Halloween surprise: Democrat Croslis endorses Republican Ott to be Lehigh County's next executive

Posted: 2:12 PM EST Dec 24, 2013   Updated: 10:27 AM EDT Nov 01, 2013
Lehigh County Executive Matthew Croslis

Democrat Matthew Croslis, who was appointed Lehigh County executive in June,  is endorsing Republican Scott Ott to become the next county executive in Tuesday's election.

The Halloween endorsement is surprising because for the last four months, Croslis has been working with Tom Muller, who is the county's director of administration and the Democratic candidate who hopes to be elected to succeed him.

It also is surprising because Croslis and Ott politely have disagreed on many major issues -- including the proposed 2014 county budget, county benefits for same-sex  couples, future funding for Lehigh Valley Zoo and even whether a bridge in west Allentown should be repaired or replaced.

"I'm honored to have the support of Matt Croslis," said Ott in a news release. "During his time as county executive, we haven't always agreed, but I could always count on Matt to tell the truth, which made it easier to work together with him to find solutions for the taxpayers we represent."

In his own news release, Muller accused Croslis of turning his back on fellow Democrats.

"We would expect this from somebody who was appointed by the Republican majority of commissioners," said Muller. "This is pay-to-play politics at its worst."

Muller said Croslis "obviously owes somebody for getting his his job as county executive. Who knows what he's been promised in the future?"

Muller said his administration will not be for sale at any price.

"I was not offered anything for this," Croslis told 69 News. "There was no quid pro quo at all. I'm doing what I felt was the right thing."

On June 12, Lehigh County commissioners voted 5-3 to appoint Croslis county executive. He is serving until the end of this year, completing the term of fellow Democrat Don Cunningham, who resigned before his term ended.

Joining Ott in voting for Croslis were Republican commissioners Lisa Scheller, Thomas Creighton, Vic Mazziotti and Michael Schware.

They picked Croslis over one of their own, long-time county commissioner Dan McCarthy. (They had to pick a Democrat because Cunningham was a Democrat.)

Voting for McCarthy were David Jones, the only other Democrat, and Republicans Percy Dougherty and Brad Osborne.

Croslis said Ott is more conservative than him, but they have several things in common. "Just because you don't agree doesn't mean you can't get things done," said Croslis. "I've been able to work with him.

"It's about efficiency and accountability and making sure you're getting what you're paying for. " Croslis said. He added both he and Ott take a fresh approach to county government, rather than doing something the same way just because that's the way it's always been done.

He also noted both he and Ott have run for county executive before.

Croslis said characterizing Ott as a tea party extremist, as Muller has done, "is a little unfair."

Croslis contended  his endorsement of Ott is not necessarily anti-Muller.  "Tom's a great guy. He's not going to be happy with this, but this is nothing personal. I've  had, and expect to have, a good working relationship with Tom."

Croslis noted Muller, like Ott, also was a Republican until January.

Croslis does not intend to change parties and become a Republican, he said.

But some of his fellow Democrats are not happy with him.

“I am perplexed by Mr. Croslis' decision to support a candidate so egregiously unqualified as Scott Ott for county executive," said Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

"Scott Ott is the standard-bearer for the kind of radical, obstructionist politics that have plagued Washington for years.”

Pennsylvania Democratic Chairman Jim Burn said Ott "would fight for his extremist tea party buddies, not the majority of Lehigh County. Lehigh County deserves a strong leader and Tom Muller is that leader.”

Lehigh County Democratic Party Chairman Rick Daugherty dismissed Croslis' endorsement of Ott as "interesting but not significant."

"Personally, I've had several Republican elected officials approach me to discreetly share with me their support of Tom Muller," said Daugherty.

“Tom Muller is the Lehigh County Democrats choice for county executive."

Daugherty noted Croslis was appointed county executive "only a few months ago" because he is a Democrat. "To see Matt Croslis publicly support Mr. Ott, whose position and views could not be further from ours as Democrats, is disappointing.”

In a statement, Croslis said Ott "will work tirelessly to find new and innovative ways to provide the necessary services of county government in the most cost effective manner. It is my hope that my endorsement will promote bipartisanship and continue to put the interests of the county residents before politics."

The surprising endorsement from Croslis won praise from Wayne Woodman, chairman of the Lehigh County Republican committee.

"We couldn't be prouder of Mr. Croslis’s endorsement for an election in which Mr. Ott’s opponent has used every available opportunity to make personal attacks, twist issues from facts to fictions and to use fear politics as his core strategy," said Woodman in a statement.

"We are thrilled to see a long-standing member of the Democrat Party recognize the importance of reforming our county government, which is suffering from long-term structural deficits where spending has outpaced revenues for many years. For the past eight years, Mr. Ott’s opponent has been completely responsible for this performance."