19th District endorsement candidates

Candidates to fill Andy Dinniman's state Senate seat, from left, Don Vymazal, Carolyn Comitta and Kyle Boyer meet prior to the Chester County Democratic Endorsement Convention. 

Campaigning for elective office, especially one in which the candidate is not an incumbent, always presents challenges. But running in an election held in the middle of a nearly unprecedented pandemic, where voters are quarantined behind closed doors and the phrase of the moment is “social distancing,” is one for the books.

Just ask the three candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for the 19th state Senate District seat in Chester County — Tredyffrin-Easttown School Board member Kyle Boyer, state Rep. Carolyn Comitta, and Senate staff member Don Vymazal — all of whom have campaign experience, but not like this.

“The word is different," said Boyer, one of the trio seeking to replace long-time state Sen. Andy Dinniman in the seat that encompasses a large swath of the county from north to south. Facebook Live and virtual meetings are his normal routines now, he said in a recent interview, not the traditional door-to-door meetings with residents.

“But we have tried to make sure our campaign remains responsive,” Boyer said. “In the absence of in-person campaigning, people feel connected to the candidate and the campaign. An extrovert like me, I am glad to still find a way to connect.”

“It has been a challenge,” agreed Vymazal.  another of the field of three. In normal campaigns, he said, a candidate gets a feel for the cycle of the campaign — ups and downs, positive and negatives. “All those are off the table. There is no playbook for this.”

“We have always had a robust virtual strategy, and we have redoubled our efforts there,” Vymazal said. “Now, there are challenges, but there are also opportunities.” He said that people seem more willing to discuss issues over the phone, rather than standing in their doorway. “People just want to talk, and they have concerns.”

Comitta, who is in her sixth run for office at the local and state level, had perhaps the most unique experience of the three. Earlier this month, she met with about two dozen constituents — residents and business owners — in an open-air “town hall” in the field at West Chester’s Everhart Park to discuss the impact of the state’s “stay at home” policy for the COVID-19 breakout.

“One of the things I’ve missed are the ‘face-to-face’ conversations with people” during a campaign, said Comitta in a telephone interview. This was an example of “safe social distance” campaigning. “It was good to be together with people in person, but, then again, we all were talking through masks.”

The unusual “coronavirus campaign” began in early February when Dinniman, of West Whiteland, made the surprise announcement that he had decided not to seek another term to the seat he had held since 2006. He cited a desire to concentrate on his family life as he enters his late 70s.

Dinniman was quick to announce his support for Vymazal, his longtime assistant who holds the title of government relations and policy director. The Chester County Democratic Committee, later in February, gave its endorsement to Vymazal over Boyer and Comitta.

On the GOP ballot in Tuesday's Primary Election, New London Supervisor Kevin Runey is running unopposed.

The 19th District is the largest of the four state Senate districts in the county, its boundaries holding 40 of the county’s 73 municipalities, from the rural areas of southern Chester County to urban areas including Coatesville, West Chester and Phoenixville and suburban strongholds like Tredyffrin and East and West Goshen.

In recent interviews, the three candidates were asked about their public accomplishments, what set them apart from others in the field, and their legislative priorities.

Boyer, 32, of Tredyffrin is a member of the T-E School Board and a teacher in the Norristown Area School District. An ordained minister at the Mt. Carmel Church of God In Christ, he also serves as the president of the West Chester NAACP.

“I feel that people are receptive to having someone go to Harrisburg to fight for our public schools, our public health system, and for criminal justice reform,” he said. “I am most proud of the way we have worked to make (the T-E) school system work as an equitable place, not only for students but for staff and teachers. We have made sure everybody is able to access programs that will help them succeed.”

He vowed to focus on reforming the state’s funding formula for public schools, increasing money for special education and the way charter schools are reimbursed, which he argued negatively affect districts like the Coatesville Area School District. Those payments, he said, “are draining school district’s budgets.”

But he also emphasized that he would fight “for the environment and environmental safety. “People in Chester County care about the pipelines that are running through their backyards,” Boyer said.

Comitta, 68, of West Chester has served as state representative for the West Chester area since 2017, after having served two terms as mayor of West Chester and a member of the Borough Council. She worked as a teacher of special education and gifted students in the Octorara Area School District for 12 years, and for her family planning business.

Supported by Gov. Tom Wolf for the Senate seat, she is also running for re-nomination for her 156th House District seat.

She views her work in office as a “collaborating problems solver,” citing work she did in bringing together a number of factions in the battle over the Mariner East Pipeline construction project.

“By nature, I am a collaborator, and a listener,” she said. Efforts she made had led to work on writing safety regulations for future pipeline projects, she said. “We need to have the safest pipelines possible, and nothing works better than getting a diverse group of people in the same room and talk through a problem.  

“I think it is so important for people to have a voice in the public area, and feel that they have a seat at the table,” Comitta said. “I also think it is important to have a varied experience and to have shown leadership, now more than ever.” 

Vymazal, 38, of Phoenixville, is a graduate of Gettysburg College and West Chester University, where he teaches as an adjunct professor. As Dinniman’s staff liaison and aide since 2006, he has worked on a host of public projects with community, business, non-profit and government groups. He is a member of the Phoenixville Planning Commission.

“I view my professional career as being dedicated to public services,” he said, focusing his work on “grassroots projects at the community level. And I think I have built up trust and a good reputation over the past 15 years. I want to continue to do the good work we’ve done in Chester County.”

In addition to working with Dinniman in the fight against the Mariner East pipeline projects in the Public Utilities Commission and in court, Vymazal also cited his efforts to bring transportation projects along the Amtrak line in Paoli, Downingtown and Coatesville to completion.

Most of all, he said his goal would be to increase a sense f public participation in government. “It often feels that the state is not taking (public input on various matters) into consideration,” he said. Helping the public to provide input is important, he said. “If not, that does serious harm to the trust we have to have in government.”

To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.

To contact Staff Writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.

comments powered by Disqus