“That’s my report, Mr. President”

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We have an opportunity to do something truly momentous.
Anna Smith

Gadfly is lonely.

He misses Stephen Antalics. Gadfly hasn’t heard the sometimes gruff voice, hasn’t witnessed the sometimes steely stare of Gadfly #1 since City Council went into pandemic mode. Stephen just might not be comfortable with the call-in format. Face-to-face is his métier. This Gadfly hopes Stephen is well. We missed celebrating his birthday in June. Alas. Lost in the shuffle.

Gadfly misses at this complex cultural moment an old-fashioned Bethlehem beat journalist with dog-whistle ears, claws for digging, a snout for “the” story, and a penchant for analysis. Like a Paul Carpenter or a Bill White. Controversial even. A lightning-rod journalist. Have we ever had one? Strohmeyer? Maybe Kate Laepple when the Morning Call had a Bethlehem bureau. We need to be stirred, we need to be thinking.

Gadfly misses the voice of the Mayor. At Council last week, Gadfly listened for the Mayor’s voice on matters of urgent concern. He gave hopeful COVID-19 facts, announced the purchase of 100 parklets to help our small businesses in these “challenging times,” and recognized the positive efforts of the recreation department and the Health Bureau on playground events.

Good.

But that was it: “That’s my report, Mr. President.”

Nothing on the meeting of the Community Advisory Board?

Nothing on the resolution on the Community Engagement Initiative he received from Council the previous meeting that holds such promise?

Gadfly says again, is he the only one that finds this silence odd?

Anna Smith’s rousing words play continuously in Gadfly’s head: “We have an opportunity to do something truly momentous.”

Gadfly agrees and was hanging expectantly on words from our leader.

We are a City with 30% Latino and 10% African American — those are big People of Color numbers.

“We have an opportunity to do something truly momentous.”

Gadfly has said that in his experience the Mayor is a man of few words. Which is a good thing. He is not one of those “wind demon” elected officials who self-servingly hog the mic. I wouldn’t want him any other way most times. And he did get out in front with his early response to the murder of George Floyd. But since then nothing. Nothing that Gadfly can see. Nothing that the public can see. His report to Council took two minutes.

“We have an opportunity to do something truly momentous.”

Gadfly hopes the City can rise to the momentous. But he doesn’t feel anything going on.

The momentous will be controversial.

But there were only two voices July 21 countering the advocates for change July 7 — and those two voices were from the same street, maybe even the same house.

Only about 24 people attended the live-streamed July 21 Council meeting. It’s as if people didn’t expect anything to happen. (Since then there have been 148 views as of this moment, which is good, but if that counts repeat visits subtract the 10 or so times Gadfly has returned to watch parts of the video).

Are people paying attention to what is going on? To what could go on?

Shouldn’t somebody be beating the drum? Keeping the momentum toward the momentous going?

Like the Mayor?

But Council is not absolved either. Gadfly has wondered in the past about Public Safety Committee chair Colon’s resolve in such comments as “I truly believe that Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, we’re not going to be the ones to change the world, to change the country.”

Contrast that to “We have an opportunity to do something truly momentous.”

Gadfly would like Bethlehem to be a leader.

Gadfly would like to give the momentous a shot.

2 thoughts on ““That’s my report, Mr. President”

  1. Anna’s statement that “We have an opportunity to do something truly momentous.” is a wonderful reminder that we don’t have to — and shouldn’t — settle for what’s easy or expected.

    P.S. — This is also equally true for Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan! [bethlehemcap.org]

  2. Mr. Gadfly, thanks for your engagement.
    I continue to remind myself that city council positions are voluntary, and I try to remain cognizant that only the mayor is paid for his leadership. Having said that, I am disappointed in the council’s and the Mayor’s leadership and communication in response to the ongoing BLM/Police Violence protests. (And that which fuels them.)

    June 3, I sent the mayor a still unanswered email (copying council) with seven questions in response to his “comments on Minneapolis” in which he neither named George Floyd or blacks, specifically. (To be fair, he referred to the “affected” inclusively, though that is insuffiecient.) As a result of this failure to communicate, and my fortuitous awareness of the Community “Engagement” Initiative, I have commented by phone at each of the last three council meetings.

    Regarding the Initiative, it’s about time, especially since we broached the subject about two years ago in a public council meeting after the disturbing death back then of ANOTHER black person at the hands of police. (By the way, not a single public caller during the July 7 council meeting voiced an opinion in favor of the resolution as it stood, while many specifically asked for the vote to be stayed. And only Olga Negron called for postponing voting on it until more thorough public input was had.)

    As it has been roughly two years since that meeting, I will not give the Mayor credit for “get[ting] out in front” of the events surrounding George Floyds’ murder (especially as he refused even to identify Mr. Floyd or black people in his comments). We are no farther ahead – as far as the public is aware – than two years ago, at least as far as I can tell. One of the questions I asked the mayor in my June 3 email was “What has been done by the city since then?”. (Crickets.)

    Now, I support the call of BLM and others for ACTION. It is 2020 and just now, our council is calling for discussion. And, are they really? Good faith is required. Suddenly voting on a resolution not presented WITH the minority members of council – or even after THEIR consideration – and without the opportunity for public input is tone def at best and a noticeable, inexcusable – if understandable – pattern. Insert Michael Colon’s… uninspired words here – “I truly believe that Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, we’re not going to be the ones to change the world, to change the country.” (My father and his friends would never have let that comment represent Bethlehem without a loud rebuttal, and I certainly won’t.)

    I truly believe that the city needs some serious help at least with communication and Public Relations. I’d like to see efforts expanded to dialog more effectively WITH the community, not speak AT it like currently takes place through nested digital postings accessible through the city’s narrow web portal or announcements via digital news outlets. Perhaps a new hire is called for, or the expansion of the job description for an existing position to include communication outreach. (Think of callers’ unanswered questions. Don’t most hang in the air forever, as if rhetorical, unless the CALLERS follow up?)

    How can we improve communication? (Well, certainly work and resources are required.) Imagine various communication inequities and failures being overcome by committing the financial and volunteer resources to REGULAR, socially distanced, FACE-TO-FACE communication at city schools with staff and families AS WELL AS via electronic message boards positioned strategically around the city. (Did you know that the high schools, at least, have invested in a number of large flat-screen monitors positioned around the school to communicate continually to the school community?)

    And imagine all caller questions – and emails – being answered. It’s not rocket science that a good marketing campaign includes multiple formats. I’d like our city to be proud enough of its words and deeds to market them adequately. And dialogue requires response.

    So let’s actually discuss improving the release and availability of information by the City to be sure truly include all. And commit to OPEN public discussion on important community relations matters.

    I would like to be part of ‘momentous’. I believe we can change our country … and the world. Maybe just a little, maybe a lot. Buy neither without effort …and an attitude adjustment.

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