The board of school directors of Cheltenham Township will have a distinctly different look as a result of yesterday’s election. But it’s not that the voters opted for giving Republicans a touch on the levers of decision-making.
Democrats swept the field just as they have for the last 20 years, which, of course, did not sit well with the G.O.P. But Cheltenham Township Republican Organization Chair Myron Goldman, who ran for school board, said election night – in a tone of what one could call weary resignation – that the results for school board “were a little better than expected.” He explained, “the differences between us and the Democrats were “slightly better than it usually is.”
Newcomer David Cohen paced the field with 16.2 percent of the vote, followed by incumbent board vice president Julie Haywood at 16.2 percent, and first-timers Joel Fishbein and Jean McWilliams at 15.7 and and 15.2 percent, respectively with board president Napoleon Nelson winning the fifth seat at 14.8 percent. The difference between Cohen’s top mark and Nelson’s safe finish was about 600 votes.
The Republicans were led by Goldman, who garnered 5 percent of the vote followed by Kathleen Bowers and Ken Moskowitz at about 4.6 percent and John Fruncillo and Gary Colby at about 4.2 percent. The difference between Nelson’s fifth seat finish and Goldman’s top Republican vote was 4,352 votes. The difference in the Republican field between Goldman’s top total and Colby’s fifth place ranking was 370 votes.
“I think there is discontent with the school district among people in the know,” said Goldman, but he attributed the drubbing to the large proportion of Democratic voters who vote a straight party ticket. Goldman suggested that the fifth place showing of Nelson, who is board president, was an indication.
Thom Estilow, who lost his run for Ward 5 commissioner by a margin in keeping with the Republican registration disadvantage in his ward, said election night the anti-incumbent sentiment that seemed evident in the school board race in the May primary “didn’t pan out. That’s all there is to it.” Estilow added that in private industry the two Democratic incumbents “would’ve been issued their pink slips, but they didn’t get them today.”
Asked what he thought the message from the voters was, school board president Nelson responded,”We trust you, but the board needs to govern better.” He then issued a challenge of sorts to his colleagues on the board and to himself: “This board needs to show tangible evidence of moving the district in the right direction regarding finances, facilities, leadership, and student performance.”
Fred Milbert of Elkins Park, a Democratic party activist who has been a fierce critic of the board on Cedarbrook and other development issues, expressed a strong note of optimism. “It’s going to be a new day for this board,” he said, with the additions of Cohen, Fishbein and McWilliams. There’s going to be a new set of eyes that I think are going to be very critical of decision-making processes,” he said.
Yesterday was not a sunny day full of promise for local Republicans. But Estilow, for one, intends to keep searching for “some kind of formula” to reach voters. Republicans Drew Sharkey, who was unopposed in Glenside’s Ward 1 and Charlie McKeown, the Ward 7 commissioner for 20 years before getting knocked off last night, clearly have had the right stuff for political success. So Estilow said he isn’t throwing out his campaign signs just yet – even as he planned to call his neighbor, Democratic Comr. Dan Norris, and offer support and “help him be the best commissioner he can be.”