Local Politics | Will the opportunity for new leadership in Montgomery County result in an open primary with robust debate or a coronation?

Last week, MoreThanTheCurve.com reported that Montgomery County Commissioner Dr. Val Arkoosh resigned due to her appointment as Secretary of Human Services for the state and an announcement by fellow County Commissioner Ken Lawrence that he would not seek re-election. All three seats on the county’s governing board of commissioners are up for election in 2023.

Even before last week, we had heard speculation that at least one seat currently held by Democrats (Dr. Arkoosh or Lawrence) would not have an incumbent running for re-election. Now that both won’t be part of this year’s election, there will likely be a bunch of candidates, at least initially, seeking to replace them.

Prior to the election though, there will be a process to fill Dr. Arkoosh’s seat for the balance of the year. The selection is made by a panel of Montgomery County judges. The selected person, if he or she chooses, would then almost immediately have to start running for election for a full term starting in 2024. The primary is in May and the general election is in November.

In the primary, candidates do not run for specific seats. The two candidates from both parties that get the most votes advance to the general election. The candidates from the party that get the most votes in the general election form a majority on the board of commissioners. The candidate with the most votes from the other party takes the minority seat on the board.

So who is going to seek the appointment to replace Dr. Arkoosh? Who is going to run? Here is what we know and hear.

We have been told by multiple sources that Jeanne Sorg, who is the current mayor of Ambler and the Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds, is going to seek the appointment. We also have heard the same about Danielle Duckett, a supervisor in Lower Gwynedd Township. Tanya Bamford, a supervisor in Montgomery Township, has announced that she will seek the appointment.

One thing about Bamford, in her announcement, she clearly does not understand the election process we described above. Her announcement states:

Should Bamford not be appointed immediately, this fundraising effort will be extremely valuable to her because a second county Commissioner seat will be opening up this year. Vice Chair, Ken Lawrence Jr., has announced that he will not be seeking re-election. As such, should Tanya not secure the appointment for the open seat, she will still have an opportunity to be endorsed and run for election to this second Commissioner seat.

As we mentioned, all three seats are up for election this year (TWO of which are reserved for the majority party).

So who else is considering running?

We hear Neil Makhija who lives in Narberth. He ran for office in 2016, as the Democratic nominee for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from the 122nd House District (which is Carbon County).

We hear Kimberly Koch, a township supervisor in Whitpain.

We hear Tim Briggs, who is the state representative for Upper Merion and West Conshohocken.

We hear Noah Marlier, the prothonotary of Montgomery County.

If you think the opportunity for new leadership in Montgomery County will lead to an active campaign season and robust debate, you may be disappointed. While the primary is in May, the Montgomery County Democratic Committee has announced a steering committee to consider candidates and make recommendations to an executive committee of party officials. There is an endorsement convention in mid-February and if there are two endorsements, you will likely see other candidates drop out of the race. If this happens, the two county commissioners will be handpicked not by the voters, but by the party establishment.

Below is the text of the announcement for the selection committee and the timeline:

Dear Fellow Democrats,

We thank Commissioners Val Arkoosh and Ken Lawrence for their years of service to the county and to our party.

There will now be one vacancy on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners effective January 17. By statute, this seat must be filled for the remainder of the year by a registered Montgomery County Democrat by a vote of the Montgomery County Board of Judges.

In light of this vacancy and the two open Commissioners seats appearing on this year’s ballot, I am establishing a Commissioners Screening Committee, listed below, to make a recommendation to the Court to fill the vacancy.

This Screening Committee will also make a recommendation to MCDC’s February 9 Executive Committee meeting for the endorsement for two seats on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. That recommendation will be considered at the February 16 MCDC Endorsement Convention.

All those interested in being considered for the Commissioner appointment and endorsement should send a letter of interest, a bio or resume, a signed application (link), and any other supporting materials to Chris Thomas, MCDC Executive Director, at christhomas@mcdems.org by Tuesday, January 17 at 5 PM, after which they may be invited to interview with the Screening Committee on January 21, 22, or 23.

Thank you for your continued support.


Jason Salus

So who is on this screening committee? The co-chairs are Congresswoman Madeleine Dean and Jason Salus, who is the chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee, elected treasurer of Montgomery County, and area leader for the party in Area 10 (Conshohocken, Plymouth, and Whitemarsh).

Other members of the screening committee are County Commissioner Ken Lawrence, State Representative Matt Bradford, Beth Moy, chief of staff at Salus University, and George Schools of Steamfitters Local Union 420.

Do the voters want a handful of people, with names most of you do not recognize except for maybe Dean and Lawrence, selecting the next commissioners, or do they want a fully open primary with debates?

Think I am crazy? Look at the above quote from Bamford again. She says that she will “have an opportunity to be endorsed and run for election to this second Commissioner seat.”

She is basing her ability to run for office on obtaining an endorsement.

We have a second column about the Republicans later this week.

Is that what the voters in Montgomery County want? Let us know in the comments.