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Jamila Winder is appointed to the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners after Val Arkoosh’s resignation

In addition, Democratic party leaders are backing state Rep. Tim Briggs for another spot on the three-member board.

Jamila Winder, chair of the East Norriton Board of Supervisors, will be appointed to the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.
Jamila Winder, chair of the East Norriton Board of Supervisors, will be appointed to the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.Read moreCourtesy Montgomery County Democratic Committee

A leadership shake-up is coming to Montgomery County.

With Commissioner Val Arkoosh resigning to join Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration and Commissioner Ken Lawrence not seeking reelection, the Democratic-led governing board is about to change for the first time in years.

The first step came Monday, when a judge appointed Jamila Winder, an elected official in East Norriton Township and an executive for an online learning platform, to serve the remainder of Arkoosh’s term. She’ll be the first Black woman to serve on the Montgomery County board.

And Montgomery County Democrats are already looking ahead to the race to succeed Lawrence — party leaders met Sunday to coalesce behind State Rep. Tim Briggs. Both commissioner seats will be on the ballot in the May primary election.

It’s a turning point in Montgomery County politics. Democrats took control of the board for the first time in 2012 under-then Commissioner Shapiro, and over the years the county has become a key turnout machine in statewide races.

“Montgomery County needs to have leaders that reflect the diversity of our neighbors,” Winder, 44, said in her application to Common Pleas Court, which handles vacancies. “Not just in race or gender, but in lived experiences. My experiences caring for elderly parents, as a working mother with a young family, as a woman of color, and as someone from the middle (working) class, I represent many residents and can relate to their needs based on lived experiences.”

Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn T. Carluccio signed an order Monday appointing Winder.

Jason Salus, chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee, described Winder as a “historic pick.”

“She just wowed us,” he said in an interview. “Very impressive professional background, deep roots in the community, and service to her community.”

Party also backs Rep. Tim Briggs for another seat

In addition, Democratic Party leaders are backing Briggs for another spot on the three-member board, Salus said. He will run this year to succeed Lawrence, who has said he won’t seek reelection. One board seat is reserved for the minority party. Republican Joe Gale is also up for reelection this year.

“Having both positions open is an opportunity to redefine and energize what the Democratic Party is in Montgomery County,” Briggs said in an interview.

Montgomery County Democratic leaders met Sunday to consider the matter, Salus said. “There’s broad consensus and strong support for Rep. Tim Briggs to be Jamila’s running mate,” Salus said. “He brings a wealth of experience from the legislature and an understanding of how government works.”

The party’s convention is scheduled for Feb. 16, and Briggs’ endorsement isn’t official. Other candidates could challenge both Winder and Briggs in the May primary election.

Briggs, of King of Prussia, was first elected to the state House in 2008. He said he was “humbled” to have the support of U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean “and other party leaders and looks forward to working to earn the support of the entire Democratic committee.”

A top priority for the board next year will be administration of the 2024 election.

“We’ve made some advances with our delivery of the election system, but we have to continue to make improvements,” Briggs said.

Under the county code, Common Pleas Court is required to fill a vacancy on the commissioners board by appointing a resident of the same political party as the resigning member. In this case, that meant the court had to pick a Democrat.

The county Democratic Party interviewed most of the applicants and recommended the court appoint Winder — a member of the party’s executive board — to the position. The court received more than 20 applications, records show.

Winder is chair of the East Norriton Board of Supervisors and previously served as a director of the Norristown Area School District. She’s a vice president at Lecturio, a global online learning platform, responsible for the company’s U.S. operations.

“I felt there was more that I could do, between my service governing, my knowledge of the county, and my private-sector experience,” Winder said in an interview. “I said, ‘Why not me?’ There’s never been a woman of color to serve in that capacity. For the longest time growing up in Montgomery County, I haven’t seen a lot of people who look like me in key leadership roles.”

Winder, who has two elderly parents, said she wants to protect services for seniors and improve programs for people struggling with addiction and mental health. She also hopes to strengthen partnerships between organized labor and contractors.

Her appointment came despite lobbying from influential Pennsylvania Democrats backing another candidate: Neil Makhija, a lawyer and executive director of the nonprofit Indian American Impact. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, State Sen. Vince Hughes (D., Phila.), and State Rep. Patty Kim (D., Dauphin) all wrote letters of recommendation to the court on Makhija’s behalf.

“I’ve had people reach out to me saying they wish there was an open primary,” said Makhija, who would be the first Asian American on a county commissioner board in Pennsylvania. “If we had an opportunity to elect the most diverse ticket in our commonwealth’s history to leadership, we’d inspire young people, people of color, those who’ve been a critical base to the Democratic Party, we should take that opportunity.”