Hitting the pause button on Bethlehem Moments

Gadfly has done 5 “Bethlehem Moments” now.

See the link on the sidebar or under Fun Stuff on the top menu.

Time to reflect a bit.

The idea was for Gadfly to do some to give a sense of what this “Bethlehem Moment” thing was all about.

And then to pitch it to Council to see if they were interested in incorporating it into the opening ceremony after the prayer and the pledge.

It could always continue randomly even as part of public comment without Council involvement.

But if the idea has interest and value at all, it deserves to be at the “top” of the meeting and not in public comment where it would follow, like it just did Tuesday, a guy complaining about neighbor dogs.

If I pitch this idea to Council for consideration, I’ll have to suggest how to staff 24 Moments a year. The idea is no good if it becomes somebody’s hassle to fill out a roster.

I have made very preliminary contact with BASD about students participating. I see a lot of pluses educationally for the students in doing the Moments, and it would bring them and their parents to meetings.

I will be contacting such various organizations as Moravian Archives and Historic Bethlehem to sound out interest, and, a less obvious but intriguing source of Momentors, I’m even asking developers in a letter I will share with you.

But I should ask Gadfly followers. If you personally would like to do a Moment (help available if needed) or if you belong to an organization that would like to participate (help available if needed), perhaps doing a Moment connected to the  nature of the organization, please let me know.

The Bethlehem Moment idea, I know, might seem a bit fluffy, and now that Council meetings are filmed I’ll be able to see if people are yawning, and if it goes bust, so be it. But I’d like to give it a good chance of catching on.

Bethlehem Moment 5: A Handless Hero helps dedicate Memorial Pool, pleading for peace

Bethlehem Moment 5
City Council
February 5, 2019

Ed Gallagher 49 W. Greenwich

A Bethlehem Moment: May 30, 1957

“Amputee Veteran Pleads for Peace in Dedicating Pool as War Memorial,” Morning Call, May 31, 1957.

On Memorial Day May 30, 1957, there were two stars in Bethlehem, one a half-million-dollar pool, the newest addition to our “recreational parade of progress” on Illick’s Mill Rd., and the other an honest-to-goodness movie star. The 75’ x 165’ pool was to be a “living memorial” – a tribute, as the now age-stained plaque to the left of the entrance says, “a tribute to those citizens of Bethlehem whose services to our nation in times of peace and war have preserved our freedom and independence.” Mayor Earl Schaffer touted the pool as the “greatest shot in the arm” to his ambitious recreational plan. ButHarold Russell 1 the fittingly somber tone of a war memorial dedication was set by the daunting appearance and foreboding words of Harold Russell, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a disabled World War II veteran returning home in the brutally frank film The Best Years of Our Lives, which is ranked 37th on the American Film Institute’s 100 best films of all time. Both Russell’s hands were blown off in a demolition accident on D-Day, and he bared his stumps as well as exhibited his consummate skill with a pair of prosthetic steel hooks in the 1946 film that had just been re-released in 1954. In a “stirring message” to an audience of 500, Russell, “Mr. Veteran,” as he was called, who enlisted right after Pearl Harbor and went on to become National Commander of AMVETS and a founder of the World Veterans Foundation, cautioned that we find ourselves in a “death struggle” with “international gangsters” led by the “evil” Soviet Union and under the “threat of a dreadful atomic war” — and that the elusive path to peace lay in sincere international brotherhood. It is a sobering and chilling reflection on this “handless hero’s” hopeful words that in 1957 the Vietnam War was already two years old, that the first Bethlehem mortality there was only eight years away, that each of the 32 Bethlehem men killed in that war might have innocently swum in those inviting waters before which Russell spoke and pleaded for peace, and that one or more might even have been there that very day.

“Brotherhood Key to Peace, Pool Dedication Crowd Told.” Bethlehem Globe Times, May 31, 1957.

———————-

Further info on the pool:

The pool cost $460,000, a sum, as Mayor Schaffer liked to point out, raised mainly from sale of the Lehigh golf course (now the site of the Lehigh Shopping Center) and a contribution by Bethlehem Steel and only minorly by tax money. Even so, as you can see from the design sketch, a canteen and a wading pool to the east of the adult pool were cut for financial reasons.

Memorial Pool design

Further info on Harold Russell:

Harold Russell 3“Russell received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1947. Earlier in the ceremony, he was awarded an honorary Oscar for ‘bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans.’ The special award had been created because the Board of Governors very much wanted to salute Russell, a non-professional actor, but assumed he had little chance for a competitive win. It was the only time in Oscar history that the Academy has awarded two Oscars for the same performance.”

Russell was one of only two non-professional actors to win an Academy Award for acting.

Richard Severo, “Harold Russell Dies at 88; Veteran and Oscar Winner.” New York Times, February 1, 2002.

The Army film Diary of a Sergeant (1945) showed Russell cheerfully in his daily Harold Russell 2activities.  He would write, “the human soul, beaten down, overwhelmed, faced by complete failure and ruin, can still rise up against unbearable odds and triumph.”

Moving clips from The Best Years of Our Lives:

“Dependent as a Baby”

“And for what?”

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The first Bethlehem soldier to die in the Vietnam War was Robert S. Ruch, October 30, 1965.

Bethlehem Moment 4: Zoning comes to town

Bethlehem Moment 4
City Council
January 2, 2019

Ed Gallagher 49 W. Greenwich

A Bethlehem Moment: February 24, 1926

On February 24, 1926, the Bethlehem version of the open-range Wild West ended. The new sheriff in town, two years in the studying, was Bethlehem’s first zoning ordinance, whose purpose, in the exact same words of our zoning ordinance today, was to “preserve the health, safety, and general welfare of the community.” If the zoning ordinance was Wyatt Earp, the Real Estate Board was the villainous Clanton family. The ordinance was ready to go in November 1925, but the Real Estate Board succeeded in getting it delayed till the next Council took office. If this ordinance becomes law, Bethlehem’s industrial growth is at an end, they said. Commercial interests constitute the life blood of the city, they said. Taxes will rise, they said. “You can sewer us up, but don’t zone us,” they said. The ordinance is so lengthy, complicated, and obscure, it’s utterly impossible for even the most intelligent man to digest, they said. The Real Estate Board generated a large crowd that turned an informational meeting heated. They claimed that 98% of businessmen on the West Side were opposed to zoning. On February 15, the day of the first reading, a petition to abandon the ordinance signed by 114 residents was delivered to City Council. On February 24, the day of the second reading, the Real Estate Board presented a 10-point manifesto climaxing in the claim that the Zoning Board of Appeals was open to favoritism and discrimination. But the ordinance prevailed. As one wise head remarked at the time, “more property values are destroyed for lack of zoning than by fire.”

 

“City Engineer Tells Real Estate Board of Zoning Ordinance,” Morning Call, December 15, 1925,

“Voices Opposition to Zoning Ordinance,” Morning Call, December 29, 2015.

“Real Estate Board Wants Zoning Plan Further Considered,” Morning Call, January 4, 1926.

“Zoning Ordinance under Discussion, Morning Call, January 13, 1926.

“’Special Interest’ Talk Heard at Zoning Ordinance Hearing,” Morning Call, January 23, 1926.

“Several Banks Join Real Estate Board,’ Morning Call, February 2, 1926.

“Zone Bill Passes the First Reading,” Morning Call, February 16, 1926.

“Zone Bill Passes Second and Final Reading in Council,” Morning Call, February 25, 1926.

“Council Faces Problem in Zone Bill Appeal Board,” Morning Call, March 1,1926.

“Realtors Discuss Multiple Listings, also Fire Final Gun at Zoning Ordinance,” Morning Call, March 2, 1926.

“Permits Refused under Zone Ordinance,” Morning Call, February 7, 1927.

Bethlehem Moment 3: An Aroused City Beats City Hall

Bethlehem Moment 3
City Council
Dec. 4, 2018

Ed Gallagher 49 W. Greenwich

A Bethlehem Moment: November 4, 1958

They say “Ya can’t beat City Hall.” On November 4, 1958, an “aroused city” of Bethlehem did just that. Forty years after the city’s birth, the Bethlehem Junior Chamber of Commerce mounted a campaign to establish a Charter Commission to study and possibly change our form of local government. Our entrenched Democratic City Council at that time, realizing their power was at stake, vigorously fought this challenge to their existence, smelling the hidden hand of an “ivory towered” newspaper editor; raising the spectre of dictatorship; arguing widespread satisfaction with the status quo; meddling by the Jaycees, who may not even be taxpayers; and voting by Commission members who “might not know the difference between forms of government and a groundhog hole.” That editor, the legendary John Strohmeyer, lashed out at this “flagrant abuse of political power” aimed at perpetuating a “spoils system”; the Jaycees worked the public door-to-door; and in a turnout higher in some sections than the 1956 presidential election, the entire non-partisan Jaycee slate was elected to the Commission. On November 4, 1958, “political novices” tapped the power of democracy, reminded “the machine” where the power ultimately lies, took control of their own destiny, and started a process that gave us our current mayor-council form of government.

For the full story, see the attachment to “Fighting City Hall – and Winning, November 4, 1958” under Bethlehem Moments on The Bethlehem Gadfly, December 2, 2018 (thebethlehemgadfly.com/).

too much like the imperial executive

Breena Holland is an Associate Professor at Lehigh University in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative. She is a past and current director of Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative.

Gadfly, thanks for this information. It’s fascinating!! Do you have any information about what the “weak Mayor” form of local government would be? That is the form I would be interested in understanding better, especially if it gives more power to the City Council. I think one problem we have is that we need more ideas than just one person — the Mayor — can provide. What would happen if councilmembers were paid a more reasonable wage to help with some of the tasks involved in city governance? Right now the mayor gets all the money and has all the power and all the responsibility. I fear it is too much like the imperial executive. I think the city would benefit from a broader distribution of responsibility, in particular.

Breena

Yes, Gadfly can return to this with, especially, some opinion from that time period about how the Commission form was perceived. His sense at this point is that the Commission form was not well liked, was seen as inefficient. But this deserves a closer look at the specific reasons. And Gadfly, ever-the-utopian, wonders whether there is a 4th and even better choice, wonders with Thoreau whether “there is a still more perfect and glorious [form of city government] imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.”

 

Fighting City Hall: November 4, 1958

This story will be the subject of the next Bethlehem Moment at City Council.

You just never know. Where there’s an interesting – and even inspiring – story for a Bethlehem Moment.

Gadfly, as some of you are aware, is coming up on his first-year anniversary of observing City affairs. It was Christmas-time last year that he resolved to act on his long-time hankerin’ (Gadfly loves and for many years taught the classic Westerns – can you tell?) to attend some City Council meetings.

And he was immediately struck by the “architecture” of the meeting – Council members in judicial-like semicircle at the head of the hall, with the Mayor on the side. What’s with this, Gadfly thought? Isn’t the Mayor top-dawg?  Then hearing the occasional distressed resident addressing his or her distress to a Council that in most instances had no direct powers to redress the distress.  And meetings in which the Mayor seemingly rarely spoke, even in his assigned “report” time on the agenda. It took a while for Gadfly to recognize the Mayor’s voice. At election time, from Gadfly’s sideline seat, the mayoral race seemed the focus. City Council members were faceless to him. Yet here the site of power was the “City Council” meeting, seemingly above the mayor. City Council ran the meeting – did they “run” the City?

Curious to Gadfly. Odd. Puzzling. Intriguing.

How do things get done in the City? Who’s in charge? Where’s the power?

And why do we have this form of city government? And how did we get it?

So Gadfly was happy to use a Bethlehem Moment as the occasion to do a little historical research. You’ll find the long version of a piece of his research on this linked short essay – short but still too long for top billing on a blog like this. Gadfly hopes you will click the link and take a few of your own Bethlehem moments to read:

Fighting City Hall – and Winning, November 4, 1958

The short of this part of Gadfly’s research is that when Bethlehem was born in modern form in 1917, it operated under the state-mandated Commission (so-called Weak Mayor) form of government. In 1957 the state granted cities the voluntary option of staying with that form or choosing between two other forms: the Strong Mayor-City Council form and the City Manager form.

The Democrats ran Bethlehem, and an entrenched element of the Democratic Party fought efforts by the Bethlehem Junior Chamber of Commerce to study the advantages and disadvantages of the three options and provide residents with an opportunity to choose among them. How’s that for democracy – the opportunity to choose your form of government!! The “political novices” successfully fought the “machine,” educated the general populace about the choices they had, and voters ultimately chose our current Strong Mayor-City Council form of government.

gov 4

It’s a pretty amazing and, I say again, inspiring story of the power of the public to fight – and beat – City Hall. Not that every City Hall has to be beaten, mind you.

But this is the kind of story that we need to periodically remind us where the power ultimately lies. With us. Out here in the cheap seats at Town Hall. And beyond.

Please read: Fighting City Hall – and Winning, November 4, 1958

This is a story of Bethlehem residents taking control of their own destiny. Never easy. But doable.

Founding Fathers and Mother

Gadfly is researching the history of the Bethlehem Charter Commission for the next “Bethlehem Moment.”

Charter

Here is the newly elected group — November 13, 1958 — that gave us our current Mayor-City Council form of government.

Elaine Meilicke was the top vote-getter.

Not all that long ago — any connections with these folk we should know about?

Charles Donches is not related to our Mayor but is the father of Steve Donches, who was head of the National Museum of History.

An interesting story here, but you’ll have to wait for the “Moment” to hear all about it!