Party Leader Plans To Target 'Closet' Democrats

Posted: July 03, 1986

Joan Tarka, a former Republican, who has twice run unsuccessfully against state Rep. Stephen Freind (R., Haverford), has been named chairman of the Democratic Party of Haverford Township.

Tarka, 38, of the Oakmont section of Haverford, replaces Karl Freas. Freas, whose two-year term was expiring, did not seek re-election. Tarka was named president by acclamation by party committee people in a meeting June 25.

Although Democrats are at a 2-1 registration disadvantage in the township, party insiders said that Tarka would prove to be an active chairman who would give the party a higher visibility and a more liberal orientation than it has had in the recent past.

"A lot of what I hope to do is to identify and communicate with regular Democrats," Tarka said last week. The party has not held a fund-raising event in two years.

Democrats predicted that Tarka's tenure would be characterized by strong organization with a major effort devoted to increasing Democratic registration. The township's registration stands at 10,272 Democrats and 22,031 Republicans.

Tarka said that among her targets for registration were the so-called closet Democrats - people who feel they must register Republican to have local services performed but who in the privacy of the voting booth pull the Democratic lever in nonlocal elections.

In local offices, the Republicans are in full control. The township board of commissioners is dominated by Republicans, 7-2, and every county-wide office in Delaware County is held by a Republican, as are the township's legislative seats in Harrisburg.

But in congressional and national elections, the township has tended to vote Democratic. In 1984 it gave U.S. Rep. Bob Edgar (D., Delaware County) his margin of victory over Delaware County Council chairman Curtis Weldon and favored Walter F. Mondale over President Reagan.

Part of her job, Tarka said, would be to debunk the myth that one must register and vote Republican to receive local services. Any taxpayer, regardless of party, is entitled to trash pick-up and snowplowing, she said, but it has served the GOP to lead people to believe that they had to be registered Republican to ensure those services.

She also wants to try to light a fire under Democrats who have not been involved. "We have to make ourselves visible and let people know there is an active Democratic organization," Tarka said. "The Republicans in the county control the township, and the tough, hard questions aren't being asked. Our tax dollars are not being spent as wisely as they could be."

A conversation with Tarka reveals a woman who likes politics and does not rule out the possibility of running someday for elective office. The problem would be deciding which office.

She said she was not interested in serving as a commissioner or on the school board, she had already been defeated as a state house candidate, and she didn't feel prepared at this point to run for Congress.

It was after Freind defeated her in 1982 in the Republican primary for the state house, and after she began to work for Edgar, that she switched parties. ''It was clear that the Republicans didn't welcome new people with new ideas," she said.

When the GOP endorsed Freind in the primary, she said, she was expected to drop out of the race - pressure she didn't like. "After the election," she said, "I talked with the Republicans about my future, but it became clear that their agenda for me was to wait around and be a good girl and in 10 years we'll throw you a bone. I wanted to do something immediately.

"The Democrats are used to diversity and dissension," she added. "It's a problem for them, but it's their greatest strength." In 1984, she lost to Freind again, this time as a Democrat in the general election.

"I don't want to run against Freind again," she said. "So I'm in the position where there is nothing I can run for, but here (in the party) I can help. And I prefer this angle. There are a lot of people willing to work, but not a whole lot of direction. Organization is one of my strong points."

Tarka grew up in Haverford, attending St. Dennis and Notre Dame on Sproul Road and Seton Hill in Greensburg, Pa., where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees in French. She works as a translator of technical literature and as a librarian.

Other new party officers are: Jerome C. Murray and Sue Pittenger, co-vice chairmen; Trudy Willoughby, corresponding secretary; Teri Andreozzi, recording secretary, and J. Richard Greenstein, treasurer.

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