The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article on May 1st titled “Democrats have controlled Montco for a decade. The primary will test their political machine and pay-to-play culture.” The article details how after taking political control in Montgomery County over the last decade party leaders and elected officials have rewarded law firms that made political contributions with plum county and municipal contracts.
We asked the five Democratic Party candidates in the May 16th primary for Montgomery County Commissioner to offer their thoughts on the article. The campaigns for Neil Makhija and Tanya Bamford responded. The campaigns of Jamila Winder, Kimberly Koch, and Noah Marlier did not. Below are the two responses we received.
From Eric Stern from the Neil Makhija campaign:
As County Commissioner, Neil will never allow any “pay to play” on his watch. Period. Voters can be confident that when they vote for Neil, they’re voting for clean government and never for any corporate special interests.
From candidate Tanya Bamford:
The details shared in the Inquirer article, while disappointing, are by no means shocking. This race has exposed a growing chasm within the party–with party leadership and their financial backers on one side, and committee people and volunteers on the other. I stand firmly on the side of committee people and volunteers in this matter–as they are the backbone of the party and do the critical work of getting out the vote in each and every election.
Following the MCDC vote at the endorsement convention for an open primary for one of the Montco Commissioner’s seats, the party has been in disarray. Over the intervening months, party leaders have missed numerous opportunities to meet this unprecedented moment. They should have provided the necessary guidance and resources for all of the Commissioner candidates and committee people alike. Instead, they actively tried to dissuade three of the four unendorsed Commissioner candidates from running, allowed their preferred candidates, Commissioner Jamila Winder and Kimberly Koch, to run as a team, and then discouraged committee people from supporting any of the other unendorsed candidates for Commissioner.
Through very narrow interpretations of the party’s bylaws, party leadership has sought to muzzle committee people wishing to educate fellow Democrats about myself, Noah Marlier, or Neil Makhija. Party leaders even placed limits on how many Commissioner fundraisers committee people could attend, while emphasizing strongly that committee people are expected to support the endorsed candidate, Jamila Winder. This heavy handed behavior is not only antithetical to the role MCDC should be playing at this moment, it absolutely tips the scales in favor of the joint Winder and Koch campaign.
Furthermore, when party leaders gave credence to an obviously trumped up complaint filed against Joyce Keller for sharing information about my campaign in social media groups, they essentially issued a threat to all committee people that the party will seek retribution against any who attempt to thwart their will. Fortunately, at the most recent MCDC Executive Committee Zoom meeting, sanity prevailed. Committee members once again rose up to decry this act of intimidation and voted to abrogate the interpretation of the bylaws that would make this type of social media support a violation. That vote has now freed committee people to share information about all of the Commissioner candidates. Unfortunately, no such abrogation was voted on as it related to restrictions on campaign contributions.
Fundraising is an unfortunate necessity of running for office at any level. For my part, it has been a challenge during this campaign, as I have had to rely on a grassroots fundraising effort, rather than the more sophisticated outreach being conducted by my opponents via fundraising firms. While I don’t believe it’s accurate to call this “pay to play” culture, I do think it’s fair to state that party leadership is attempting to put forward preferred Commissioner candidates which begs the questions: “Why?” and “To what extent have big money donors played a role in their decision making?” These are valid questions that party leadership will need to address with transparency following the primary.
As for myself, I will continue to run my campaign as I intend to lead Montgomery County as Commissioner–with integrity. I have a long and distinguished career in both the private sector and in public service, and have maintained a spotless reputation. This hasn’t been difficult. I have a strong moral compass and make decisions grounded in what is best for my constituents and the community I serve. That’s why, when it came to appointing a new solicitor for Montgomery Township, as Chair of the Board of Supervisors, I made sure we conducted a thorough RFP process wherein we interviewed four firms, compared rates, and checked references before making a selection. This type of ethical, data-driven decision making is what we should expect from our leaders regardless of their political affiliation.
In closing, there is clearly work which needs to be done to bridge the divide and rebuild trust within our local party. Regardless of the outcome of the Primary, I pledge to work alongside my fellow Democrats at every level to ensure that we come together, aligned around our common cause and values. As we all know, Montgomery is the third largest county in an important swing state. We cannot allow this moment of angst to distract us from our larger mission of maintaining control of the State House and White House, as well.
Disclosure – The Tanya Bamford campaign is an advertiser with Burb Media, the owner of MoreThanTheCurve.com, AroundAmbler.com, and GlensideLocal.com
Photos: From the campaigns