Brodowski and Unger: Two new voices for New Garden
By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
As Nov. 5 turned into Nov. 6, the final tabulations listed on the Chester County official election results website spelled out the immediate future of the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors:
Kristie Brodowski (D) 1,154
David Unger (D) 1,135
Richard Ayotte (R) Incumbent 1,046
Randy Geouque (R) Incumbent 1,102
The numbers had ended a whirlwind day for both Kristie Brodowski and her running mate David Unger, who had spent the previous several weeks canvassing neighborhoods in the township's three precincts, campaigning together on a platform of “Parks, Police and Preservation.” When they finally met up at the Kennett Area Democrats' viewing party at the Kennett Brewing Company later that night, Unger shared the election results with Brodowksi.
“It took a moment to set in,” Brodowski said of her and her running mate's defeat of incumbents Rich Ayotte and Randy Geouque. “Obviously, this is my first time running for office, but to hear that we're the first Democrats to ever hold a position together on the New Garden board of supervisors was pretty impressive to hear.”
“There was a lot of shoe leather spent on talking to voters, explaining what we wanted to do,” Unger said. “I was speaking with one of the other newly-elected Democrats this past weekend, and he told me that it's our turn. We have to show that we can also govern and more importantly, we need to show the people what we're doing to make their lives better, because it's not enough to just do a great job. You need to let them know that you are a force for good.”
The numbers were official, and in early January, they will be sworn in as the first duo of Democrats to ever serve as township supervisors, joining board chairman Steve Allaband, and supervisors Pat Little and Mike Loftus – all Republicans – on the board.
Brodowski and Unger will take their seats on the board at a time when the township's agenda is filled with issues that will very likely have a major impact on its immediate future that is woven within a Progress vs. Preservation discussion. On one side, a community survey conducted for the township’s 10-year Comprehensive Plan revealed that, along with curbing rapid residential development, open space preservation was the most important planning issue in the township. Over the past several years, the township’s Open Space Review Board continues to work with the supervisors to discuss preservation options for township property, in order to save the land from development. As of now, the OSRB has helped to preserve 1,823 acres – or about 17 percent of the township.
On the other side rests the slow burn of progress, and it’s expected to be the largest item on the supervisors’ agenda in the coming years. The former PREIT property on Route 41, now owned by JP Morgan Chase, is planned to become the site of a mixed-use property that will see both retail stores and as many as 350 residential units built along the corridor.
While a project of this kind may increase tax ratables and hold the line on increased taxes for residents, it could perceived as the proverbial wrench in the engine of progress being made to preserve the township's rural character through open space and conservation easement investment.
When it comes to leaning toward progress or preservation, “You have to look at all the facts,” Brodowski said. “You may love preservation, but it doesn't necessarily equate to the whole picture. What you're ideally looking for is a balance between the two. What are you preserving? Is it a concrete pit, or is it park lands and wood lands or parcels that are important to the environment? It will be about Risk versus Reward. What are we getting for what we are giving up?”
During his time on the campaign trail, Unger met with several residents who live in any one of the 103 homes that have been given historic classification in the township, and he wants to address their questions and squelch their fears about the township's involvement in their homes.
“A lot of people in historic properties are concerned about government over reach, so their fear is that when their home goes on the historic register, they can't change a shutter without the government breathing down their necks,” he said. “I want to meet with them to make sure that they understand that we're their neighbors, not just a group of bureaucrats making decisions on their homes.”
Perhaps the largest potential impact that Brodowski and Unger will have on the board and in the community will be their desire to serve as a voice to the more under-served populations in the township; namely, the Hispanic community. Specifically, they want to help connect these individuals and families to better transportation, and to open up avenues of communication with the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department.
“We have to begin to understand what possible impact we [as supervisors] can have on this community, explore what issue can possibly come to a vote and determine what can be done in order to support them,” Brodowski said.
Six years ago, New Garden Township residents saw the swearing-in of Republicans Rich Ayotte and Randy Geouque as the newest members of the township's board of supervisors. At the time, they were the new kids on the board, virtual strangers to many residents who attend board meetings, but by the end of their six-year terms, Ayotte and Geouque had both carved their names into the progress the township has seen since their election: the purchase of St. Anthony in the Hills; the future sale of its' outdated wastewater system; the establishment of the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department; the subsequent construction of the new police facility; and the continuing attention to open space and conservation efforts.
At the board's first meeting in January of next year, many of these same residents will see the swearing-in of Brodowski and Unger, and while they will be perceived by some as the outliers to a board that will also include three Republicans, Brodowski and Unger are confident that their tenure will not be tinged with partisanship, but by a shared mission that they share with Allaband, Loftus and Little.
Neither Brodowski nor Unger are naive to the fact that their victory came from far more than smart canvassing and cool brochures. They were the beneficiaries of a groundswell movement that saw the Democratic Party capture a majority on the Chester County Board of Commissioners for the first time; ushered in the elections of Deb Ryan as the county's next District Attorney and Fredda Maddox as its next Sheriff; and witnessed the election of several Democrats to other row offices. Overall, Democrats edged Republicans in straight party votes by a margin of 53 to 46 across the county.
To many who follow county politics, the Nov. 5 elections serve as the companion piece to a similar scenario in the 2016 elections that saw several Dems voted into office – a firm statement that signaled the end of a 200-year reign of Republican dominance in the county.
Their election was also elevated by its association with the strong campaigns of other local Democrats, and the increasing – almost volatile – public rejection of President Trump in a county that is progressively leaning toward the left.
“The fact that I am a member of a particular party will never be the driver of the issues I care about,” said Brodowski. “There are things that I care about that I think all of us who choose to live here care about – the community and the environment. They are some of the things that make this a unique and mystical place that we all adore and love, and I want to help preserve that.”
“I want residents to know that I want to work for them, and if they have any questions or concerns, I will be there for them,” Unger said. “Recently, I was driving around the township picking up [our campaign] signs and marveling about how wonderful the community is. I want to work to unify the township. It's not a Democrat and Republican issue. We're all local people, and there are great opportunities for everyone.
“We need to come to the same table, hash out our differences and find a way forward.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.