010 and 2012, and the third time is unlikely to be any more charming for the Democrat, who will face an uphill battle in a sprawling district that leans Republican. The district includes portions of Chester, Montgomery, Berks, and Lebanon counties.
Costello could have remained in the comfortable confines of Chester County, but Republicans in the area aren’t surprised that he decided to seek a higher office. They see a bright political future for him.
“It was very obvious to me, when he became a county commissioner, that that was not last office for him,” said Penn Township supervisor Curtis Mason, a longtime participant in Chester County politics. Mason said that Costello’s greatest strengths as a candidate are his youthfulness, his aggressiveness, and his work ethic.
“I just think he loves politics,” Mason said. “He loves what he does. He’s been in politics his whole life and he knows how it works. And he’s a hard worker. He never stops working. He will work day and night for this seat.”
Costello was born and raised in Chester County, the son of two Pennsylvania public school teachers. By the time he graduated from Owen J. Roberts High School, he was thinking about the possibility of entering politics.
“I naturally gravitated to politics and public policy,” he explained, adding that he always viewed governing as a way to make a difference and to help others. Shaping public policy provides the opportunity to make sure that things are moving in a positive direction.
Costello graduated from Ursinus College and then the Villanova School of Law. He started practicing law in 2002 with the Phoenixville firm of O’ Donnell, Weiss & Mattel, P.C., focusing on real estate, land use, municipal law, civil litigation and business planning.
He ran for a seat on the East Vincent Township Board of Supervisors, eventually becoming the chairman that board. Next, he sought county-wide office, following in Farrell’s footsteps as the Chester County Recorder of Deeds. In 2011, Costello was elected county commissioner.
If you’re looking for an illustration of how government should work in this era of skepticism and mistrust, the Chester County Commissioners’ management of the county’s operations is a good place to start. The commissioners were able to cut spending and reduce the size of government while balancing the budget each year. The county still found the funding to invest in farmland preservation and open space. The commissioners also supported upgrades to the county’s 911 system—upgrades that first responders said were necessary to improve emergency response times that would help save lives.
Costello said that he is proud of the way the commissioners worked to steer the county-owned Pocopson Home through a period of financial hardship. The commissioners organized a series of public meetings across the county to make everyone aware of the issues that the Pocopson Home faced, and then explained all the options moving forward. Many other counties simply sold off their long-term health care facilities, but the Chester County Commissioners were able to find ways to improve Pocopson Home’s financial standing incrementally, one decision at a time. The long-term prospects for Pocopson Home are now improved—to the benefit of current and future patients as well as the residents of Chester County.
“We worked through a difficult fiscal time,” Costello said. “We talked to people on all sides. It took a lot of work but we got it done.
Another illustration of what Costello considers to be good governing is the major upgrade of the county’s 911 system. When the county initially sought bids, the new system was going to cost taxpayers more than $40 million. Instead of paying the full price or opting to abandon the idea, the County Commissioners put together a negotiating team that was able to get the upgraded system for less than $30 million. The community got the 911 system that it needed while taxpayers saved millions of dollars.
When money for the new Public Safety Training Facility began to dry up, the county was able to step in and provide the necessary funding so that it could be completed. The training facility, like the new 911 system, was badly needed, Costello said.
Chester County has maintained one of the lowest tax rates in southeastern Pennsylvania. It also earned the highest possible bond rating from independent agencies for its smart fiscal management of taxpayer dollars. Costello said that good financial stewardship like this is desperately needed in Washington D.C.
Another one of Costello’s goals, if he is elected in November, is to reduce partisan gridlock in Congress.
“As a county commissioner, I meet and talk with local residents on a daily basis on a range of issues,” he said. “People are frustrated by the legislative gridlock in Congress and the slow economic turnaround. The nation and many elected officials have become so divided and polarized that it is impacting the future direction of the country.”
Farrell said that evidence of Costello’s bipartisanship can be found in how well the current board of county commissioners—which includes Democrat Kathi Cozzone—works together.
“We’ve always gotten along,” Farrell said. “We don’t have political bickering and I think we’ve worked well for the residents of Chester County.”
Costello said that he would take that same kind of bipartisanship to Washington D.C.
“Both parties need to work together to do what is in the best interest of the country, just as we have worked cooperatively here on the county level,” he said.
“Republicans and Democrats are going to have their differences on policy issues—that’s the nature of political parties. But we need to separate those various policy battles from the larger issues of working together as Americans to restore a national sense of optimism and chart the course that ensures the United States is competitive on a global scale—now and in the future.”
For Costello, whether he is running for supervisor, county commissioner, or for a seat in the U.S. Congress, the simple motivation behind it all is to serve his constants and represent the values that he shares with his neighbors.
He believes that, with the right policies, the country can lower the unemployment rate, create more jobs, set the country on a path to fiscal discipline, and increase workforce development training, especially in job sectors where there are skills gaps.
According to Farrell, if Costello wins the 6th congressional seat in November, he’ll be joining Congress at a good age because there will be time for him to make his mark in Washington D.C.
“He’ll have the time to develop in Congress,” Farrell said. “It takes some time to get recognized.”
Local Republicans believe that Costello would get recognized. Mason said that Costello was always willing to help out, get involved, and advocate on behalf of constituents. For example, Costello was very helpful when Penn Township needed assistance securing funding for bridge repairs.
“I know that he’s been very active as a Chester County Commissioner,” Mason said. “He will fight for what he believes in. He’s the kind of guy who would walk up to the President of the United States and say, ‘I need your help with this.’ He wouldn’t be afraid to do that. He’ll listen to both sides, and then he’ll fight for what he believes in. That’s what you need."
For more information about County Commissioner Ryan Costello’s campaign for Congress, visit www.ryancostelloforcongress.com or call 484-402-4024.