A pair of proud liberals running in Ambridge countered the conservative wave of countywide winners Tuesday. Jerome and Jodi Gill have been elected to serve on Ambridge’s borough council and school board respectively, according to unofficial results posted by the county Bureau of Elections.
The Gills ran together as part of a team of Democratic candidates who pledged to bring reform to a community that has been plagued by controversy and scandal. But although they have similar political views, are often seen together around town, and happen to share the same surname, Jerome and Jodi are not related by blood or marriage.
Jodi, who just moved to Ambridge in 2016 from the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh, has become one of the rare “outsiders” to gain a foothold in the tight-knit community. Jerome is a lifelong resident who is now the first African American elected to council in the town’s history.
“I met Jerome not long after the Beaver Countian published an article about me, on reports I had made of then-Police Chief James Mann to state police about corruption and racism in the Ambridge Police Department,” Jodi said.
“One of my new neighbors was a good friend of Jerome and she introduced us.”
Jodi said she and Jerome have since become the best of friends.
In April 2018, BeaverCountian.com published an in-depth report titled, Attorney Says She Went To State Police About Ambridge’s Chief And Solicitor. The article revealed complaints Jodi had made to state police in January of that year alleging misconduct by Mann and Ambridge Borough Solictor Richard Start.
The same month that article was published, more than a dozen Ambridge officers caravanned to state police barracks in Brighton Township to file complaints of their own. State police arrested Mann just four months later in August.
Mann has pleaded not guilty and is currently awaiting trial on a series of misdemeanor and felony charges.
Along with having a law degree and being a licensed attorney, Jodi has a master’s degree in criminal justice, and an EDs degree in education administration. She serves as a professor in the administration of justice department at Penn State Beaver, teaches in the criminal justice department of Community College of Allegheny County, and also teaches classes for the City of Pittsburgh Police Department.
Jerome works as a private investigator for a Philadelphia-based firm.
“I am 68 years old, going on 69, and I have lived every one of them in Ambridge except the two years I lived overseas in the 1970s while serving in the United States Army,” Jerome said.
“There have been segments of racial tension in Ambridge, but I have always felt good about the people and have always wanted to find a way to pay them back.”
Jerome credits Jodi for getting him to run for council. She said all he needed was a little nudge to make the leap.
“I had been attending council meetings with Jerome. As a lifelong resident, he has attended more meetings than many of the members of council,” Jodi explained.
“He was able to give me a large history of Ambridge and the actions of its council, or inactions as the case may be. I remember looking at him one day and saying, ‘Why don’t you run?’ He looked back at me and he said, ‘You know what? I should.’ That’s how it all started.”
Jerome said people had already been asking Jodi to run for a position on school board by that time, but she had been busy as the primary caretaker of her elderly father.
“She showed from the beginning that she takes an interest in things and she actually has the education and knowledge and intelligence to improve things,” Jerome said.
“She wasn’t on the ballot (in the primary) but people did a write-in campaign to get her on and now here she is. I am very happy for Jodi but I am more happy for Ambridge. The people will benefit greatly from her.”
Jodi said it was Jerome who got townspeople to take more interest in their local government this election season.
“Jerome got people to the polls because finally, finally, someone who looks like them is going to be on council,” she said.
“I am so proud of him and so proud that I contributed even in such a small way to making that happen.”
Jerome said Jodi’s contribution was not a small one. She has extensive experience as a neighborhood activist, having previously served as a member of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.
Jodi was one of those demonstrating outside of the courthouse when President Donald Trump came to visit Shell’s cracker plant in August, chanting next to giant inflatable balloons caricaturing him as a whiny child and a chicken — protest paraphernalia brought to Beaver County by her friends from Pittsburgh.
But since her move to Beaver County, she has not become involved in the local Democratic party as an institution, which she has described as “broken and corrupt.”
“I haven’t seen any real leadership from either political party in Beaver County, so I have instead supported the candidates who I felt would do the best work,” she said.
To that end, Jodi was a core volunteer on both Democrat Wayne Kress’ campaign for sheriff and Republican Sandie Egley’s campaign for county treasurer. She also gave a helping hand to Jack Manning’s Republican campaign for commissioner, putting up signs and publicly calling out the state Democratic party for its misleading attack ads against him. Egley and Manning won their elections, but Kress came up short.
With the Gills both across the finish line, they say the politicking is over — at least for now. Both Jodi and Jerome stressed that today begins the work of bringing people together for the common purpose of improving life in their community.
“It is a warm feeling I have inside,” Jerome concluded.
“I am very thankful and appreciative of the people who supported me, but it’s now up to me to make them proud they did it.”