Epic Battles No. 24: Erdman delivers first dent to Cwalina's armor
Two years earlier, Allen Cwalina was at the top of his game. He had just parlayed what was viewed as 10 successful years as Northumberland County controller into his election as a majority commissioner.
But by Election Day, Nov, 4, 1997, the bloom was already fading from the rose, albeit gradually.
Cwalina, with two years remaining in his first term, wasn't on the ballot in 1997. It was his political ally, Bill Snyder, who felt the first effects of "Cwalina fatigue."
Snyder, a Democrat, had served as chief deputy controller during the entire time Cwalina held that office - from 1986 to early 1996. Upon Cwalina's resignation to become commissioner, Snyder became acting controller, then was nominated by Gov. Tom Ridge to fill the vacancy and subsequently confirmed to the post by the state Senate.
As the 1997 campaign season dawned, Snyder seemed an odds-on favorite to win election in his own right. Not only did he possess the qualifications and experience for the job, he was a son of the late Larry Snyder, who, as a former prothonotary and county treasurer, had been revered by old-line Democrats and respected by Republicans.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a young Chuck Erdman entered the political scene. A Herndon native (the 1990 valedictorian of Line Mountain High School) and a Northumberland Borough resident, Erdman offered experience in the private sector and a clear campaign message. Taxpayers, Erdman said, deserved an independent watchdog in the controller's office.
Erdman suggested that by virtue of his past professional association with Cwalina, Snyder was too close to the commissioners to provide the necessary "checks and balances" over county finances. Erdman promised to keep asking tough questions about how county tax dollars were being spent.
In his most prescient observation of the campaign, Erdman chastised commissioners for dealing with the county budget deficit with long-term loans, rather than initiating spending cuts.
"Voters spoke with a clear message that it's time for a change," Erdman, victor by about 500 votes, said on election night. Ironically, 12 years earlier, voters delivered pretty much delivered the same message when they put a young Cwalina in charge of the controller's office. In 1997, county political fortunes had gone full circle.
Erdman was elected controller three more times, the last two without opposition.