The eye-catching video opens with “Deep in the backrooms…” The lens takes us inside a building, through two sets of wood-paneled doors and into a room of six smug, middle-aged guys. As the deal is closed, cigars, whiskey, and backslapping abound.
A History Channel documentary on New York’s legendary Boss Tweed? A dramatization of the Mafia’s 1957 Apalachin conference in Upstate New York? Not quite. As we head into the fall election, it’s a Delaware County Democratic Party television ad portraying business as usual on the all-Republican County Council.
Cinematography aside, the 31-second piece further represents that we live in an era when, in politics as in war, truth is the first casualty.
County council Democratic candidates Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden have built their campaign around the charge that incumbent Republican Dave White is “self-dealing” and has “used his political influence to line his own pockets.” Their mailings show White standing on a stack of $100 bills with the accompanying caption stating, “Councilman Dave White has taken over $10 million in government contracts here in Delaware County … then voted to raise taxes.”
Wow. A $49,875-a-year county salary parlayed into $10 million! Shall we just dispense with the niceties and appoint a special prosecutor?
Well, no. Perhaps a defamation case would be more in order.
The background is that White owns DWD, a heating/ventilation/air conditioning firm that in the past did business with Delaware County but that has not since he took office in 2012. He has done and continues to do contracting and subcontracting work with school districts and municipalities in Delaware County. The Democrats say that work amounts to $10 million.
“We haven’t asserted that what he’s doing is criminal or illegal, said Zidek, a lawyer and president of a New Jersey medical insurance company. “We haven’t used the word crooked, but I do think what’s going on is wrong.”
So White is not a crook, even though they say he’s taken $10 million, is self-dealing, and lining his pockets. Said Zidek, “The goal [of the fliers and television ad] isn’t to hurt anybody. I think it’s entirely fair. The point is, it’s difficult to know what’s going on in county government.”
The Democrats’ bag of tricks runs even deeper. Madden and Zidek insist that property taxes in Delaware County are 50 percent higher than in Montgomery County because the property tax rate in Delaware County is about 46 percent higher than it is in Montgomery. What they conveniently omit in this assertion is the other half of the property tax equation – the real estate tax base to which the rate is applied. Taxable real estate in Montgomery County amounts to $60 billion. In Delaware County, it’s $31 billion. That means Delaware County would need a rate twice the size of Montgomery County’s to raise the same amount in taxes.
This is basically middle school math, but Madden and Zidek don’t get it, despite their ample financial backgrounds. Madden is a former partner in a private-equity firm. Zidek was educated in part at the London School of Economics and is a former bankruptcy attorney.
The numbers game continues in a Sept. 26 Delaware County Daily Times story in which the Zidek-Madden campaign is quoted as saying that White “has been busy collecting a seven-figure, taxpayer-funded payday.” Zidek said the figure came from dividing the $10 million figure by the six years White has spent on the council. That would give you the seven figures — $1,666,667 a year. Wow again.
The message that the Zidek-Madden campaign seeks to put out is that Delaware County government is secretive and self-serving. It points to the difficulty one must go through to get public information from the county. Local Democrats have been spreading that gospel for decades, but they haven’t won a single seat on the county council since voters opted for a charter form of government in the mid-1970s.
That raises this obvious question: Is Delaware County government a one-party state because it lacks transparency or because the opposition party has failed to mobilize the electorate with winning campaigns? We’ll have to wait until the night of Nov. 7 to know the latest answer to that. For now, though, it’s fair to say that county Democrats do the public no favors by putting out information that misleads and defames under the guise of informing.
Bob Martin is a retired Inquirer writer and editor. Inkwire86@verizon.net