With positive outlooks on the Borough, McDevitt is ready to lead


Tyler Letcher

Mayor-elect Neil McDevitt poses in front of North Wales’ 9th Street Park Gazebo, one of the borough’s many natural spaces.

As election season winds down, North Wales Borough is able to see its next mayor at the end of the tunnel – but they weren’t who some of them expected. Neil McDevitt, a Democrat, won by a tight margin of 8 votes against incumbent Republican mayor Greg D’Angelo. What does this mean for the borough, and what makes McDevitt special?

To start off with, for the past 20 years North Wales has leaned democratic in its elections, both locally and nationally. While the borough has leaned left, its political figures have been fairly bipartisan as of late, with a mix of Democratic and Republican members. Republican mayor Greg D’Angelo has been in office since 2014, being challenged in 2017 by McDevitt for the first time, who lost by 5 votes.

However, changing demographics in the U.S. and the borough have swung the odds ever so slightly in McDevitt’s favor. With a unique set of skills, McDevitt believes that he has a deeper insight into what issues really affect the borough’s residents while keeping in communication with them for timely issues that matter the most. 

McDevitt is deaf, the first deaf mayor of North Wales, and one of the very few deaf mayors ever to take office in the U.S. This isn’t the first time he’s made strides for the deaf-blind community though. As the executive director of the Deaf-Blind Communications Center in Philadelphia, McDevitt helps to advocate for other people in the deaf-blind community and their rights. 

“One of our accomplishments has been working with the Philadelphia Police Department,” McDevitt said. “To come up with policies and procedures that really take into account their operations, but also asking, ‘What needs to be done to ensure that the rights of Deaf, hard of hearing and DeafBlind are respected.’”

This advocacy didn’t come out of thin air, though. McDevitt believes that without those of previous generations using their powers to advocate, he wouldn’t be able to be where he is today. 

I think it would be disrespectful for me not to continue to push the boundaries through, and to do things differently, to make people uncomfortable with the nature of the world”

— Neil McDevitt

“I think it would be disrespectful for me not to continue to push the boundaries through, and to do things differently, to make people uncomfortable with the nature of the world,” McDevitt said, expressing that treatment of deaf and deaf-blind people today vs. in the past is so stark, that he can split his life into two different ways, before and after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.

However, this act isn’t an end-all be-all to issues that the community faces. 

“Ever since [the act] was passed, employment numbers for people with disabilities, not just those who are deaf and blind, haven’t changed very much at all,” he said, expressing that the issue is the enforcement of the Act, versus something like the Voting Rights Act. “The Americans with Disabilities Act’s only enforcement mechanism is if somebody goes to court and files a civil complaint, which could take a long time; however, the Voting Rights Act has a much more clear-cut enforcement mechanism within its structure.”

Before deciding on running for Mayor, McDevitt has had a relatively storied career in public service, beginning with a happenstance stint as a volunteer firefighter for Montgomery Township from 2003-2010. 

“So, I was in a seven-year itch in my job, and it became very frustrating. I had a very young son at the time, and one day, my wife asked me to get out of the house with him for a while,” McDevitt said. “The fire department always had an ad on the local TV station, ‘If our doors are open, come on in!’, so I decided to stop in. I got talking to one of the volunteers, and he said that I should volunteer, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I never thought that I would actually be a firefighter, I always thought that I would be behind the scenes, but lo and behold, a few months later, I had my first fire.”

After his career as a firefighter, McDevitt found himself at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an opportunity he believes was opened to him through his service as a volunteer. He thinks his service at FEMA can transfer to his tenure as mayor.

“You really understood that you were not the end-all be-all. Rather, it’s a team working together to achieve whatever you’re working on at the moment. You have to let go of a lot of things you’d be tempted to keep to your chest or take credit for,” he said.

Joining FEMA shortly after Hurricane Katrina battered the East Coast, the messaging at FEMA really changed more into one of a teamwork aspect that reflects onto what he believes his mayorship will be like. 

“I’m going to be the mayor, but the people who are doing the work are also going to be the borough council, the police department, the public works department, the fire department, EMS, all of them combined,” he expressed.

As far as goals for the borough, McDevitt can split his priorities into two categories:  short-term and long-term. Short-term, McDevitt wishes to prioritize the North Wales Police Department’s staffing issues. 

“I believe that we currently have 4 full-time and 6 part-time officers in the borough, and while they’re great at providing service for our residents, many of them are recruited to full-time jobs in standard working environments. So, we’ve been losing part-time officers, who’ve moved onto full-time jobs, which has created issues with overtime spending. So we, as a borough, really need to have a conversation to figure out what changes need to be made.”

Long-term, he believes that much of this plan will connect tightly with the borough’s comprehensive 2040 Plan which includes “…what makes North Wales, North Wales. Walkability, having safe ways to cross the streets, having a healthy business area, in the realm of that sort of thing,” McDevitt said, expressing that some issues have popped up, such as Covid, but the main focus hasn’t shifted very much from the goals at hand.

One issue that plagues local governments nationwide is the lack of involvement with residents, and North Wales hasn’t been an exception. As mayor, McDevitt won’t directly have any impact on involving residents in the decision-making process but he can attempt to get them involved with local government positions.

“Getting yourself and your neighbors involved in the various commissions and committees is very important. Honestly, if you go through many of them with the exception of the Parks and Recreation committee, one of our challenges will be getting residents involved with these positions. However, the Parks and Rec committee, for example, ran a very successful and diverse campaign; they put out signs in the parks and ran Facebook posts, stating that they really needed members, and they got a lot of seats filled. That’s a really good example of how we could do things,” he explained.

One of North Wales’ largest attractions is its Main Street with its various small businesses and restaurants. While McDevitt believes it is healthy, he does believe that it could be improved. 

I really love Main Street, and just walking up and down it, seeing what’s going on and what’s changed. I love the hidden history, not just the history history.”

— Neil McDevitt

“I know that there’s a new business alliance, trying to attract businesses to the area and strengthen the ones we currently have, however, our main businesses are currently very invested in our borough and the community as a whole. The 2040 plan should help out our main street, working on sidewalks, making it easier to cross the street, unifying some visual elements, items like that,” McDevitt said.

North Wales certainly gives off a certain charm to its residents, and McDevitt isn’t immune to this. 

“I really love Main Street, and just walking up and down it, seeing what’s going on and what’s changed. I love the hidden history, not just the history history. For example, across from Borough Hall, there used to be a Music Hall; it’s still there, but you’d need to see old pictures to really realize it’s the same building. Now, we’ve got Tex-Mex, Everything Bagel, Tony’s Pizza, Alice Bakery, and some other businesses that you wouldn’t expect to see on Main Street in North Wales, like Woah Nutrition and Girls Fix It, and that just makes it all the more fun.”