The absence of a Chambers in government has opened a mild debate in this election season about what kind of mayor West Chester wants to have. The choice is between a jovial businessman who promises to be a goodwill ambassador to other governmental agencies, or a politically minded academic with years of experience in dealing with public safety issues.
The mayoral contestants on Nov. 2 will be Clifford E. DeBaptiste, a 69- year-old funeral director, and A. Wayne Burton, a 56-year-old political science professor at West Chester University and a current member of the borough council.
DeBaptiste, who owns a chain of six funeral homes, is campaigning on his years of experience in dealing with politicians and business leaders throughout Chester County and the rest of Pennsylvania.
Although he has never held an elected position, DeBaptiste has served on a number of appointed local, county and state commissions, including West Chester University's Board of Trustees and the state board of funeral directors, which he chaired.
He also is on the board of directors of First National Bank of West Chester.
DeBaptiste, a Republican, says those relationships will help smoothe tumultuous relationships with Chester County, West Chester University and the local business community.
"I guess to sum it up, I'm saying I just happen to be the perfect liaison between those four entities," he said.
If elected, DeBaptiste would become West Chester's first black mayor, but both candidates say that designation is unimportant.
"What has that got to do with it?" DeBaptiste said Monday. "I mean, it's obvious that I'm not green, but I have the ideas, I have the leadership, and I have the abilities. You might just as well say, 'He's the first Republican since Chambers.' "
Chambers has quietly thrown his support to Burton, a Democrat who has five years of experience on Borough Council and currently chairs the committee on public safety issues. That, Burton says, is necessary experience for a job that often has been described as a sort of civilian police chief.
"The ceremonial aspects (of the mayor's job) are there," Burton said. ''But the one that affects citizens most directly in their lives is the police function."
Burton, a teacher for more than 25 years, said he, too, would work with business leaders to help promote West Chester to outside businesses. But the most important thing for a government to do is concentrate on making the streets safe and clean. And, Burton says, he is familiar with those issues right now.
"I'm not going to take a year or two to come up to speed," he said. "I know what the issues are, and if there's something that we need to move on, we'll move on it."
Burton, who until recently was a member of West Chester's water authority, also has been active in the Boy Scouts, serving 10 years on the leadership development staff.