Montco Democratic head to lead state party

Marcel Groen, long-time head of the Montgomery County Democrats.

Marcel Groen, the long-time head of the Montgomery County Democrats, was elected chair of the statewide party Saturday, a key post heading into national elections next year.

His immediate focus, however, is on voting that is just seven weeks away.

"The most important thing now are the Supreme Court races," Groen said in an interview following his election by party committee members in Gettysburg. "They are extremely important, from a political perspective, because of redistricting. Pennsylvania is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country."

Voters will select three justices to the seven-member court, which has authority to review legislative districting.

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) called the court races "the most consequential in Pennsylvania history."

"The party has to get beyond any friction that has occurred," Leach said.

The 70-year-old Groen, who ran unopposed, will also act as state host when the Democratic National Convention arrives in Philadelphia next summer.

"It will be a real honor to be head of the party ahead of that," said Groen, who acknowledged facing serious organizational and financial challenges.

State party efforts will be focused on retaining the White House and defeating Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.). A loss by Toomey, who is expected to announce his bid for a second term on Sunday, would improve Democrats' chances of retaking control of the Senate. Voter turnout is key, Groen said.

He noted that registered Democrats outstrip Republicans by about a million statewide, but the party has not been able to get voters to the polls with the efficiency of the GOP.

Groen said he will focus on that - a vow that carries some weight.

Gradually over the past two decades, during Groen's leadership of Montco Democrats, the county has switched from Republican to Democratic in both voting trends and registration. It had been a GOP stronghold since the Civil War but became a linchpin of statewide Democratic victories.

In a sense, Groen's elevation is a nod to the county's growing role in party success.

At the moment, however, Democratic insiders say that Groen's challenge will be to marshal fundraising to help the party compete against an expected onslaught of GOP money in this fall's race for control of the state Supreme Court.

Josh Shapiro, chairman of the Montgomery County Commissioners, noted that Groen will have only a short time to get the party into fighting trim.

"There's a need to be realistic," said Shapiro. "It requires a lot of energy and money and organization. He's stepping in 50 days before the election."

That said, Shapiro said Groen has "the skills and the know-how" to meet that challenge.

Groen's election was greeted with enthusiasm by most attending the Gettysburg meeting, although there has been some grumbling. Earlier this year, Gov. Wolf sought to replace Jim Burn, who had been party chair since 2010. But Burn resisted and Wolf backed down.

Burn nevertheless resigned over the summer, saying he did not want his presence to distract the party.

At Saturday's meeting, Burn said "I'm very hopeful that under the leadership of Marcel, that we're going to have an open party."

Groen has reached out to Democrats statewide this summer. Among his first proposals Saturday was to have representatives from various regions issue reports at future state gatherings, so that "people in Montgomery County are learning what's happening in Montour County." Such interaction, he said, would "make it easier for us to work together."

Groen's backers predicted that he'd be able to win over wary Democrats, and said the party's prospects would improve under his leadership.


Staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald contributed to this article, which also contains material from the Associated Press.