With Commissioner Kathy Hampton’s decision to not stand for re-election, the Democratic party leaders in Cheltenham’s Ward Four were in an unexpected candidate recruitment mode over the last month. They were searching for a single candidate to coalesce around, and while they apparently did find one to their liking – longtime Wyncote resident Ann Rappoport – you could say that they got one more than they bargained for.
After the party interviewed at least five candidates for the seat, one of them, Beverly Milestone Maisey of Glenside Ave., thought enough of the idea to take her candidacy directly to primary voters, despite the fact that she didn’t secure the party organization’s endorsement. The primary election is May 21.
Whether there’s an unusual feistiness in the Ward Four neighborhood, which includes Lynnewood Gardens, north Wyncote, west Elkins Park and east Glenside, is hard to say, but the fact is that this is the second time in the last two elections for the seat that a primary battle has ensued. Four years ago, in the heady days for the Democrats after the first Obama victory and amid neighborhood controversy around the proposed SEPTA parking garage, political neophyte Kathy Hampton took the post from veteran Commissioner Jeff Muldawer.
Both Rappoport and Milestone Maisey are new to the political trenches, but have lived in the township for many years and participated in public life in a multitude of ways. Rappoport has resided here for some 37 years. With three children passing through the public schools, she was active in parent organizations, at one time president of the United Parents Group (UPG) and involved in superintendent search committees. She has long worked with the League of Women Voters and done extensive freelance writing. Rappoport, with a doctorate in political science, was an adjunct professor at Temple and is a board member of the Cheltenham Adult School.
Maisey, who has three children, has been long active in environmental sustainability issues, both as an energy conservation planner/building energy systems consultant and community and regional policy activist. She is a board member of Transition Cheltenham and a community advocate for Protecting Our Waters.
Both candidates are passsionate about their commitments to civic engagement and emphasize sustainability concerns, with somewhat different approaches.
“Civic work is my life story,” said Rappoport. She sees a township with “so many bright and talented people to draw on – intellectually, the artistic community and wonderful neighbors.” But she thinks those assets could be more productively employed for the greater benefit of the community as a whole. Rappoport senses that “a lot of people feel alienated and frustrated with business as usual. And some have suspicions of the motives of township government.” Her aim is to “bring them back into the arena,” adding their ideas and talents to the resource mix.
She takes the view that environmental sustainability and economic viability need to be seen as compatible, rather than mutually exclusive, if Cheltenham is to have a bright future. Assets like public transit and green space have to be conserved while finding a way to reach out to businesses “to make it work” from an economic standpoint.
Rappoport notes the angry people she hears raising issues and a “public alienation” she senses during zoning board hearings. However, she questions whether some of those concerns are being raised in the most appropriate forums. She’d like to see the township create a flow chart that indicates what the steps are in the development approval process and when various issues come up for review, which would clarify, for example, the boundary between zoning questions and those that come up during the land development process. Rappoport views this kind of action as “the kind of conversation we all need to be having – outside of the heated discussion of a given development.” She’d like to find ways to promote the shared interests between sustainability and economic viability. “If any of this was obvious, we would have already solved these problems,” she says.
“I am a team player – this is not meant to be criticizing the current commissioners: certainly, one can do more than whatever is being done at present” to increase the space for common ground. She emphasizes clear communications to address suspicions of bias – either against developers or community environmental advocates. Issues are not “black and while – NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) versus taxes (revenue). . . It’s too easy to align behind good guys and bad guys.”
Maisey, a Cheltenham resident for more than 27 years, is an unapologetic advocate for enivronmental sustainability. But for her, the concept includes tackling the very real problems of high taxes, maintaining parks and green spaces, storm water and sewage management, attracting and retaining businesses, public safety and even the need she sees for more extensive communication through broader use of news outlets, websites and TV channels.
“Sustainability means we want to ensure the continuation and enhancement of those great things that make Cheltenham the place we want to live, work and play. Sustainability in all areas is possible only with financial sustainability,” Maisey said in a written statement on why she’s running. “Most importantly, I will strive above all to help residents become connected and to participate in the process we call ‘government’. Without your help and participation, your community will become the vision of a few, rather than the ideal of many. Together, we can implement the ideas each of us holds for a thriving, responsive and interconnected community, a sustainable community.”
Maisey emphasizes the need to view sustainability and community development from a long-term planning perspective, as much as 50-plus years out. She hasn’t heard this perspective from township officials and considers it vital. “Is Cheltenham still going to be a place where people want to raise their kids and grow old?” Relatedly, she sees the issue of conservation and maintenance of existing public assets as key from both a financial and environmental standpoint. “If public buildings and infrastructure are not maintained, you’re going to get more costly problems down the road.” She also sees it as a means of maintaining the local area employment base.
One avenue she wants to explore for strengthening the township’s economic base is facilitating the growth of home-based businesses. She’d like to see the township “promoting and supporting” what she sees as an undervalued sector.
Maisey also calls for “a more open government – in terms of how decisions are made and why decisions are made. We need access and transparency and we don’t have that the way we should.”
She intends to run a grass-roots door-to–door campaign, getting her message out by meeting people one-on-one along with attending neighborhood house parties and civic organization meetings whenever she can. In the process, she hopes to get a better understanding of what people are concerned about and how they can better connect with their local government.
“I know I’m an underdog. I knew I would have a battle not being endorsed by the party. But I also feel it’s a civic duty to to stand up and work to help my community as much as I can. The whole thing is a learning process – and I’m excited about it – and if I do win, I’ll be learning even more and what I learn I will be helping people understand what goes on in their government.”
In addition to Ward Four, seats on the board of commissioners from Ward Two, occupied by Art Haywood, and Ward Six, held by Mickey Simon (both Democrats), are up for election in November. According to Gil Cox, Chair of the Cheltenham Republican Committee, the Republicans will be deciding whether and who they will be running as candidates for the three commissioner positions and four school board slots on the November ballot at their meeting this Thursday.
Error: An earlier version of this story said there are two school board seats up for election in November. In fact, four seats will be on the ballot.