The Nov. 5 municipal election is right around the corner, and The Times caught up with those vying for a spot on the Bensalem Township council. Running for a four-year term are Bryan Allen (D) and Angela Cacchio (D), and incumbents Ed Kisselback Jr. (R) and Joe Knowles (R).
Allen, a husband and father who has resided in the township since 1989, serves as the chief of staff for Rep. Tina Davis. He was previously on Bensalem council, and, when his term was up in 2017, ran for mayor against Joseph DiGirolamo to “have a bigger platform to try to make some positive change.”
“The last couple of years I was on council, I was very frustrated because I was the only Democrat. The party stuff doesn’t matter to me, but it was just more of an issue of the other council members were a rubber stamp for the mayor. Anything I suggested or brought up, it was just, ‘Shut this guy down.’ They’d keep me in the dark on information, turning a blind eye and deaf ear to any kind of positive suggestions that were made,” Allen said. “It was tough.”
What sparked the decision to enter this year’s council race?
“Things are going to be a lot different. We had two Democrats elected in 2017 that are on the council now,” he said. “This was a chance to get back in there and actually make a difference this time.”
If elected, Allen said the key issues he would work on are traffic congestion and overdevelopment.
“The developers that play ball with the current township government get whatever kind of zoning they want, and it’s just kind of a patchwork mess all over the township. It’s created a lot of issues over the last 20 years. Nothing fits together. There’s no long-term planning,” he said.
He would also work to improve the financial health of the township.
“There are structural issues in our budget. We’re running deficits every year,” Allen said. “If we don’t make some changes, Bensalem is going to be in a lot of trouble in a couple years. We want to make sure we get back on track, have more transparency with our budget process, make sure we keep police out there, and keep services going for the next five, 10, 20 years. Right now, it’s year to year.”
Why should people vote for Allen?
“I have the experience. I’ve been there. I know how the township government works, and I also know how it’s not working. I can hit the ground running from day one with Jesse [Sloane] and Ed [Tokmajian], who are on council, and Angela [Cacchio], and make the positive changes that Bensalem desperately needs. That’s really the bottom line,” he said. “Many of the same people have been there since the 1990s and it’s time for a change.”
Cacchio, a fourth-generation township resident and Bensalem High School Athletic Hall of Famer for diving, is a 21-year educator in the Bensalem Township School District, currently teaching seventh-grade English at Robert K. Shafer Middle School. This is her first time running for political office.
“I saw the leadership in Bensalem wasn’t changing, and I thought that it was time for somebody who had fresh perspective. When Jesse [Sloane] and Ed [Tokmajian] won the last time around, I got excited that maybe people were finally ready to see some change,” she said.
If elected, Cacchio said she would work to improve Bensalem’s financial health.
“We don’t have a balanced budget. We’re running a deficit, which is concerning to me, for sure. Once the budget’s approved, the mayor can change line items with no checks or balances, and I think that’s concerning as well,” she said.
Another item on Cacchio’s agenda is creating a liaison between the township’s Building and Planning Department and small businesses.
“I’ve spoken to several small businesses in the area, and they feel like the Building and Planning Department isn’t very friendly to them, that they cater more to the corporate businesses that want to come in,” she said. “I feel like small businesses create a town’s identify and people are very concerned that Bensalem could be losing that. We’re a suburb, not a city.”
Additionally, Cacchio would work to improve communication between the township and PennDOT, something she said is currently lacking. Oftentimes, when residents call Bensalem administration with a road or traffic issue, she said they’re told it’s a PennDOT road, and there’s nothing the township can do.
Why should people vote for Cacchio?
“Bensalem is all I know. I’m raising my family here. There’s nothing more that I want than for Bensalem to keep its own identity,” Cacchio said.
She also shot down the belief that it would be a conflict of interest for her to serve on council because she’s a local teacher.
“I don’t really see that,” she said. “I’ve educated almost 3,000 students in the township. I have a feel for what the kids need. I talk to the parents almost daily in the community. My friends are in the community. Over at St. Ephrem’s, I coach cheerleading. I just feel very committed to continuing to make Bensalem the great place that it is.”
Ed Kisselback Jr.
Kisselback, a resident of Bensalem for 50 years and owner of Kiss Professional Photography, is chairman of the Bucks County Planning Commission, a member of the Navigation Board for the Delaware River, past president of the Bensalem Chamber of Commerce, and past football and baseball coach for the Bensalem Ramblers. He is currently serving his 24th year on township council.
“I was somewhat ambivalent on whether I was going to run for another term or not, just because I thought it was time to maybe give someone else an opportunity,” Kisselback said. “But the mayor had asked me to be with him for this term he’s finishing out.”
For Kisselback, a recent highlight of his tenure was the formation of the Bensalem Heritage Foundation.
“The sole purpose was to restore and refurbish the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Byberry Road. It’s a historically significant church that worked with the underground railroad, and so I was the chairman of that,” he said. “Our trade unions volunteered, individuals volunteered to do some of the work. We also had some fundraising functions to raise enough money so we could actually accomplish that goal.”
Another proud moment was regarding the Homeowners Assistance Grant.
“I asked the mayor to also include the senior citizens in terms of additional grant money, which is now $150. Of course, you had to be qualified financially to apply for that, but that’s also something I did,” he said. “Generally speaking, just working with the mayor, assessing budgets and either approving them or changing them, and working together in unison.”
If re-elected, Kisselback said he’d work to continue the restoration of the State Road corridor by the Delaware River.
“Just changing that from an industrial site from the 1940s and bringing it into the 21st century with residential housing, activities and parks, and making sure the Delaware River area is accessible to all the public,” he said. “We started that project that we thought would be long term, but it’s something I’d like to see come to fruition.”
Why should people vote for Kisselback?
“I have a proven record of working with the residents on a one-to-one basis regardless of their party, regardless of if they’re a Democrat, Republican or independent. When someone calls me and asks me if I can get something through, I have direct access to the mayor,” he said. “We’ve built up a rapport over the many years, and we work together for individual residents as well as the total picture of looking at the progression of Bensalem moving ahead into the 21st century.”
Knowles, a husband and father of two, whose family has resided in Bensalem for almost 115 years, is a local Realtor of 25 years. He is active in the community, belonging to the Bensalem Rotary and Knights of Columbus, and serving on the parish council and as a eucharistic minister at St. Ephrem.
Knowles is president of the Bensalem Township council, and has been a member for 12 years.
“I consider being on council the opportunity for service to the community. I enjoy working with my fellow council people and the mayor’s administration to do what’s right for the township,” he said. “I care about our community, I have deep roots in the community. I have no other agenda beyond serving the community of Bensalem.”
Highlights of Knowles’ tenure include the 20-year continuation of not raising property taxes, helping the township survive the recession of 2008, paving another 25 percent of local roads, and supporting the Bensalem Township Police Department.
“We have one of the best police forces in Bucks County and Pennsylvania,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of our budget goes toward the police. They’ve been able to reduce crime and really put a fight on the drug epidemic that’s been going on.”
Why should people vote for Knowles?
“I would continue to keep us fiscally responsible, keep no property tax increase, which allows seniors to stay in their homes. I would continue to support the police force,” he said. “I’ll continue to address any of the needs that come along for Bensalem. I think I’m well-networked, and my history and my personal contacts in our community allows me to hear people’s issues, to understand people’s issues, and to address the residents’ concerns. I think I’m uniquely qualified.” ••
Visit buckscounty.org for more election information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org