Vying for votes
● By Steven Hoffman
When Wayne Braffman woke up on the morning of Tuesday, May 19, he had no intention of running for a seat on Kennett Square Borough Council. But then he went to vote in the Primary Election and discovered that there was just one candidate on the ballot for the three seats that are up for election. Incumbent council president Leon Spencer and council members Chip Plumley III, and Brett Irwin all decided not to seek reelection, and only one person filed on time to be on the Primary election ballot. By the time Braffman got home from the voting booth, a sense of civic duty had convinced him to begin a campaign for a council seat.
“This town is too good not to have a full slate of candidates,” Braffman explained.
Now, with the Nov. 3 general election less than a month away, there is a full slate of candidates, with three Republicans and three Democrats vying for the three open seats on borough council.
Last Thursday night, all six candidates—Democrats Braffman, Doug Doerfler, and Jamie Mallon, and Republicans Mark Krahforst, Jennifer MacFarland, and John Thomas—all took part in an informal but informative meet-the-candidates event at Philter.
Each candidate had the opportunity to make a statement introducing themselves to those gathered. There was also an informal question-and-answer session where attendees could ask questions of the candidates.
The five men and one woman who are seeking to fill the council seats all bring a wealth of professional experiences to the table.
Doerfler has been a Kennett Square resident since 2008. He is employed by Genesis HealthCare as the corporate manager of professional development, and graduated from Pitt with a degree in urban and regional planning.
Before running for borough council, he got involved with the business of the borough, joining the planning commission. He is the current vice chairman. He also serves on Historic Kennett Square’s Economic Development Task Force.
Doerfler, who was born in Pittsburgh and has lived in several different communities in Pennsylvania, said that Kennett Square has a strong sense of community, and if he were elected to council, he would make every decision with that in mind. For example, if there was a residential or commercial development proposed, one of the things that he would consider is how that project might impact traffic. As he has been out campaigning, many people have shared their concerns with him about traffic.
“People talk about that—it’s a huge concern,” he explained.
Doerfler also talked about the need for the Kennett community to come up with a long-term solution for the Kennett Public Library and the plans to construct a new building. He supported the formation of the task force that includes representatives from several different municipalities to help the library board improve its communication with the community. He would like to see the community involved in the effort to plan the library’s future, and have all the stakeholders be a part of the process so that the best decisions can be made.
Doerfler said that he would be the kind of council member that seeks input from residents, and always listens to their concerns.
“I think it’s important to get the information that you need and to be transparent,” Doerfler said. “On council, I’m always going to listen.”
Like Doerfler, Krahforst has lived in Kennett Square since about 2008. For a time, he lived in New York City and worked in publishing production for large companies like MacMillan Publishers, Doubleday, and Marvel Comics. He then moved on to the Emmaus, Pa. area to work at Rodale Press. He is a novelist, and also owned a coffee shop. He joked that he has career Attention Deficit Disorder, but believes that his experiences will be beneficial as a member of council. He also pledged to listen carefully to any concerns that residents might have. He wants borough council to provide responsible and responsive government.
Krahforst said that one of the main reasons that his family relocated to Kennett Square is the quality of the schools for their children. They quickly grew to love the town.
“I like the fact that Kennett Square is very walkable,” he said, adding that one of his goals, if he were elected to council, would be to maintain the vibrant downtown area.
As a lifelong resident of Kennett Square, John Thomas has lived in town longer than all the other candidates on the ballot combined. He is a property owner and a real estate agent, and ran a trucking company with his family for years.
“I was born and raised here,” he explained. “My parents are from here. My grandparents are from here.”
Thomas previously served on borough council for one term and said that he has only missed two council meetings in the last 12 years. He said that he would like to see council be more responsive to residents.
Thomas added that the borough’s spending has increased too much during the last 12 years.
“I run on the basis of open and honest government,” he said. “We need the council to be more informed, to ask questions. With the right people, council can be a lot better. That’s why I’m running.”
MacFarland has had a long career in education. She was a home economics teacher for eight years before becoming an administrator at the Avon Grove Charter School. She is now an educational consultant.
She said that she loves the diversity of Kennett Square, and there is a strong sense of community among its residents.
“I think the businesses do a good job of bringing the town together,” she said.
MacFarland said that fiscal responsibility and good schools are important to her. She vowed to support planned growth that is good for the residents in Kennett Square.
“We all love Kennett Square,” she said. “It certainly has a lot of promise to be a vital town.”
Mallon has lived in the southern Chester County area for the last 15 years, mostly in the Landenberg area. He moved to Kennett Square four years ago. He works as a physicist for PSEG in New Jersey, and previously worked at Exelon Generation.
He said that the single biggest issue for Kennett Square is planning for the future in such a way that the borough maintains the small-town feel and walkability that everyone loves.
Mallon said that one of the challenges facing Kennett Square’s leaders will be to make good decisions about how growth is managed. One of the opportunities for the town is to develop the area that connects Victory Brewing to the downtown business district, and careful planning is important.
Braffman has a diverse professional background. He graduated with a degree in economics from Brown University, but also holds a degree in clinical psychology from the University of Connecticut. During his professional career, he has prepared economic development feasibility studies, served as the executive director of the Newark Symphony Hall, and worked as a clinical psychologist in several hospitals. He even operated a bed & breakfast for a time.
Braffman estimates that he has knocked on more than 600 doors since he started campaigning. One thing that he very quickly realized as he reached out to families in different neighborhoods is the large number of people in town who primarily speak Spanish, and who might feel more comfortable speaking with elected officials who understand the language. So last month Braffman started learning Spanish.
“We need to be able to communicate both ways,” he explained. “That’s my problem that I don’t speak Spanish, so I want to learn. This town is so diverse. It’s diverse socially, economically, ethnically. I love that about this town.”
While most of the event was dominated by talk about how good a community Kennett Square is to live and work, the only moment of disagreement came when Thomas raised the controversial issue of illegal immigrants in the community.
“I bet we have 3,000 illegals in town,” he said, “whether you want to talk about it or not. We have a huge illegal population in town. It’s a reality. It’s something that we have to deal with.”
Mallon quickly jumped in and objected, saying that Thomas’ comments were getting close to being negative.
“Negativity doesn’t help us to bring the community together,” Mallon said.
Braffman later took exception as well, saying that Thomas didn’t have any idea how many illegals there are.
Thomas emphasized that he wasn’t saying anything negative about immigrants, and he took exception to the suggestion that he was.
The dominant theme to the two-hour gathering was simply that the six candidates who will be vying for votes on Election Day have a lot of love for Kennett Square. One candidate summed up the situation.
“We all love Kennett Square and enjoy living here,” explained MacFarland. “But the question is, what are we going to do to move Kennett Square forward?”
Kennett Square Matthew Fetick, who attended the meet-the-candidates night as an interested resident, said that he was glad to see that people will have an actual choice between candidates on Election Day.
“We’ve struggled to have more candidates than the number of seats available,” Fetick said. “It’s good to have options. These candidates have good qualifications, and I think we’ll end up with good council members.”
The meet-the-candidates event was organized by Historic Kennett Square. That organization’s executive director, Mary Hutchins, explained why it was important to arrange the event.
“Personally, I think it’s important for people to get out to vote, but also to know about the candidates,” she said.