Valerie Arkoosh, the anesthesiologist who lost a bid for Congress last year, was selected Wednesday to replace Montgomery County Commissioner Leslie S. Richards.

Richards resigned two weeks ago to take a job as Gov. Wolf's transportation secretary.

Arkoosh, 54, of Springfield Township, received the backing of the county Democrats and Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro to fill out Richards' term, which ends this year. But she wasn't the only candidate.

A relative political newcomer, Arkoosh beat out three other Democrats with long political pedigrees, including two who have already had the job.

One was Joseph M. Hoeffel III, 64, of Abington, a former congressman and county commissioner who in recent years has taught political science at Temple University.

The other, Ruth Damsker, 69, of Upper Gwynedd, is a former county commissioner who has repeatedly challenged Republican Sen. Stewart Greenleaf and has remained active in county politics since leaving the board in 2008.

A third candidate was David A. Keightly, 56, of Lansdale, a former county prosecutor and district judge from 1994 to 2012. He now runs a private practice in Lansdale.

The County Court judges interviewed each of them Wednesday and unanimously voted to appoint Arkoosh. She will be sworn in Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the county courthouse in Norristown.

At a news conference, Shapiro said Arkoosh was best equipped not only to replace Richards, but to run with him for reelection in November.

"We wanted someone who was prepared to govern today ... prepared to keep the job tomorrow," and who had the skills and personality to be a party leader, he said. "That person clearly is Dr. Val Arkoosh."

Arkoosh, who chaired the anesthesiology department at Drexel University's medical school and worked on the Affordable Care Act, worked on the Shapiro-Richards transition team in 2011 and has chaired the county's Board of Health.

Her first political race was in May 2014, when she ran for the Democratic nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, who was then running for governor.

Although Arkoosh came in last, behind State Rep. Brendan Boyle, former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies, and State Sen. Daylin Leach, she raised more money than her three better-known competitors.

Shapiro and Marcel Groen, the county Democrats' chairman, both backed Margolies.

Arkoosh performed well in several debates around the district, which covered Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County. She gained national accolades from women's groups and health-care and social-services organizations.

Richards, 47, was a Whitemarsh Township commissioner and civil engineer before joining Shapiro's ticket for commissioner.

In her three years as commissioner, she sat on the board of SEPTA and chaired the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, and spearheaded the rehabilitation of dozens of county-owned roads and bridges.

She has remained busy in her first week as acting director of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, appearing at news conferences and supervising winter weather emergencies.

Just as Richards focused on her area of expertise - infrastructure - Arkoosh said she will work closely on the county's health and social services. Although she was previously interested in Congress, Arkoosh said she can have an impact at the local level.

"If you look around the country right now, the substantive work that is happening ... often is at the county level, county government, and big-city government. We're not seeing a lot out of Washington," she said.

Republican Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr. was not immediately available for comment Wednesday, but Shapiro said Castor agreed with his recommendation of Arkoosh.

Although Hoeffel has strong ties to Shapiro, who once served as his chief of staff, his relationship with Castor was acrimonious.

Castor served with Hoeffel from 2008 to 2012 and rarely misses an opportunity to denounce what he calls a decline in county finances and ethics under that administration. Although Castor was the top vote-getter in 2008, he was largely sidelined in a power-sharing arrangement between Hoeffel and Republican Commissioner James Matthews.

Although Castor is not running for reelection as a commissioner this year, he had expressed his hope that Richards' replacement would be able to continue the harmonious atmosphere under Shapiro's tenure.

Arkoosh's appointment comes one day before the Montgomery County Democratic Committee is scheduled to endorse its candidates for several municipal and judicial seats.

jparks@philly.com

610-313-8117 @JS_Parks

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