Old promises and decisions mark the animosity between the two Republican candidates for Lehigh County Executive.
County Commissioner Scott Ott and former Commissioner Dean Browning are in a heated primary contest that will be decided at the polls Tuesday.
The winner will run in the general election against Democrat Thomas Muller, the county’s acting executive, to determine who will be the next County Executive in 2014.
This is Ott’s second attempt to become county executive. In November 2009, he was defeated by Democrat Don Cunningham by only 862 votes.
Every vote matters even more in a primary election, because turn-out traditionally is low. Less than 20 percent of the county’s registered voters cast ballots in the last four primaries.
Browning says Ott is "disingenuous" for recently accepting a $20,000 campaign contribution from Lisa Scheller, chairwoman of the County Commissioners. He said Ott and Scheller ran together to become commissioners in 2010 on a platform that promised to maintain checks and balances on the power of the county executive.
“How much of a check and balance is there if the chairman of the board of commissioners is donating a third of the money to the campaign of the county executive candidate?” asked Browning.
Ott repeatedly ties Browning to a 16 percent county tax increase in 2010, an increase Browning said he never voted for when he was commissioner. Ott even calls it “Dean Browning’s 16 percent tax hike” and says Browning “voted with Democrats to jack up your taxes.”
Scott Ott (top) and Dean Browning
“When he ran for commissioner in 2011, Scott said he had a specific plan to roll back taxes by 16 percent,” said Browning. “Two years have gone by with Scott in office, but he has not done that. He's not fulfilled a single issue of his campaign. It's all about politics, not about being fiscally responsible.”
Responded Ott: “It's almost laughable to hear Dean Browning complaining about how I have yet to succeed in rolling back all of Dean Browning's 16 percent tax hike, although we'd be a lot closer if two Republicans -- Percy Dougherty and Brad Osborne -- didn't vote with the Democrats last year.
“That said, we're making progress. We actually cut the tax rate and put $3 million back into the pockets of local taxpayers, plus we stopped creation of a new bureaucracy that would have cost millions and we restored fairness to property assessments, freezing one of the biggest causes of higher taxes.”
The two candidates spent much of their time debating that 16 percent county tax increase recently on Tony Iannelli’s “Business Matters” show on WFMZ.
Browning considers himself a conservative Republican, but charges: “Scott has some views that are outside the mainstream of conservative thought. He believes Social Security and Medicare should be eliminated because they are not in the Constitution.”
Ott calls himself a common sense, reform-minded Republican. He said he has never identified himself as a member of the Tea Party and doesn’t attend meetings of the local organization except when invited to speak as a candidate, but indicated folks in the group have raised important issues about the role of government.
Browning was a county commissioner from 2008-2011, including two years as chairman. He said he lost re-election in 2011 because Ott put together a slate of candidates to specifically target him. Ott, who was part of that slate, is in his second year as commissioner. He said he has been vice-chairman of the board since taking office.
“In many of his actions, Scott is disingenuous,” said Browning. “Two years ago, when Scott and Lisa Scheller put together a slate of candidates to run for commissioner, one of their mantras was to serve as a check and balance on the county executive. As of May 6, Ott reported that he received more than $60,000 in campaign contributions. Of that, $20,000 came from Lisa Scheller, who is now chair of the county commissioners.”
Ott said he is honored to have the friendship and support of Scheller, whom he described as “a solid conservative reformer, and the best chairman of the board we have had in recent memory.”
Ott added: “Mr. Browning's inference is odd, especially since he tried to coordinate an effort in 2009 to run a slate of commissioner candidates with me as the executive candidate. I declined because I didn't like the direction the board was going and didn't want to be linked to it.”
Ott charged that Browning “presided over $10.19 million in spending increases and a complete draining of millions in county reserves” when Browning was county commissioner.
If elected County Executive, Browning promises to reduce the county’s deficit with no tax hike.
The 51-year-old Ott, who has lived in Lehigh County for nine years, is a professional writer and TV host doing current events commentary for Los Angeles-based PJTV.com.
The 57-year-old Browning, who has lived in the county more than 33 years, is Executive Vice President of Finance & Administration and Chief Financial Officer at Allentown-based New World Aviation.