A West Chester University professor of international studies and global perspectives does not just teach politics to students. He also uses his role as a Chester County Commissioner to spark change, address poverty issues, help the needy and protect farm land from developers. WCU professor Andrew Dinniman, who is the longest serving county commissioner since 1722 when the position was created, has used his political career to help the poor, protect farm lands and unite different communities and groups behind various causes. Dinniman is one of three county commissioners in Chester County, and heʼs also the minority commissioner, working as a Democrat with two Republican commissioners.
County commissioners act as a legislative and executive branch combined. They control the 911 and emergency systems, fund the local courts and prisons and create parks in the county. “You [The county commissioner] are the voice for the people of the county. You have the responsibility to speak up for Chester County,” said Dinniman.
Over his four terms as a county commissioner, Dinniman has been driven to help the poor. He stated that some of the wealthy elite in Chester County do not want poor people or people of moderate incomes living in the area. “The greatest problem in Chester County is not racism, sexism, or anti-Semitism. Itʼs classism,” he said. As a county commissioner, Dinniman has created programs to help the poor in the area, such as the Safe Harbor Shelter, which provides shelter and food to the countyʼs homeless. “We will not be judged in 50 or 100 years on how wealthy we are, but what we did with our wealth,” he said.
He also reaches out to Christian groups in the area. Dinniman stated that the Evangelical Christian groups in Chester County help the poor the most. He said it is possible for local Democrats to succeed at reaching out to Christian groups that usually swing more towards Republican politics. “If you are a Democrat in Chester County, you have to learn to speak the language of Chester County,” he said.
Dinniman also supports faith-base initiatives, believing that the funds that the government could give to religious groups could be used to benefit the needy. He said that the government today solves few problems, and it is up to community and religious groups to erase poverty. Dinniman also fears that the concentration of wealth in the area and the rising cost of living could create economic trouble for Chester County in the future.
“It is the fate of every hot area to become cold,” he said. He fears that the local employees will flee the area because of the pricey standard of living, making Chester County a cold economic area. Over Dinnimanʼs career as a county commissioner, he has also worked to preserve farms and stop excessive developing from engulfing the county. Dinniman hopes that 35 percent of Chester County could be open space and protected land, and he claims that people in the area have a deep commitment to thecause.
However, he said that the laws of Pennsylvania are on the side of developers. Dinniman has encouraged developers to build in suburban areas instead of farm lands. Dinniman is also concerned with the future of the Democratic Party. During a speech to a journalism class, he attacked former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry for not speaking with honest clarity during his campaign and coming off as a slick politician that Americans failed to trust.
He praised Howard Dean, the Vermont governor who ran in the Democratic primaries last year, for speaking his mind and providing honest answers concerning issues. Dinniman said that is crucial for Democrats to stand for progressive ideals and speak boldly, so that they offer a contrast to the GOP. “I think whatʼs going to happen is thatthe Democratic Party is going to show itʼs different,” he said. He also said that the Democrats must erase the stereotypes Republicans have given them. Dinniman said the party is not faithless or spineless, and it is time for the Democrats to fight back and prove to Americans that they are a viable, strong party.
Dinniman listed his success at making the “save-land” issue bi-partisan, his consistency in helping the poor and individual battles he won over Republicans as his fondest achievements as a Chester County commissioiner.