News Analysis

DV voters reward pandemic leaders

By CHARLES PETERSHEIM
Posted 11/4/21

MILFORD, PA — Showing little appetite for a change of direction and riding a night of Republican momentum, Delaware Valley School District voters elected a slate of mostly incumbents in an …

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News Analysis

DV voters reward pandemic leaders

Posted

MILFORD, PA — Showing little appetite for a change of direction and riding a night of Republican momentum, Delaware Valley School District voters elected a slate of mostly incumbents in an election that nearly doubled typical turnout.

With 37 years of combined service, Pam Lutfy, Jessica Decker and Felicia Sheehan joined newcomer Derek Smith in winning four open board seats. In contrast to previous elections, this race showcased no cross-party endorsements. All winners ran on the Republicans line. The contentious election ended an eight-month campaign season that started with the primaries last spring.

The Democrat-leaning ‘Safety First’ slate included candidates with no prior board experience and little community name awareness except that built during this campaign. They lobbied for a top-down makeover of the board’s priorities, including heightened COVID-19 safeguards. “We ran a tough campaign and the community spoke,” said John Johnson.

The ‘Education First’ candidates ran on a platform of parent’s choice, and an impatience to return to pre-pandemic normal. Only 150 votes separated each of the winning candidates, indicating little enthusiasm for ticket-splitting, with voters choosing a slate rather than an individual. Rosemary Walsh, a retired teacher who served the district for 29 years, topped both Lutfy and Decker in votes in 2017. She was voted out Tuesday night and trailed her opponents by more than 1,800 votes. 

The board is now firmly in the hands of allies of board president Jack Fisher, whose masking policy change in September is being challenged in court. “I like that they are pushing the envelope,” said Ted Dabney, a local businessman and pilot for a national airline. “I look at my niece in Florida. No masks, low transmission rates, nearly back to normal.”

Both Dabney and William Onofry, a Port Jervis attorney, agreed the board was rewarded for their pandemic guidance during the 2020-2021 school term. “They get credit for keeping our kids in school last year,” Onofry said. Dabney added, “I voted for them in particular for how they handled the pandemic, with multiple options for parents. They deserve a lot of credit for that.”

The incumbents, confident in their prospects, eschewed interviews, debates and public statements, relying instead on a network of social media and community ties they trusted to carry them to victory. “These are,” Onofry continued, “established, trusted well-known families who have served on the board for years.”

Student masking, and the board’s actions against it, proved an energizing topic for district Republicans. In some respects, the board used their meetings in the fall of 2021 for voter base engagement, allowing wide latitude and unlimited time to a broad range of community members who could be seen as their voters. Public comment periods about masks lasted hours and resulted in a controversial decision by the board to flout state guidelines with a policy loosening mask rules on campus. The meetings provided a physical meeting space and forum for relationships developed through social media, primarily Facebook.

Throughout the region, Republicans triumphed. “Overall it appears there was a large republican and conservative push,” Onofry said. “In Port Jervis, for instance, the Republican’s entire slate was elected except the mayor, and that’s because they didn’t run anyone for mayor.” DV’s school board elections are typically characterized by uncontested, cross-party endorsed candidates. This year, four open board slots were sought by eight persons, and each candidate ran on a single party line. Sixty percent of Pike County voters count themselves as Republicans.

On election day, COVID-19 fatigue (particularly mask-wearing efficacy), voter base engagement, and robust social media networks worked to the benefit of the Republicans. Polls showing a national mood of a country heading in the wrong direction provided headwinds for Democrats at all levels of governance.

For complete Pike County election results, click here





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