With all eyes on the race for the White House — the New Hampshire Democratic primary could actually be moved to as early as December — it's almost easy to forget that Election Day 2007 is fast approaching, with local parties and candidates campaigning with ferocity.
And nowhere are races in the area more intense than in Montgomery County, particularly in the battle to control a majority of the Board of Commissioners, as well as for the district attorney's office.
While Republicans are trying to downplay any connection to national politics — arguing that this election is about local issues and not the war in Iraq — at least one Democrat is asserting that the races may have some significance for next year's presidential election and may even point to which way this pivotal swing state could turn.
"If the third-largest county in the state turns blue, that might change the state from purple to blue," said Ruth Damsker, currently Montgomery County's minority commissioner.
The board is governed by two Republicans and one Democrat, but the 62-year-old is hoping to change that.
Damsker, a member of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, is running with Joe Hoeffel, himself a former commissioner, U.S. Representative and U.S. Senate candidate. They are challenging current board chair Jim Matthews and Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor.
Only three of the four will get voted in. Currently, Republicans control county government in Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery counties.
"After 126 years of one-party rule, there is a sense of arrogance and entitlement here at the courthouse," said Damsker, who said a Democratic majority would improve social services in the area.
About Good Government
But Castor rejects the notion that the race is about anything other than what's best for the county.
"What's at stake? Good government is at stake: low taxes, good schools and safe streets," said Castor. "We want to reduce property taxes. If you want to see a property-tax reassessment, if you want to go backwards and fail to build on progress, then vote for the other side."
Democrat Peter Amuso, 35, is eyeing Castor's current office, and he's facing off with Castor's first assistant, Risa Vetri Ferman.
Amuso, a former JAG, who prosecuted and defended clients at a U.S. Army base in Germany, claimed that the D.A.'s office has become a breeding ground for GOP political activity — and that he plans to separate politics from law enforcement.
"I'm proud to be on the Democratic ticket. I don't think the D.A.'s office should be this partisan political place," said Amuso, who added that, if elected, he would bar office employees from running for office or raising funds for another candidate.
He's claimed that politics has played a role in investigations. He has also stated that robberies, car-jackings and the county drug trade are on the rise, and that a new approach is needed to combat crime.
Ferman responded that, taking population growth into account, violent crime is actually down. She said that Montgomery County has had five murders this year, compared to more than 300 in neighboring Philadelphia County.
"The critical issue in this race is experience and qualifications to do the job. I've spent my entire career as a public servant and working to keep our communities safe," said Ferman, who's been with the district attorney's office since 1993.
Ferman, a member of Beth Sholom Congregation, added that she learned on her very first day that "politics and political consideration have no place in the district attorney's office."
Said Ferman: "I understand that politicians like to make accusations, but it's simply not the way the office is run."