The Political Background
This year should be bad for Democrats in county races. Though Northampton has historically been a blue county, that dominance is reversing. In 2016, Trump won the county by 5,464 votes. At that time, there were 98,929 Democrats, 73,638 Republicans and 39,026 others for a grand total of 211,593 registered voters. Though Trump lost the county by a scant 1,233 votes in November, the erosion of the Democratic party continues. As of December 28, there were 102,227 Democrats, 81,432 Republicans and 43,691 others. Democrats have increased their numbers by 3 per cent, while Republicans have increased strength by 9.5 percent. A blue county has become purple.
What's worse for county Democrats is that their strength is concentrated in the urban centers of the county. My analysis of what were then still unofficial results demonstrates that Biden was popular in Bethlehem, Easton and in the more urban townships and boroughs. In the more rural areas, Trump hammered Biden.
This is bad news for county candidates in an at-large election. Turnout will be much lower in this year's municipal races than they are in Presidential contests. It is possible that the advent of no-excuse mail-in ballots and early voting could spark an increase in turnout, but that seems unlikely in Bethlehem and Easton. In those cities, the election will for all practical purposes be over in the primary. There is no Mayoral race in Easton, and it is doubtful that a Republican will run in the race to succeed Mayor Bob Donchez. This depressed turnout in the urban core and give Republicans an edge throughout the rest of the county.
To make matters worse, Republicans are angry. I still see Trump signs and flags everywhere. Less than half think Biden won the race. In countywide races, you can expect to see Democrats pay the price.
A Democratic Council President who understands the tenuous grasp her party has on control might overcome these headwinds. Lori Vargo-Heffner has demonstrated, however, that she is ignorant of both politics and, more importantly, governing.
In a county council whose members have hardly distinguished themselves in meeting attendance, Vargo-Heffner has been a workhorse. That's half the battle. But only half. Everywhere else, she's been a failure. Basically, she's just too mean.Here is an incomplete list of examples:
2) Perhaps you think that Heffner was concerned about the separation of church and state. Nope. Heffner was the biggest cheerleader on Council for a $20,000 church steeple grant, described by congregants at a public hearing as a "beacon of hope and faith." You can't get much more religious than that. Heffner, who was on the selection committee, tried all kinds of arguments. She tried arguing that hotel taxes aren't really public funds. She even argued that denying this grant would be discrimination. Fortunately, the grant was tabled.
3) She's awfully picayune. Get this. She actually objected to the minutes of a General Purpose Authority meeting because the references to her failed to hyphenate her last names.
4) When Court Administrator Jermaine Greene sought Council's approval for a Juvenile Justice Center Director of Treatment, she mounted all kinds of roadblocks. She imperiously told a black man who brought a physician and a psychologist that she did not like his tone. Judge Stephen Baratta eventually put her complaints to bed, but she never apologized for her unprofessional behavior.
5)When a negative survey about Gracedale (based on an inspection before Lamont McClure became Executive) was released, Heffner attempted to downplay it. McClure was "very disappointed," and Council members reacted with appropriate outrage. Not Heffner. "Comparatively, it was good," she said. "Let's not just focus on the deficiencies."
6) She's the driving force behind an expensive referendum this Spring, in which you the voter will be called upon to change the names of Council members to Commissioners. This is just pure ego. Voters should say No to the nonsensical name change as well as Vargo-Heffner.
7) She attempted to defund DA Terry Houck's request for funding at the Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center. "I'm not telling you how to fight crime," she snarked to Houck. "I'm not trying to be bat girl." But by defunding his request to a level he deemed unsafe, she was telling him not to bother fighting crime at all.
8) Most recently, she received a Covid-19 vaccine. Though she's far from the front lines and is no first responder, she plastered pictures of herself all over Facebook, virtue signaling. This is a slap across the face of real first responders, many of whom happen to be county employees.
Unlike most Council members, she has failed to learn from her mistakes. She keeps making them and blocks people like myself, when I point them out. Now she will ensure that the entire Council makes mistakes, which will hurt Democrats seeking re-election.
The smartest thing Democrats could do right now is use their 6-3 majority to elect John Cusick as Council President. Cusick is a Republican but takes a fairly bipartisan approach to governing. He is clearly the most fit person to lead Council. If they are interested in both good government and good politics, he is their best bet.