With a better than four-to-one margin in party registration for Democrats, there tends not to be a lot of hot races to grab the attention of party stalwarts in Cheltenham Township. If you’re of the dominant party, election night is apt to be satisfying, but not exactly riveting when it comes to local races – not when you know the score, if not the precise count, going in.
That was clearly the case when it came to Tuesday’s general election. Despite real concerns over the direction of the Cheltenham school district, for example, it wasn’t going to be enough to elect Republicans, and Democrats knew it in their bones. But there was one race – for Ward 7 commissioner – that could go either way and inevitably be another cliffhanger.
Four years ago, Republican Charlie McKeown, now a 20-year incumbent, staved off his Democratic challenger to win a new four-year term by 57 votes. This time around, though, the numbers, although excruciatingly close, did not break McKeown’s way. He came up just 26 votes shy (by unofficial count) out of 1,446 cast, losing by less than 2 percent.
Democrat Irv Brockington in his first run for political office, took the seat, leaving only one Republican left on the board. Both candidates hit the streets with dogged determination in the final weeks, but Brockington, the Cheltenham Little League president and mortgage professional, eked out the victory.
You could sense an undercurrent of combined excitement and relief swirling around Brockington Tuesday night at the Area 9 Democrats’ post-election headquarters at the Church of Our Savior in Jenkintown. The Ward 7 commissioner-elect kept his reserve, which occasionally gave way to outbreaks of big smiles overshadowing that calm exterior.
“I know I gave it my all,” said Brockington, who could still recall the positives of meeting neighbors and their expressions of gratitude for running and all that pressing of the flesh. Then again, he could also conjure up the decisive thud of those slammed doors when folks had better things to do than meet a candidate on the make on their front porch. Brockington took what came his way during his first campaign, and he’s glad he did. Unfortunately, before he had the chance to thank his supporters and make a few comments, he was called away.
McKeown told Citizens’ Call by phone, “I’m proud of what I’ve done over 20 wonderful years. “I was a huge underdog (with registration favoring Democrats at more than two-to-one). “It hurts a little, but the people spoke. As an underdog, I did pretty darn good. But he deserves it, he won. I wish him the best of luck . . . They have a lot of big decisions coming down the pike.”
“We’re very disappointed in the close race in Ward 7,” said Cheltenham Township Republican Organization Chair Myron Cohen.
Democrat Baron Holland, who handily won his Ward 2 race against Melissa Bowers, who made it to the ballot by write-in during the primary, was in good spirits. He was appointed to the board last winter after the seat was vacated by Art Haywood. Haywood had just won election to the state Senate. Holland noted that with board president Harvey Portner’s imminent departure from his Ward 3 seat after losing the primary to Brad Pransky, who was on today’s ballot unopposed, the board would be missing some “institutional knowledge.” But he said he was looking forward to helping Brockington and Pransky transition into their new roles and “avoid some of the pitfalls you encounter when you’re new.” Holland wasn’t specific about those “pitfalls,” but he did mention that even the structure and flow of (long) meetings takes some getting used to.
Republican Drew Sharkey, a popular Republican, ran unopposed in Ward 1. In Ward 5 incumbent Democrat Dan Norris beat Republican hopeful Thom Estilow 83 to 17 percent. He said he was “a little disappointed” in his and his party’s performance at the polls. In his race, he noted, the vote totals are consistent with registration affiliations and he had hoped to do better than that.