High Interest Sparked By Pa. House Race In Coatesville Area Newcomer Cheryl Spaulding Started A Taxpayer Watchdog Group. Rep. Tim Hennessey Has Been In Office Eight Years.

Posted: October 22, 2000

Chester County's 26th Legislative District is a study in contrasts.

It contains Coatesville, a city struggling to recover from hard economic times; the Amish farms of Honey Brook Township; and the upscale homes of Wallace Township. It stretches along the county's northwestern border through East and West Nantmeal and Warwick to the fast-growing township of North Coventry.

It also is the site of one of the county's most closely watched contests this election season as political newcomer Cheryl Spaulding, 53, a Democrat from Caln Township, challenges the Republican incumbent, State Rep. Tim Hennessey, 52.

Hennessey, 52, a lawyer and municipal solicitor from North Coventry, has represented the district for the last eight years.

Hennessey said he is the kind of legislator who likes to help people, whether it be navigating the state's bureaucracy on their behalf or doing something as simple as drilling through an aluminum spout to redirect stormwater away from the house of a constituent.

"That woman would not have called me if I hadn't been elected," Hennessey said. "I try to help individuals when they need it and ask for it."

A member of several committees - Intergovernmental Affairs, Urban Affairs, Judiciary - and subcommittee chairman on townships for the Local Government Committee, Hennessey said he also enjoyed shaping public policy.

Spaulding, founder of the taxpayer watchdog group Chester County Citizen Watch and a small-business owner, switched her registration from Republican to Democratic in January and declared herself a candidate for the seat.

Calling herself the taxpayers' candidate, Spaulding waged an aggressive primary campaign, defeating John "Hank" Hamilton, Coatesville school board member, for the Democratic nomination.

Spaulding sees Coatesville as the forgotten stepchild of Chester County's prosperity.

She has said that the city was intentionally kept out of the Keystone Opportunity Zone in favor of Downingtown and that legislators routinely ignored the city's pressing physical and social needs.

At the time the Keystone Opportunity Zone was created, Coatesville, which already has an Enterprise Zone, decided it did not want to be a part of another such zone, several officials said. Both are economic-development programs that offer tax breaks to businesses locating in the zones.

Hennessey was quick to dispute her remarks. He said that during his time in office, at least $11 million had been invested in the city for major infrastructure repairs, which he said were crucial to attracting businesses.

"Once you use public money to rebuild the infrastructure, then get out of the way and let the private sector take over," Hennessey said.

Spaulding, who served for a number of years on the county's Economic Development Council, said that attitude did not go far enough when it came to the city's revitalization.

"Coatesville needs jobs," she said. "Somewhere out there is a company that wants to come to Coatesville with a couple of hundred jobs - if someone focuses on that." Hennessey has not done that, she said.

The kind of financial incentives and all-out political promotion that persuaded the Vanguard Group to chose Uwchlan Township for its expansion should be applied to Coatesville, Spaulding said.

Both candidates support school vouchers, although Spaulding said she had yet to see a realistic, workable program.

Both would study the issue of tax reform. Hennessey said any reform should be approached cautiously, so that nothing gets out of balance.

Spaulding said more had to be done to shift the funding for schools and governments from the property tax to an income tax.

"The school tax is just killing people," she said.

Nancy Petersen's e-mail address is npetersen@phillynews.com.

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