DARBY, Pa. (AP) _ Mayor Paula Brown of Darby, a small, blue-collar town bordering West Philadelphia, once barricaded herself in her office for three days in a feud with the borough council.

She hid from federal marshals after parking her car on railroad tracks to protest CSX derailments. She was investigated _ and cleared _ over $8,500 missing from the account of a 90-year-old retired metal worker.

And she nearly came to blows with a former ally at borough hall.

``I'm not afraid of a fight,'' the cook-turned-college student said recently as she sat smoking in her borough hall office.

The room, a glorified broom closet, is crammed with boxes and file cabinets, its walls adorned with bawdy greeting cards and news clippings of Darby's more notorious events.

There's the councilman bloodied in a scuffle with the former council president; the police sergeant who ripped up a citation in exchange for oral sex; the borough manager fired after police allegedly found nude dancers at his bar.

``It's Darby, and if anything's going to happen, it's going to happen here,'' Brown, 41, said.

As she tells it, her political activism started when, as a 21-year-old mother-of-four, she caught the borough dumping chunks of old sidewalk concrete into Darby Creek. She made it onto the council four years later, on her third try, and became mayor in 1998.

She won a second term in November.

``I'm going to keep running as long as I can breathe,'' said Brown, a part-time county probation officer.

Brown earns $250 a month as mayor, but said she's been writing the town a check since the council started charging her for her cell phone calls. That decision, coupled with a short-lived threat to take away her office space, prompted Brown's office sit-in in June 2000.

When Hurricane Floyd swept through in 1999, Brown quit her job as a cook at a retired priests' home to work full-time on the town's recovery. The flood destroyed 337 homes and 53 businesses in Darby, which counts many airport workers and retired shipworkers among its 12,000 residents.

She even put aside her differences with Police Chief Robert F. Smythe, who had arrested her for disorderly conduct during a particularly feisty borough meeting in 1988.

``It was the best thing that ever happened, because it knocked every politician to their senses,'' Brown said of the flood.

Alas, the era of good feeling soon passed.

``She acts like the power's gone to her head,'' said Janice Davis, 54, a former friend and fellow Democrat on the council who also worked with Brown at the priests' home.

Brown admits she was restrained by Smythe during a verbal tiff with council members in January, but denies she was trying to strike council member Doris Grosso.

As for allegations of missing money, the Delaware County district attorney's office decided Thursday not to file charges. Brown had power of attorney for Michael Martyszko, a native of Poland who speaks limited English.

According to Brown, she took Martyszko into her home after he was robbed and beaten, and spent about $1,500 on a bed and other items for him. She also paid his back taxes and other bills, she said.

``I spent a lot of money (on him) out of my own pocket,'' Brown said.

Divorced a few years ago, Brown is currently taking first-year classes at a local community college, where she plans to study nursing. She got an A on her first English paper, writing about one of her prized possessions _ her borough-issued cell phone.

``I'm very proud,'' she said.

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On the Net:

Mayor Paula Brown's web site: http://members.aol.com/PaulaBO23/