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Historic Vote in Montco Puts Democrats in Control of County Government

Shapiro-Richards Bests Brown-Castor

In an election in Montgomery County fueled by record amounts of campaign cash on both sides and heavy doses of  vicious “attack” ads and campaign mailers,   Democrats Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards upended the Republican slate of current Commissioner Bruce Castor and Jenny Brown.  It will mean a change of the guard for the  rusty  machinery of county government for the first time in the modern era.

Unofficial complete returns for the county’s 426 precincts posted on the county website about midnight, show the Democrats winning decisively with Shapiro the top vote getter at 88,441, followed by his running mate, Richards. less than 2,000 votes behind him, with Castor coming in third, more than 9,300 votes behind Richards and Brown rounding out the field, almost 1,700 votes behind Castor.

Considering that total turnout was barely 32 percent, only one percentage point beyond four years ago, despite about double the amount of funds spent by each side, and the fact that incumbent Castor came in third, the results seem almost shocking at first blush.  Although the Democratic win itself had always been considered a strong possibility, especially with its party registration advantage up to 36,000 voters, it was thought to be necessarily coupled with a significant uptick in turnout, with some talk of the threshold for turnout for a Democratic win being as high as 40 percent.  Moreover, it was always assumed that the fight for board control would be  determined by the winner of the third seat, since  it was a given that Castor and Shapiro, the biggest political names in the race, would finish in the first two spots (in either order).

In fact, the likely reason that the Republican ticket was titled Brown-Castor rather than the other way around, was that putting Brown first would increase her name recognition, while it was assumed that Castor would be  positioned safely in the first or second spot.  Instead,  Castor managed to beat out his running mate by less than 2,000 votes and barely slipped into the third spot to win a second term on the county board.

But whether the former Montgomery County District Attorney even wants the position, which pays a salary of about $88,000 (the chair makes about $91,000) but is not full-time, may well be the subject of intense speculation in the days ahead.  While watching the returns Tuesday night, he reportedly said that he was hoping for fourth place rather than third, which, if it was more than a quip, meant that he may be dreading the prospect of again being the odd man out on the three-member board he always thought he would control.  Shut out of the board’s governing coalition for the last four years as a result of his fellow-Republican, Jim Matthews, making an alliance with Democrat Joe Hoeffel, rather than collaborate with him, Castor griped about the situation publicly and seemed to find his role as a minority member distasteful, especially since he had been the leading vote getter in 2007.

In another big win for the Democrats, both candidates for Court of Common Pleas, Richard Haaz and Cheryl Austin, won their seats by about two percent.

As for the county row offices,  the Democrats held on to most of the positions they won four years ago, but lost for Controller and won for Treasurer.  Democratic Controller Diane Morgan lost her race to Stewart Greenleaf Jr., son of State Senator Stewart Greenleaf,  by about 2,100 votes, or 1.3 percent, while Jason Salus picked up the Treasurer’s office by beating Republican Chuch Wilson by lesss than two percent.  Clerk of Courts Ann Thornburg Weiss beat her Republican opponent, Moon Ahn, by seven percent and Coroner Walter Hofman defeated Republican Gordon Clement by 213 votes, or about .1 percent.  Prothonotary Mark Levy beat Republican William Donnelly by 3.5 percent and Register of Wills Bruce Hanes beat Patricia Mosesso by about 2  percent.  In addition, Republican District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman ran unopposed, Republican Sheriff Eileen Behr defeated William Holt by about 1 percent and Republican Recorder of Deeds Nancy Becker beat Linda Hee by about 1 percent.

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