Rep. Costello won’t seek re-elec­tion

The Boyertown Area Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twit­ter

End­ing weeks of spec­u­la­tion in lo­cal and na­tional po­lit­i­cal cir­cles, U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello con­firmed to Dig­i­tal First Me­dia that he is drop­ping his bid for re-elec­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia’s 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict.

“It was a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors,” Costello said of his star­tling de­ci­sion, cit­ing per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions that weighed heav­ily on him and a dis­taste for the prospects of wag­ing a bit­ter and costly cam­paign to hold the of­fice the Repub­li­can in­cum­bent has oc­cu­pied since 2015. “It has been a deeply per­sonal de­ci­sion and eval­u­a­tion.

“But those who love me agree and those who I love agree with it,” a seem­ingly re­signed and sub­dued Costello said in a oneon-one in­ter­view in West Ch­ester. “I will not be run­ning for re­elec­tion.”

He said his de­ci­sion to leave the race was not a mat­ter of fear that he would be de­feated by the pre­sump­tive Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for the newly drawn 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, po­lit­i­cal new­comer Chrissy Houla­han. De­spite the new dis­trict bound­aries that lean to­ward a Demo­cratic vic­tory in Novem­ber, the over­all voter reg­is­tra­tion fig­ures are in Costello’s fa­vor and in­ter­nal polling sug­gests that he could still eke out a win.

Rather, Costello cited the “po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment” for his de­ci­sion. “Whether it’s (Pres­i­dent Trump’s ru­mored af­fair with porn star) Stormy Daniels, or pass­ing an om­nibus spend­ing bill that the pres­i­dent threat­ens to veto af­ter promis­ing to sign, it’s very dif­fi­cult to move for­ward in a con­struc­tive way to­day.

“Plus I think there is a lot of hate out there, from the left es­pe­cially, and it’s a very an­gry en­vi­ron­ment,” he said. “It is a sad com­men­tary on the state of our cul­ture and po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment. It’s not me do­ing it, but I am the one who gets the brunt of it.”

Costello filed the re­quired pa­per­work to place his name on the May 15 pri­mary bal­lot last Tues­day, but de­cided to ask state of­fi­cials to re­move his name. That leaves Chadds Ford tax at­tor­ney Gregory Michael McCauley as the lone Repub­li­can on the bal­lot.

Al­ready a long shot to de­feat Costello in May, McCauley would face an up­hill bat­tle of enor­mous pro­por­tions against Houla­han, who has raised more than $1 mil­lion and se­cured the en­dorse­ment of Demo­cratic lead­ers across the state and na­tion.

Costello, an East Vin­cent na­tive and for­mer town­ship su­per­vi­sor, Ch­ester County recorder of deeds and Ch­ester County com­mis­sioner, was elected to the 6th Dis­trict seat in Novem­ber 2014 af­ter the in­cum­bent con­gress­man, Jim Ger­lach, an­nounced that he was not run­ning for re-elec­tion. He won his first term by beat­ing Read­ing doc­tor Manan Trivedi by 13 per­cent. In 2016, he beat Demo­cratic chal­lenger Mike Par­rish by a greater mar­gin of 15 per­cent, even as pres­i­den­tial chal­lenger Hil­lary Clin­ton won the dis­trict.

His prospects changed rad­i­cally over the past six months. Houla­han, a mil­i­tary vet­eran and busi­ness­woman, an­nounced that she would run for the of­fice and im­me­di­ately be­gan rais­ing money from na­tional lib­eral po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions that nei­ther of Costello’s pre­vi­ous chal­lengers had ac­cess to.

A se­ries of scan­dals in­volv­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment of women and gen­eral dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion im­proved Demo­cratic changes across the board for 2018.

Then, in Jan­uary the state Supreme Court struck down the state’s con­gres­sional dis­trict map that had been adopted in 2011 as an un­con­sti­tu­tional form of ger­ry­man­der­ing. The court gave the state Leg­is­la­ture and Gov. Wolf a chance to re­draw a new map, but then the par­ties could not reach an agree­ment, the court it­self in Fe­bru­ary handed down a new map that re­drew the bound­aries of the 6th dis­trict.

Where pre­vi­ously the dis­trict in­cluded cen­tral and north­ern Ch­ester County, as well as parts of Mont­gomery, Berks and Le­banon coun­ties, now it in­cluded the en­tirety of Ch­ester County and a por­tion of Berks, in­clud­ing the City of Read­ing, which is heav­ily Demo­cratic.

In po­lit­i­cal terms, it went from “+1 Hil­lary” to “+9 Hil­lary.” Ear­lier this month, a fed­eral court in Har­ris­burg and the U.S. Supreme Court de­clined to in­ter­vene in law­suits by Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing Costello, to put a hold on the new maps.

Costello, in the in­ter­view Sun­day about his de­ci­sion, said he re­mains deeply trou­bled by the court’s de­ci­sion, which he said pre­vi­ously was a cor­rupt process meant to tar­get him.

“I was sur­prised and am still ab­so­lutely shocked that the Supreme Court got away with what it did,” he said. “Their ob­jec­tive was to take me out po­lit­i­cally, and that’s what they did.”

Since then, pun­dits and me­dia spec­u­la­tors have been ask­ing whether Costello would stay in a race that he seemed poised to strug­gle in and pos­si­bly lose. But he con­tin­ued to raise cam­paign funds and de­liv­ered nom­i­nat­ing pe­ti­tions to the state to have his name placed on the bal­lot.

But Costello con­firmed on Sun­day in the in­ter­view that he had been dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of sus­pend­ing his cam­paign or drop­ping out with both party lead­ers and fam­ily mem­bers, and came to the his fi­nal de­ci­sion the pe­vi­ous week. He noted that there had been threats made against his fam­ily over time, and that the tenor of dis­course against him on so­cial and other me­dia had been un­usu­ally vit­ri­olic.

“It’s not the kind of en­vi­ron­ment I want to raise my kids in,” he said. “Some of the stuff that gets said about me, some of the things that peo­ple do, I find ex­tremely dis­taste­ful. Now is the time to take the ap­pro­pri­ate look at the en­vi­ron­ment and say, even upon win­ning in Novem­ber I think the way things are go­ing to be baked into the cake through 2020, and I am not in­ter­ested in putting my fam­ily through that.”

An at­tor­ney, Costello said he does not have any im­me­di­ate plans for what he will do go­ing for­ward, ex­cept that he will re-en­ter the pri­vate sec­tor for pe­riod of time.

“It’s been an honor to do this job,” he said. “In some re­spect’s my ego says to run. But when I look at what is the right de­ci­sion for those who rely on my and the state of our body politic, I am con­vinced that no mat­ter how bi­par­ti­san and open and trans­par­ent I am, there is so much anger out there that it doesn’t mat­ter.”

The 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict cur­rently in­cludes the fol­low­ing Berks County com­mu­ni­ties: the bor­oughs of Bally, Bechtelsville, Birds­boro, Boyertown, Ken­horst, Shilling­ton, St. Lawrence and the town­ships of Colebrookdale, Cumru, Dis­trict, Ex­eter, Her­ford, Lower Al­sace and Wash­ing­ton.

Some of those com­mu­ni­ties will shift to new dis­tricts un­der the re­drawn maps.

U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello

Chrissy Houla­han

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