Crowd gathers for candidates’ forum

By on October 23, 2019

A crowd of nearly 50 attended a local candidate’s forum last Thursday evening at the Ephrata Public Library’s Community Commons building, allowing voters a chance to become familiar with those running for several local municipal and school board races in the upcoming election.

A total of 32 candidates from nine races were invited to the forum, with 12 appearing at the event, along with a representative from Craig Stedman’s campaign for Judge on the Court of Common Pleas.

Just prior to taking questions submitted by those in attendance, each candidate was asked for an introduction. Some incumbents indicated a desire to make this their last run so that someone new might infuse fresh viewpoints into their respective municipalities. Others running were facing voters for the first time. One, if elected, would make local history as the first person of color and first Democrat on the Ephrata Area School Board in many years.

The format was not a debate and while the tone of the evening remained cordial, it did reveal a shared sense of public service among all candidates.

Jeffrey Mitchell is running unopposed in his first run at elective office for East Cocalico Township Supervisor. Mitchell (R) is a self-employed farmer. He has served on the township’s zoning hearing board for the past thirteen years.

It was a full house at the Ephrata Public Library’s Community Commons building last Thursday evening for the local candidate forum hosted by the library, Northern Lancaster Hub and The Ephrata Review. Photos by Dick Wanner.

“I look forward to getting to work in January and putting some fresh ideas out,” he said.

Voters in the Cocalico School District will select five school board members to serve four-year terms. Incumbent first-term candidate Desiree Wagner (R) appeared. Wagner, herself an educator with the Reading School District and the daughter of a retired Ephrata Area School District teacher told attendees she brings a perspective on what she feels will and will not work regarding school curriculum to the local board. CSB voters will also select one new board member to a two-year term.

Notably, incumbent Akron Borough Council President John Williamson told voters his fourth run for council would be as a Democrat. He said the change was in keeping with his desire to be a peace maker. Citing especially his most recent work with a team to update the borough’s outdated comprehensive plan from 1991, he asked for voters to support him again.

“I’m running again because I love Akron,” said Williamson. “There are still very important things to do in Akron.”

Desiree Wagner

 

Jobany Bedoya

 

Linda Martin

Williamson is the sole Democrat running against three Republicans to fill three Akron Borough Council seats up for grabs. Republican challenger and political newcomer Paul Swangren, also appeared at Thursday’s forum.

“I’m all about community, Swangren said. “I’m about making the community better financially and safer and make sure the infrastructure is strong.”

Swangren explained that he is uniquely qualified to serve on council since he currently serves as Ephrata Borough’s Municipal Enterprise Manager by day. He also serves on the fire company.

Voters in Ephrata Area School District must fill five open seats. Both Democrats running for those seats, Jobany Bedoya and Suzanne Delahunt and two of the five Republicans running, appeared Thursday.

Bedoya pointed out that if elected he would become Ephrata’s first person of color to serve on the school board. Born in New Jersey to Columbian immigrants, he told his story about working hard to learn English, get an education and become a successful businessman and member of numerous boards mostly in Berks County.

“I can be a great voice for the 16 percent (who are) minorities in the school district” said an enthusiastic Bedoya. “I want to leave a legacy behind; I want to inspire these kids to do what I do.”

Delahunt’s extensive background in education dates back to her 18n years of experience in the New York Department of Education under mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. She has likewise worked hard locally to contribute to education.

“If you are looking for an educator with experience in the education system, I am your candidate,” declared Delahunt.

Incumbent Republican school board members Rick Gehman and Judy Beiler also appeared. Gehman has been serving since filling a vacant seat in 2016. The Akron native and 2002 EHS graduate, Gehman serves as president of Paul B. Zimmerman’s manufacturing division, PBZ and Keystone Coating. Beiler has served since 2005. Both incumbents touted the strong, cohesive nature of the current board as it is currently composed.

In each of Ephrata Borough’s four wards, the incumbent Republican stands un-opposed for one open seat. In the First Ward, Greg Zimmerman is seeking election to his first full term after being selected to fill a vacated seat. Mel Weiler is finishing up his eighth year on council and said this may be the last time he stands for election. This was a similar sentiment shared by Ricky Ressler who, while finishing up his first term, is planning to serve only one more term. However, fourth ward council member Linda Martin’s contagious passion for volunteerism only seems to grow stronger.

Following an opportunity to introduce themselves, the candidates were then given an opportunity to field pre-written questions submitted by those in attendance. From more general questions on problem solving to harder hitting policy questions about energy, conservation, diversity, even gender-neutral restrooms to accommodate transgender students, the two-hour long forum provided much for voters to think about.

Gary P. Klinger is a freelance journalist with The Ephrata Review since 2006. He is glad to receive your questions and feedback via email at klingerglobal@gmail.com. 

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