GOP spat in Delco town delights Dems

Andy Lewis, a former Delaware County councilman, walks the Haverford State Hospital site. As a new township commissioner in 2004, he helped expose Jeffrey Rotwitt's deal. "He clearly wasn't entitled to the money under any circumstances," Lewis said. (LAURENCE KESTERSON / Staff Photographer)

To the delight of Democrats, a former Republican Haverford Township commissioner whose tip to authorities 10 years ago led to a felony bribery conviction for a fellow commissioner has decided to run a last minute write-in campaign to unseat the GOP incumbent in his ward.

Andy Lewis, also a former Delaware County councilman, will challenge Republican Jeff Heilmann for a seat in the Fifth Ward.

"I've had enough of his approach to governing," Lewis, who served from 2004 until 2008 as the Fifth Ward commissioner, said Thursday.

David Landau, chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Party, welcomed the news. "When Republicans want to fight among themselves, have at it," he said.

Heilmann said the intraparty spat might result in a victory for Democrat Chuck Reardon. Lawrence W. Abel, a Democrat who lives in the same ward, is considered a strong candidate in the county court race, and that could help Reardon, said both Heilmann and Landau.

Heilmann said his troubles started when he tried to appoint Democrats to the planning and zoning boards.

"I'm as conservative as they come, but when it comes to the township I try to do what is right regardless," he said.

Earlier in the week, Lewis sent out a blistering letter to voters announcing his campaign and denouncing Heilmann, whom he says he considers a friend.

Lewis said he and other Fifth Ward residents met earlier this year with Heilmann to voice concerns. He said Heilmann had failed to file more than 30 campaign expense reports, had a take-no-prisoners approach, and rarely communicated with constituents.

The reports "should have been filed," said Heilmann. He said he took full responsibility, but he added that his first campaign treasurer died and his second, Pat Biswanger, was now working for Lewis.

Republicans hold seven of the nine seats on the board.

Lewis gained attention when as a newly elected commissioner, he alerted the District Attorney's Office to a phone conversation involving himself, a developer of the 209-acre Haverford State Hospital site, and Commissioner Fred Moran, who asked the developer to pay an additional $500,000 to ensure needed zoning approval. Moran was convicted of bribery and sentenced to probation.

Lewis also alerted authorities to a $600,000 payment made without board approval to lawyer Jeffrey B. Rotwitt in connection with the development of the Haverford State Hospital property. Rotwitt later returned the money.

"It is a shame it has come to this," Heilmann said. "I have to work hard and try to beat him, and that is how it is."