Editorial: The Republican Party of Chester County: Against the ropes
By Richard Gaw
In the denouement moment of the Academy-Award-winning masterpiece “Raging Bull,” filmmaker Martin Scorcese and cinematographer Michael Chapman chose to tell the story from the viewpoint of the valiant and the noble character. In the glow of a bright white boxing ring, Jake LaMotta, played by Robert DeNiro, is being pummeled by an actor portraying Sugar Ray Robinson, who delivers an endless series of punishing blows to LaMotta's face. Camera flashbulbs flicker. The crowd noise is muffled to the background. The camera does not retreat.
It is an excruciating scene to watch.
While it is a journalistic roll of the dice to compare this scene to local events, this newspaper chooses to do so, on the basis of its coverage of the cuts and blows that have descended in the past few years upon the Republican Party in Chester County, in virtually the same fashion of a boxer, unable to dodge the pugilism of punishment, round by round.
To its supporters, it has been a series of unfortunate incidents. To its critics, it has become blood sport:
Round One: On Nov. 7, 2017, Chester County residents elected four Democrats to county seats: Patricia Maisano became treasurer, Yolanda Van de Krol became clerk of courts, Dr. Christina Vandepol became coroner and Margaret Reif became controller. They became the first Democrats to occupy seats on the Chester County row since 1799.
Round Two: In December 2018, Republican Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, Chester County’s first female elected sheriff and among the county’s longest serving public official, announced that she would not seek re-election to a sixth term in 2019.
Round Three: In March 2018, Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello of the 6th District – perhaps the most prominent Republican elected official in the county -- announced that he would not seek re-election to the U.S. House. It was a decision that shook up the local GOP base, and opened the door for the election of Democrat Chrissy Houlahan that November, as part of a “blue wave” of Democrats who were elected to eight of nine legislative districts in the county – seats that had previously been held by Republicans.
Round Four: In late June, Republican Val DiGiorgio, a Philadelphia attorney who led the Chester County Republican Party for several years before becoming the Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman, resigned from his position after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that DiGiorgio had traded sexually explicit messages with a onetime GOP candidate for Philadelphia City Council.
Round Five: In early July, County Controller Margaret Reif initiated legal action against Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, calling for a refund of more than $67,000 in overtime Reif has contended Welsh improperly paid to Lt. Harry McKinney, with whom Welsh has a personal relationship, claiming that the overtime pay – accumulated over the past three years -- was “unearned and unmerited overtime that was not based on the result of actual overtime work.”
Round Six: In early July, Republican Tom Hogan, who was elected to lead the Chester County District Attorney’s Office in 2011 and quickly became the county’s leading voice in its efforts to reduce crime, announced that he will not seek a third term. Hogan’s decision cracks the door open even wider for Democratic challenger Deb Ryan, a veteran prosecutor who spent 15 years at the Philadelphia and Chester County District Attorney’s Offices, to be elected in November.
Continuing the boxing movie metaphor, the Republican Party in Chester County – a party largely responsible for the growth and prosperity of this region over the past 150 years – wobbles in weariness while the blows continue to come from every direction – from incident, from anti-Trump sentiment, and from a changing demographic. This is the slow and torturous take down of an old and proven champion, whose critics cheer in the arena, rooting for the knockout, while its supporters are barely able to look.
We, the Chester County Press, will continue to look, because we believe that this fight is far from over. Between this editorial and the November elections, this newspaper will examine the Republican Party in Chester County. We will talk to its leaders and its news makers, in an attempt to document its rich history, the tenuous steps it is taking to navigate through the above-mentioned news stories, and how it plans to position itself for the future.
We will endeavor to tell this story through facts and voices, and without judgement.
While we wait to share what we find, it is only right to end this editorial where it began. As the scene portraying the fight between LaMotta and Robinson progresses and the bloody massacre reaches its climax, it becomes clear that this is no longer a film simply about boxing.
This is now a film about the choice of one man to absorb an unrelenting physical assault – and at the risk of the unknown aftermath of that choice – choose not to surrender, simply because there is something in his will that does not allow him to. Through a blood-spattered mouth, LaMotta says to Robinson, “You didn't get me down, Ray. I'm still standin'. You never got me down.”
The future of the Republican Party in Chester County will depend on whether or not it can summon the burn of its will and get out of the corner of the ring it now finds itself in, and begin fighting again.