History from the Archives
By Catherine Coll
In the late 90’s, when I left Lansdowne, there was no Facebook or Twitter. People who had internet used AOL. The Lansdowne Democrats continued the decades-long struggle to find a way to get their perspective represented in the community. Republicans would prevent them from speaking at meetings, and tried their best to prevent them from running for office, but they couldn’t stop them from publishing The Lansdowne Leader.
Twenty years later, the Democrats have taken Lansdowne away from the GOP machine and held it. When I was considering moving back to Lansdowne, people who had left talked about it like it was a postapocalyptic hell scape. But I found that the town was, if anything, better than it had been. It was amazing how people could have such wildly different perceptions about the same place. Exciting, thriving businesses lined Lansdowne Avenue, the town real estate market thriving, the town was much more diverse, and everyone was much more welcoming than I remembered. How was this happening while so many other Delco towns were hollowed out and devastated by opioid addiction? In 2015, when I first moved back, I was still employed with the federal government and had some reasons not to get back into politics. Like so many people after the 2016 election happened, I knew I could no longer stay on the sidelines. That’s when I started to find out much more about Lansdowne’s success.
While other towns were losing residents, Lansdowne’s real estate market remained active. As government became more open and transparent, citizens became more engaged.
I joined my local Democratic committee, a vital first step for anyone who wants to get more involved in politics. Once I’d committed to learning about how the Leader is published, Democratic Committee Chair and long-time editor, Charlotte Hummel dropped off a bag containing a stack of papers – The Lansdowne Leader archives. As I worked my way through the stack, I learned a lot about our history that I hadn’t known about while it was happening, and there was much that was familiar in the story. The Republicans were accustomed to total control of everything, and ruled by fiat, without transparency. Some were rewarded with generous patronage jobs, and others received no-strings cash infusions straight into their businesses. Attempts to introduce accountability were met with indignation from the Republicans along with attempts to silence people from speaking out.
Sound familiar? Although two Democrats won election to County Council in 2017, they do not yet have the majority they need to introduce the most basic measures of financial accountability to the process of bidding and awarding county services. County Council Republicans claim that asking for normal procedures of fiscal accountability is a “political attack” on them, which says a lot about how they view politics and the responsibilities of the office they hold. Delaware County has been run this way since the end of the Civil War. On the eve of these midterms, we anticipate that our Democratic voter registration advantage in Delco will flip some seats. But how did this happen 20 years ago in just one small town, amid a sea of corruption? And how did they maintain freedom from the GOP machine for 20 years?
The creation of the Leader played a large part in that. Since there was no platform to talk about a liberal view of town issues, they created one. And in the act of creating and distributing the Leader, community ties are formed and strengthened. People who may not have known others had similar views now had a venue to come together and meet one another. Having a venue to bring transparency to government processes rendered the GOP’s fiat rule unsustainable. And once Democrats began winning office, the community became more inclusive. On a practical level, this allowed Lansdowne to gain new residents from waves of migration out of the city caused by gentrification. While other towns were losing residents, Lansdowne’s real estate market remained active. As government became more open and transparent, citizens became more engaged.
When I helped distribute the Leader and worked the polls in 2017 and earlier this year, I saw that people still read the Leader, which goes out to every household in Lansdowne. While social media is an important way for people to get local news, many people are not on social media. Having a publication is an important part of our success in having voter turnout levels that are higher than the surrounding area. Distribution of the paper gets our committee people out in our neighborhoods, the publication reaches people, and piques interest not just in candidates but in our citizen and government collaborations such as Lansdowne Landing. It also raises awareness of local issues that wouldn’t get coverage in the newspaper.
As Delaware County goes blue, we on the Leader editorial committee hope to be of assistance to surrounding areas who are looking for a venue to get a similar type of success story started. I believe our colleagues in surrounding Democratic committees see the importance of engaging with voters and putting accurate local information in front of voters’ right before election time. Voters will engage with the party that wants to provide as much information as possible, not the party that feels transparency is a political attack on them. Please feel free to send ideas about local issues you’d like to see covered to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message through our website or Facebook page.