Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election
Whew! May 18. This is the day! Long run!
And this, for all intents and purposes, is Gadfly’s swan song. (Love the mixed metaphor!)
Gadfly shuts down tomorrow Wednesday, May 19, at noon.
He may have a few more posts just cleaning off the desk.
But this is it.
One of his missions has been to help you make the most informed vote you can.
No voting on sound bites, yard signs, pretty mailers, ethnic affinity, friendship, lengths of resumes, who you went to high school with, who endorsed you, and the etceteras.
Modestly, he says, he’s kind of knocked himself out to provide info on everybody, without endorsement or slant (as much as one can do in this fallen world and in spite of those of you who — on all sides — think they have smelled out his preferences).
This weekend as example.
A couple of dozen posts over Saturday and Sunday providing a basis to compare candidates on all kinds of dimensions.
Probably blew up your phones.
Go for it. For those of you who haven’t voted yet, make your choices.
Gadfly tips his hat to all of you candidates for running. It ain’t easy putting yourself out there. He envies you your youth. for doing what he can’t. He admires you and thanks you for making us think about what we need to think about. And giving us choice.
We have great candidates. Gadfly sees good in everybody.
Look at those smiling faces. Even Rachel under the mask as she struggles with a phone cord bent on abducting her stage right.
Except for one thing.
And he can’t sign off and buzz off without saying something.
And this is NOT to be taken as an endorsement of one candidate over another.
It is a critical comment about one aspect of one campaign.
A quite unfortunate aspect.
The Reynolds campaign Trump mailer.
It is remarkable that one of the Reynolds endorsers, Lehigh Valley for All, termed it negative campaigning and suggested his opponent was due an apology. As far as Gadfly is aware, candidate Reynolds and the Reynolds campaign have not even publicly acknowledged that judgment by a grass roots political organization that candidate Reynolds himself has praised for doing important work (LV4All has not responded to a request for information about a Reynolds response to them) much less offered an apology. In fact, Gadfly continues to see candidate Reynolds followers in social media basing their support for him on the content thrust of that mailer rather than other issues with his opponent with which they might disagree despite the judgment of an apparently respected third party.
The candidate Reynolds defense against the charge of negative campaigning on the Gadfly Forum is artfully crafted so as not to directly, regretfully admit the mailer was his mistake nor to recognize the irreparable damage the mailer may have done. At root, the candidate Reynolds defense is that he done me wrong, so I have license to do him wrong. An eye for an eye. So Old Testament. Only in politics can such a view be considered a respectable ethical standard.
Gadfly says again that his words here are NOT to be taken as an endorsement of one candidate over another. Candidate Reynolds is a powerful figure with a substantial record of accomplishment. Even LV4All couldn’t bring itself to de-endorse him. Gadfly might well be voting for him.
What Gadfly hopes here is that those of you who haven’t voted yet (it will be interesting to learn if the prior mail-in preference stayed strong) will, if you favor candidate Reynolds, do so on a basis other than the “argument” in the Trump mailer, whose basis is a political canard.
Reynolds critics tell stories of him popping off in the past. The Trump mailer has. for Gadfly, the feel of a moment of lost control, a moment of extreme pique.
Gadfly might not have written this part of this post except for this naked one-line appraisal a well meaning Reynolds supporter contributed at 1:50 Monday afternoon:
“Willie has changed a lot as a public official – and for the better – since 2013.”
There’s tacit recognition of at least some questionable behavior in the past.
Gadfly has tried, but he is not able to completely square that progressive view with the Trump mailer.
The Trump mailer might not hurt candidate Reynolds in this election, but Gadfly, who knows as much about politics as you would expect from an English teacher, feels it might haunt him in the future.
Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election
Stephen Antalics is Gadfly #1.
Whom do you believe, the endorsements of politicians evaluating other politicians or the citizens whose prime concern is good government and who religiously attend Bethlehem City Council meetings? Remember, council members tend to take care of their own.
A number of these citizens who regularly attend council meeting have publicly expressed their negative opinions of Councilman Reynolds in this medium. These comments are not a subjective character evaluation of Mr. Reynolds but an objective opinion based upon their observations of the quality of his performance as a member of council.
What is amazing to me is that these current evaluations seem to confirm the opinions of earlier citizens who also regularly attended council meetings approximately 7-8 years ago.
The following is excerpted from a local newspaper at that time. The question which each voter should ask themselves is: Which candidate for the Mayor of Bethlehem will best serve the welfare of the City of Bethlehem?
Antalics spent several weeks asking council meeting attendees to rate each council member, based on a grading system with zero as the low grade and four the highest. Reporter Matt Assad’s post explained:
“On Tuesday, he unveiled his mid-term grades and let’s just say some council members might want to hand in some extra credit before the next marking period. Forget for a moment that the results appear to be more of a ranking of who agrees with Mayor John Callahan, with those in most agreement getting the lowest grade. And forget that the grades are based on just 35 anonymous responses. Drumroll please.
“Here are the grades, based on the Antalics scale: David DiGiacinto – 3.3; Eric Evans – 2.9; Robert Donchez – 2.8; Jean Belinski – 2.3; Karen Dolan – 2.3; Gordon Mowrer – 1.8; J. William Reynolds – 1.4
” ‘So it’s only 35 responses, but these are the people who go to council meetings,’ Antalics contends. ‘These are the people who know them best.’
In just a few sentences, describe your ideal Bethlehem of 2031.
Ten years from now, Bethlehem will be a leader in appropriate development that is compatible with its deep historic roots: cities like Philadelphia, Boston and the rest will look to us as a model for their expansion plans. The quality of life for all Bethlehem residents will be something to be proud of, and our well-maintained green spaces will provide residents and visitors with peaceful areas for play, exercise and reflection. Our public safety services will continue to be among the finest in Pennsylvania. We will be known as a small business Mecca and our varied and thriving shops and stores will attract thousands of visitors each year, which in turn will boost profitability for area restaurants and hostelries. Bethlehem’s identity as a creative city that supports the arts will continue to grow. Our history and vibrant multicultural vibe will enrich annual festivals such as Musikfest and Celtic Classic, as well as many additional offerings of art and culture. I ‘Believe in a Better Bethlehem,’ and I ask voters to believe with me, put their trust in me on May 18, and help me bring about this positive, bright future for all of our residents, and for our city – whose symbol, after all, is a shining star.
Bethlehem will continue to be a vibrant, economically prosperous, and diverse community with a high quality of life. We will be a Bethlehem that balances a respect for our history with new economic investment that will keep providing family sustaining jobs as we always have. Most of all, Bethlehem in 2031 will be the place we are still proud to call our home.
Would or would you not support the concept of housing homeless people in “tiny homes” with communal
dining and bathrooms within the city limits of Bethlehem? If so, where exactly would you
recommend such a project be located? If not, can you explain why not?
Kwiatek: I am a proponent of the “housing first” philosophy of addressing homelessness. There are myriad reasons why a person could be unsheltered, from mental illness and drug addiction to fleeing an unsafe home. By helping them find shelter first, their other challenges can be addressed from a starting point of stability. Tiny homes with some communal spaces could be one solution, however, there are other approaches being tried in other cities that could also be effective. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, a city of a similar size, the city bought an old hotel and used federal funds to renovate it so that each person actually had more of their own apartment rather than having to share dining and bathroom spaces. Like Bethlehem, the Santa Fe government partners with non-profit agencies with the expertise to provide services and support. Having experienced the way in which COVID spread rapidly in communal living situations, providing housing options without shared space could be preferable. With regard to location, I believe such a facility could and should co-exist in any neighborhood. Our unsheltered residents are members of our community.
Leon: If tiny homes have proven successful this option should be explored, in an accessible to pedestrian’s part of the city.
Callahan: I would support using Federal Housing and Urban Renewal funds to build more affordable housing for the needy.
Crampsie Smith: As a member of the NAACP Advisory Council, I serve on the Homelessness Sub-Committee and we are currently discussing ‘tiny homes” as an option. I believe we must have a continuum of initiatives re: homelessness and housing. We need a permanent shelter for folks who are homeless as we are the only city in the Valley to not have one. Our sub-committee is working on this! We also need to develop transitional as well as permanent housing. “Tiny homes” could be a viable model however, we need to do more research into this option. While it has worked in some areas, some things to consider are: can we provide more housing units in a multi-level building versus a ‘tiny homes community; what is the life span of a “tiny home”; would this option be deemed as segregation; where is the best location; and what is the input of those who are homeless and/or transient?”
Wilhelm: While thoughtful research is needed in terms of determining a specific location, a community of tiny homes-which provides a mailing address, safe shelter, food, and other resources designed to scaffold residents toward living independently-is an option worth our consideration as we care for our unhoused neighbors.
How do your experiences and ideas make you a good candidate?
Twenty-seven years working for the city in a variety of capacities has given me an excellent knowledge base of how city hall works best, and how it needs to be run to achieve that. I have experience working with and across all departments and levels. Streamlining and reorganizing some areas of city hall will make it more efficient and have the added benefit of saving the city and taxpayers money. Aggressive pursuit of outside funding and appropriate development will further enable the city to keep taxes down for its residents, and keep services at a high rate of delivery. My ideas first and foremost are crafted to ensure the best quality of life possible for residents, and I listen intently to what residents and business owners tell me needs to be done.
During my time on city council, we have worked to economically revitalize our city and helped to lead Bethlehem to our strongest financial position in decades. I have also introduced and implemented initiatives related to neighborhood revitalization (Northside 2027), economic redevelopment, sustainability, equality, technology and transparency. Every one of those initiatives has been designed around organizing, listening and bringing people together to create change. We have brought together our families, small businesses, institutions including our colleges and universities, the Bethlehem Area School District and community organizations to respond to the priorities and goals of our city. Coalition building is the most important part of the mayor’s job and I have done that during my time in public office.
Why or why not would you support the abolishment of bail for both Lehigh County
and Northampton County?
Kwiatek: I support the elimination of the cash bail system. The cash bail system discriminates against people of color and poor people. The United States is one of few countries that uses a commercial bail bondsmen system. Pretrial detainees make up 70 percent of our nation’s jailed population, and many are there simply because they are poor, not because they pose a threat. Lengthy pre-trial imprisonment has significant negative impacts on people who are, after all, owed the presumption of innocence in our justice system. Where cash bail has been eliminated and programs such as supervised release have been implemented, the data are showing no significant increase in recidivism. Defendants show up for their court appearances at very high rate.
Leon: Bail has disproportionately affected marginalized communities. I would support the restructuring of bail to include income and allegation considerations.
Callahan: For nonviolent crimes I would support the abolishment of bail. I would not support the abolishment of bail for violent crimes.
Crampsie Smith: I would support researching alternatives to cash bail. Three out of 5 people in U.S. jails today have not been convicted of a crime. Between 1970 and 2015 there has been an 433 percent increase in the use of pretrial detention in prisons. The cash bail system criminalizes poverty, as people who are unable to afford bail are detained while they await trial for weeks or even months. Cash bail perpetuates inequities in the justice system that are disproportionately felt by communities of color and those experiencing poverty. If detained due to lack of access to bail monies, one can lose their job, their housing, etc. Studies have shown that pretrial arrests can actually increase a person’s likelihood of re-arrest upon release. However, studies of New Jersey and Washington, D.C., indicate that defendants’ rates of appearance for trial after cash bail reforms were implemented are similar or better to rates of appearance before the reforms. This is a critical issue to be further explored, and will likely be determined at the county and/or state level.
Wilhelm: Cash bail supports a wealth-based and inequitable justice system in which legally innocent people remain in prison for weeks, months, or years simply because of an inability to cover the cost of bail-and is one of the many areas in which criminal justice reform is needed.
What challenges do you most want to tackle and why?
Growing and supporting a fair, firm and responsive police force and ensuring excellent fire and EMS services are a very high priority for me.
Improving public infrastructure and facilities such as streets, parks and trails is also important, and preventive maintenance saves costs in the long run.
Finally, my middle-class background has primed me to find solutions to the affordable housing issue, and to limit gentrification.
The pandemic made clear that there are systemic problems in our city involving affordable housing, homelessness and economic insecurity. We need to solve these problems as a community. We must bring together our school district, nonprofit sector, affected residents, and social service providers to build better systems.
I am also looking forward to mobilizing our residents to help city hall prioritize investments in our neighborhoods. Our Northside 2027 initiative gives us a blueprint for how to bring together families, small businesses, institutions and service providers to improve our neighborhoods and our quality of life. I plan a similar initiative for the west side of Bethlehem to go along with our current Northside 2027 and Southside Vision 2024 plans.
We also have to continue our economic redevelopment and revitalization. The former Bethlehem Steel site has seen incredible progress but hundreds of acres remain unused or underutilized. We need to work to attract family-sustaining jobs to the rest of the site. Our economic revitalization has allowed us to avoid the economic peril and difficult choices that other cities have had to face.
In light of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, why or why not would you support creating a regional health bureau with jurisdiction in
both Lehigh County and Northampton County?
Kwiatek: I think the failed attempt to create a bi-county health bureau many years ago may have been ahead of its time. The Lehigh Valley is much more cohesive as a region now, and the time could be right to try again. While our city health bureaus have done incredible work during the pandemic, a bureau spanning both counties could potentially tackle public health issues that impact residents across the region. I believe it is worth investigating as we take a look at how we can better prepare for the next major public health crisis.
Leon: If the creation of a regional health bureau with overarching jurisdiction was met with support from the community, I would [support it].
Callahan: I would not support a Regional Health Bureau at this time. Our current City Health Bureau has done a remarkable job in handling this pandemic and the roll out of the vaccinations.
Crampsie Smith: Firstly, I have to commend Bethlehem’s Health Bureau for the countless hours and efforts they have put forth during this pandemic. This pandemic has certainly emphasized the vital role that Health Bureaus have in our communities. While I believe it is wise to consider collaboration and joining of resources at the city and county level as much as possible, I would need much more data, research, and input to determine the best course of action re: creating a regional health bureau. There are definite pros and cons to this issue. Local health bureaus can better tailor their services to the unique needs of their citizens. However, there are areas not sufficiently served due the lack of local health bureaus and a regional one would better meet the needs of these individuals.
Wilhelm: Bethlehem is fortunate to have a Bureau of Health that is an extraordinary resource to our City; the way they have managed the pandemic-in particular the herculean task of administering vaccines-has made it abundantly clear. If a regional health bureau served as a means of additional and valuable support to our existing City bureau, I would support its creation and a cooperative relationship between the two
What would be your short-term goals in office? Long-term?
Short term, I intend to reconstitute the department of Parks and Recreation; more attention and better maintenance need to be given to our green spaces. I’ll create the position of sustainability coordinator within that department to begin addressing environmental issues in Bethlehem.
I also plan to move the day-to-day operation of the Bethlehem Parking Authority into a Department of Parking so that it is more responsive to residents.
I will establish a Small Business Concierge to directly assist existing and new businesses. My mayor’s office will be bilingual, and I will advance an ordinance that closes the window of opportunity for the use of consumer grade fireworks.
Long term, I’ll be vigilant about diversity within city hall and on authorities, boards and commissions that are under my aegis to populate. I’ll also be firm but fair with developers – which is why I am not taking any contributions from the major developers. Projects will stand on their own merits, and not be rewards for contributions.
The first priority for my administration would be to focus on our city’s recovery from the pandemic. The past year has upended our community in many ways and we need to emerge from the pandemic as a stronger and more vibrant city. Since the Steel closed, we have attracted new businesses and jobs and we must continue to do that. We must invest in our downtown commercial areas, our neighborhood and our community organizations that define who we are. Investments in affordable housing, expanding economic opportunities for all of our residents, and improving our already high quality of life are all vital as well if we want to build a city that works for everyone.
What major initiative do you support or would you support that will improve the quality of life for citizens of Bethlehem?
Kwiatek: I support the implementation of the Climate Action Plan, which I believe will transform the city of Bethlehem to a model green city where we lower greenhouse gas emissions, increase the use of renewable energy and reach zero waste. This will improve the quality of life for every resident of the city.
Leon: I support the climate action plan and continued efforts to ensure that Bethlehem’s air quality improves.
Callahan: I proposed, supported and got passed the Equal Pay Ordinance that supports equal pay for equal work for women.
Crampsie Smith: I support and have been working on Inclusionary Housing in Bethlehem, which is housing that is affordable for low/middle to middle income workers and families. In November, I initiated the Inclusive Bethlehem/Affordable Housing Task Force. 1 in 3 area households are cost burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing every month. Since 2014, 887 apartment units have gone through Bethlehem’s approval process, none are considered affordable units. This housing crisis is getting worse as people move out of larger cities into smaller cities like Bethlehem due to the pandemic and an increase in working remotely. Our Task Force will be presenting recommendations to council and the Mayor in the future. In order to retain Bethlehem’s rich, diverse heritage, we must promote and secure suitable housing that is affordable for multi-income levels.
Wilhelm: Our most time-sensitive initiatives revolve around pandemic recovery. This includes ensuring that all of our citizens have equal access to vaccines and are getting vaccinated, as well as prioritizing small business recovery funding, housing assistance and mortgage/rent relief, and support to our schools.
What do you appreciate most about this city? The Lehigh Valley?
The history and the recreational opportunities tie for me when it comes to things I appreciate most.
Bethlehem’s colonial history from 1741 and its more recent industrial history with the Steel give it a unique and fascinating place in the story of the United States. The tangible artefacts of that history, such as architecture and neighborhoods largely unchanged from their inception, must be preserved and protected.
Bethlehem has 568 acres of green space within 39 parks, a real treasure in a city of this size. I have walked, run and biked the trails and park pathways for years, and am happy to see them being used more by families as well as individuals.
Bethlehem is a community in the truest sense of the word. We have a common identity about what it means to be from Bethlehem. We have community organizations that reflect that identity and make our city a wonderful place to call home and raise a family. Very few communities have that quality and it is a result of our residents’ dedication to making their home a special place to live.
Latest in a series of posts on candidates for election
Jim Fiorentino is an Attorney and former Chair of the City of Bethlehem Planning Commission.
In my 10 years on the Bethlehem Planning Commission (2006-2016), I witnessed Willie Reynolds as a Council person and Bob Donchez as a Council person and then Mayor rubber-stamp anything a developer wanted from the City. The fact that they took money and/or jobs for family members from developers once would have mattered to progressives who usually decry the cozy relationship between money and politicians. I wish I knew what happened to those people whom I supported for Council and who now support a person for Mayor who has no qualms over the selling of Bethlehem to the highest bidders.
I voted and supported Willie Reynolds for both Council and then the Mayor’s office in the 2013 primary when he ran against Bob Donchez. However, in 2015 when the Donchez administration decided to engage in back-room ordinance drafting with lawyers working for developers and Willie Reynolds as Council President rushed approval of the ordinance in a lame duck session, I realized that the choice in 2013 had been about differences of age rather than integrity, as both men were willing to do the bidding of their financial contributors.
I was the Chair of the Planning Commission in 2015 when, during the reading of the proposed Martin Tower re-zoning ordinance, I became concerned about the way in which the ordinance was worded. There were many provisions in the proposed ordinance that were so unique in their details that it seemed as if it had been written with a specific purpose in mind. This was a problem as it gave the appearance that the ordinance was drafted to benefit a particular set of interests rather than for the purpose of using an even-handed approach to regulate all properties that fall within a general category of land use. Only thanks to a right to know request by a local blogger did we learn that my concerns were justified—the documents obtained by the blogger revealed that the developers’ attorneys and the lawyers in the City Solicitor’s Office were drafting the ordinance together and in secret.
2015 was a year in which the atmosphere regarding zoning changes was already heightened with suspicion. The Donchez Administration‘s willingness to draft an ordinance regulating the Market Street area produced public outcry because it seemed designed only to benefit a stockbroker whose attorneys were major contributors to the Mayor’s campaign. As a result, two new council members, Olga Negron and Michael Colón, were slated to take office in January 2016, promising to deliver an ethics ordinance that would disrupt the practices between wealthy donors and public officials which were degrading citizens’ trust in local government.
It became clear that the two new candidates running for Council were not as likely to vote for the Martin Tower ordinance as those who had been defeated in the 2015 election. I advocated for the tabling of the Martin Tower ordinance so that the new City Council could weigh in on it. I believed that bringing this ordinance before the new Council was something that the citizens expected and deserved. Instead, Council President Reynolds rushed the ordinance through, while aggressively belittling anyone who even raised the question of political favoritism at play due to the campaign contributors made to him and others on Council by the Martin Tower developers. At the time, Reynolds proclaimed that a speedy vote on the ordinance was necessary so that the developers could demolish Martin Tower. Reynolds promised to fix the problems with the ordinance after the fact.
With six years behind us, Reynolds’ proclamations still look like nothing more than a made up excuse to benefit developers who gave him large campaign contributions. We all know how long it actually took for those developers to demolish the Martin Tower and we all know that even that amount of time was, apparently, insufficient time for Willie Reynolds to follow through on his promise of fixing the ordinance.
So it’s not surprising that just this month those developers are back for another bite of the apple as they are well aware that they will be able to get whatever they want from this administration and Councilman Reynolds. Indeed the current issue regarding the developer’s request for even more ordinance changes to allow them to evade the normal processes for project approval was tabled last week on a motion by an ally of Councilman Reynolds. How convenient that the delay allows him to avoid making another embarrassing vote that favors his campaign donors just before next week’s primary. Indeed, in the Mayoral debate on Thursday night Reynolds said he is opposed to the change. One is left to wonder why this change of heart couldn’t have been communicated to the public in his official capacity at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Reynolds has developed a skill for performative politics. There are plans and task forces and commissions for every problem, but never a solution in the form of an ordinance to benefit the people of Bethlehem. People say he has changed. People say he no longer takes money from developers. People say he is now in favor of the ethics ordinance that would limit campaign contributions. Some people are buying this. I cannot. I prefer results and actions of conscience. He is in the middle of a term on City Council. I believe that the citizens of Bethlehem deserve to see action not promises before they turn over the most important job in the city to him. He should await seeking higher office until he’s learned to elevate the interests of the people of Bethlehem over those of the developers.