Pennsylvania’s legislative elections are 18 months out, except for the Delaware County-based 163rd District, whose voters will decide on Tuesday which party controls the state House.
Democrats enjoyed a one-seat majority since the session began last December, but sexual-misconduct allegations prompted the resignation of Democrat Mike Zabel, who represented the district covering Aldan, Clifton Heights, and Collingdale, as well as parts of Darby and Upper Darby. Republican Katie Ford is campaigning to flip the seat red, while Zabel’s party picked Heather Boyd to keep hold of it.
Area residents asked Ford (pictured above) to run for local office in the past, but family priorities didn’t afford her the time. Now, with two of her kids in college and the third going into his senior year of high school, she has undertaken a strenuous campaign wherein she and her team have knocked on over 10,000 doors.
“With things going on in our local community and a lot of people unhappy, I just thought maybe this was a good time to take a chance and stand up for the community,” she told The Pennsylvania Daily Star.
Public K-12 education funding, particularly for special-needs children, tops her list of concerns. She’d be coming to Harrisburg at an opportune time to affect the issue since the Commonwealth Court ordered the General Assembly to recreate the school funding formula so it more generously aids poorer districts.
“Watching what happens when we don’t get our needs met has been really hard to watch and it’s something that I’ve been fighting for for years,” she said. “This isn’t my first go-round with going up to Harrisburg and protesting about getting fair funding.”
A special instructor for early intervention who has also volunteered in many capacities at her local schools, Ford has a human development and family studies degree from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s in education from Arizona State University. She said the extent to which therapy resources for children have dwindled particularly troubles her. While increasing public education dollars is her main goal, she said lifeline scholarships might be worth considering to help families in struggling districts afford private education, depending on the scholarships’ impact on funding local public schools.
“I was born and raised here,” she said. “I’ve done everything I’ve done in the community not to go into politics but just because I care very strongly about our school system, our teachers, our students and the community and that’s my number-one priority. Period.”
The wife of an Upper Darby policeman, she also wants to support law enforcement as a legislator robustly. The local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) endorsed her run.
“Crime has increased over the last couple of years,” she said. “The type of crime has gotten a lot worse. We’re not seeing a fully funded or fully staffed police department and this is happening all over the place and that’s something I definitely want to work on as well as bringing back community partnerships; I think COVID really destroyed that.”
Boyd, who did not respond to an interview request from The Daily Star, has drawn scrutiny for her posture toward law enforcement. The Democrat founded the Delaware County Chapter of the National Organization for Women which described the defund-the-police movement as “a clarion call for racial justice activists across the country.” She has also supported U.D.T.J. (Understanding. Devotion. Take Action. Justice.) which has protested the police locally.
Boyd has gotten unwelcome attention for her past support of Zabel during her six-year tenure as chair of the Upper Darby Democratic Committee. Boyd said publicly that she knew of Zabel’s alleged sexual harassment of union official Andi Perez as early as 2019. Boyd insisted in a debate with Ford that she “never” supported the former lawmaker, yet she oversaw her party’s effort to get him reelected; Ford recalled Boyd has displayed Zabel’s campaign sign and appeared with him publicly.
“If you’re the head of the party, I don’t understand how you would just allow someone to keep running…,” Ford said. “You know, I guess I’m just a very strong woman and if I found out that somebody was doing that, I would never support them.”
When it became evident earlier this year that Zabel would likely resign, state Representative Russ Diamond (R-Jonestown) called politically active Delaware Countians to urge a diligent search for the best possible Republican hopeful to replace him. He believes they found her and since then encouraged Republicans all over the commonwealth to give Ford campaign financial or on-the-ground support.
“As far as I’m concerned, she’s a spectacular candidate,” said Diamond who mentioned he was soon heading to the district to knock on doors for her. “I think she has the right attitude on just about every issue [and] she’s well-known as a community volunteer down there.”
After hearing of Perez’s allegations, Diamond also took Boyd to task for failing to come out against Zabel. The representative called the Democratic candidate “duplicitous” for serving as a court witness against former State Senator Daylin Leach (D-King of Prussia) who was accused of similar behavior.
“She’s a party officer and she stood by while her party endorsed Mike Zabel in two election cycles since she knew that this was going on,” Diamond said.
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