New Hope council president accused of gay harassment 1976

Philadelphia Gay News, in PGN: Aug. 5-11, 2016

Paige Cooperstein August 4, 2016

New Hope council president accused of gay harassment
Adapted from reporting by Harry Langhorne

Hundreds called for the resignation of New Hope Borough Council President D. Joseph Balderston after rumors surfaced that he was part of a group that harassed several gay men on the Delaware Canal towpath in the borough.

Balderston did not step down at a July 26, 1976, meeting that was held at the Playhouse Inn to accommodate the large crowd of 300 people. He did, however, agree to provide a video recording of the meeting to the Bucks County district attorney’s office for further investigation. The American Civil Liberties Union also said it would investigate the incident. 

Resident Barbara Rouse said at the meeting that, before the alleged harassment, she had heard Balderston say, “Me and my boys are going to clean up the towpath.”

Balderston said he was on the towpath around the time of the incidents to look for a dog that had previously bitten him. Some speakers defended his character and noted he risked his life as a municipal firefighter. 

Residents said they wanted park police to patrol the towpath more frequently than twice a night and asked for lights to be installed. There was some discussion of using a new business-privilege tax, expected to generate $27,000, to pay for the lights. The Bucks County Playhouse was also instituting a new amusement tax that was expected to generate $10,000.

Council was expected to continue the discussion at its Aug. 9, 1976, meeting. 

Adapted from reporting by PGN staff

After a two-week investigation, New Hope Borough Council President D. Joseph Balderston was charged with harassment in relation to a gay man being shoved into the Delaware River Canal from the towpath.

The charge came with a $300 fine or up to 90 days in jail. It’s unclear which sentence Balderston received.

The incident occurred June 12, 1976, and was followed by a July 26 council meeting, which was recorded. The video was provided to the Bucks County district attorney as evidence in the investigation.

District Attorney Kenneth Biehn made a four-page report to the New Hope council. Despite local rumors that the harassment was part of a plan to “clean up” the towpath by harassing gay men who met there, Biehn wrote a single charge was justified. The report said investigators found no “long-term pattern of organized vigilante action against homosexuals by any one group.”

Biehn said investigators found several other gay men who said they were attacked on the towpath, including one from Allentown and one from Reading. But they did not want to press charges.

Balderston said he was on the towpath June 12 to find a stray dog that had bitten him. He said he wanted to avoid a rabies shot.

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