Lower Merion candidates' eminent-domain views: Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, 8/8/05

By Jeff Price

The fate of Ardmore properties under the sword of eminent domain could come down to election arithmetic:

Subtracting the seats up for election, the tally for Option B among remaining commissioners is 5-2.

Let's look at the races, see how they're shaping up, then try to calculate what the support will be for Option B after the election. Is it possible the voters could save those buildings?

Ward 2, Gladwyne, Penn Valley. Commissioner Ken Davis, for Option B, is retiring. Jenny Brown, an attorney, is unchallenged; there is no Democrat in the race. "The use of eminent domain goes against every fiber in my body, but I don't know what it will look like until it comes before me," she said last month.

Count her undecided, and leave the tally at 5-2.

Ward 4, Ardmore, Haverford. Incumbent Maryem Phillips, for Option B, is running against Republican Cory McClain, a lawyer. "I would hope that any new candidates would take the time to see the years of work that have gone into the steps we've taken so far," she said. McClain needs no such time: If he's elected, "the first order of business is to stop the process."

Outcome could go either way. The tally stays 5-2.

Ward 6, Rosemont, Villanova. Commissioner Mary Wright is retiring. Real estate lawyer Philip Rosenzweig said that although eminent domain has a vital role in redevelopment, "it's not appropriate in many circumstances. It's not appropriate in Ardmore." His Democratic opponent, Linda Henderson, a write-in candidate in the primary, said recently that a job reassignment might force her to withdraw. She, therefore, did not want to discuss her position.

Count one against Option B. The tally, 5-3.

Ward 8, South Wynnewood, East Ardmore. Incumbent Jane Dellheim voted against Option B. Her opponent, Republican Josh Quinter, is also opposed.

The tally, 5-4.

Ward 10, Bryn Mawr, Haverford. Charles Bloom, for Option B, is the third commissioner retiring. Democrat Leigh Anne Smith, a paralegal and community activist, said, "The idea of taking someone's personal property is not sitting well with the public. It's a very troubling issue to the public and to me." Republican candidate Scott Zelov, who formerly owned a manufacturing firm, is a member of the Montgomery County Planning Commission, whose job it is to review local decisions, and which approved Option B. Yet Zelov said, "I don't like eminent domain that would be used to take private property from one owner and transfer it to another private owner."

Count another vote against, a 5-5 tie.

Ward 12, Merion. Republican incumbent James Ettelson is for Option B, and Democrat Brian Gordon, a lawyer, is against.

For purposes of the tally, still 5-5.

Ward 14, Penn Wynne, Wynnewood. Incumbent Felice Wiener was defeated in the primary by Andrew Tanzer. She was out of the country for the Option B vote but said she would have voted no. Although a Democrat, Wiener is considering running on the Republican ballot after winning the GOP vote in the primary. Tanzer, a lawyer, said, "If government encourages organic growth, it works much better than if they tear everything down and build a whole new thing." The other candidate in the 12th, Independent Lance Rogers, a lawyer, said, "I'm horrified by the idea of taking property from private citizens and giving it to private citizens."

Another no vote, tipping the tally to 6-5 against Option B.

Although very unofficial, the candidates' positions indicate anti-eminent-domain forces might have a real shot at overturning the little-loved option.

The Philadelphia Inquirer: www.philly.com/mld/inquirer