Happy Mirthday, Gadfly!

The Gadfly is one month old.

I hope it’s obvious . . . I hope you can tell . . . I hope it’s evident . . . I hope it shows

that Gadfly is having fun.

babyI started my freshman year majoring in Civic Observation back in January.

I have met such wonderful people.

I have watched from afar such hardworking people, especially the volunteers.

I have seen elected officials fighting the good fight.

I feel really part of the town for the first time as I have sort of entered its bloodstream.

In the digital age we are losing our sense of place, of city, of neighborhood. I was thinking about that a lot hearing the Mayor, Councilman Reynolds, and others kick off Northside 2027 last week.

I realize that I have been trying to regain a sense of neighborhood. For instance, after years of not paying attention to it, I subscribed to the Bethlehem Press, where, as I wrote there a while back (in print next to veteran civic observers Barbara Diamond and Bill Scheirer), “The BP reminds me — with the help of lots of color photos! — that I have neighbors who lead regular lives of family, work, church, school, sports. I need to feel that normality. I forgot my small town is pulsing with old-fashioned normality. The BP reminds me.” A simple delightful town newspaper. Reflecting and creating community.

The major “serious issue” over Gadfly baby’s first month has been the parking fees. 40 posts. I hope I have modeled there the approach that will typify the Gadfly. I am about to venture some judgments, but I will always try to show you that they come out of as full a consideration as possible of varying perspectives. And, of course, I encourage thoughtful alternate views.

(My model, frankly, is Michael Smerconish, Lehigh grad of the 80s, who has a Sirius XM talk radio show and is a CNN commentator. When his call board shows a caller with a contrary opinion, he goes there first and gives him or her the floor. Nice.)

I have a lot to learn. Pontification is not my strong suit.

For instance, you have seen me several times on these pages admit that I don’t understand the relation between the Bethlehem Parking Authority and the City. Now I don’t think I’m alone. I wager that if Dana Grubb asked residents what the BPA was as part of his “The People Say” column in the Bethlehem Press, he wouldn’t get much of an answer. The City organizational chart (see the Gadfly sidebar) shows a line from the Mayor to BPA. But the Mayor just yesterday told me the Authority is “independent.” Go figure. I don’t get it. The BPA answers to the Mayor and City Council to sanction the nature of its income, yet it’s independent. Don’t get it. Ha! Yet, that is. Don’t worry, I’ll eventually get it. I’m researchin.’

One month. A good time to ask for feedback.

I describe gadflies as unofficial officials, as self-appointed representatives of the people.

I invite you to let me know how I’m doin’.

If you think we’re doing well, please spread the word. Gadfly can only work if it is widely read by a substantial range of people with serious interest in our City. Help me to foster that readership and participation.

And I invite you to contribute. To the serious stuff, for sure. But I know there must be people out there with “local color” photographs, stories, and the like. Help make Gadfly a varied experience. A fun place.

The Bethlehem Gadfly Anniversary! All of One Week!

It was exactly one week ago at this time – but after an Eagles loss! – that the Gadfly pulled the trigger on this blog. Except that this week Gadfly had to wait to see the Tiger Woods comeback. (A one-television house. Mrs. Gadfly not happy – “I was watching John Wayne in ‘The Comancheros,’ ” she complained. Sigh. Can this marriage last?)

It will take a while to establish a rhythm and a trust between us, but the Gadfly thinks we are off to a reasonable start.

In short – to borrow a follower witticism – the Gadfly is a Gladfly.

The Gadfly aims – to borrow from another follower – for “healthy public dialogue.”

So far we have started conversation threads on the proposed parking meter rate increase and on the proposed Banana Factory expansion.

The Gadfly hopes the parking thread even thus far, for instance, demonstrates the quality (serious), the tone (moderate), and approach (balanced) that will characterize our conversation.

Democracies are noisy. They are meant to be. In the classic American story (Gadfly taught American literature, you know), Rip Van Winkle returns from his twenty-year sleep through the generation of the American Revolution to what Washington Irving calls a “Babylonish jargon” in the new democratic republic. So many voices. So many opinions. But we can listen. And we can be courteous.

*In addition, in the parking thread the Gadfly is experimenting with including video recording so that followers have direct access to the primary sources on which to make their own judgments. (A dry run for what the City may do in the future?)*

“Reviews” have been good. The Gadfly prizes especially, “Some intelligent discussion. Rare online these days.” “Intelligent discussion” – yes, that’s what the Gadfly wants.

Well known local blogger and provocateur Bernie O’Hare gave us a nice notice: The Bethlehem Gadfly “has certainly hit the ground running. . . . I am happy to see this new blog.”

It takes a while to build an audience. A large and diverse audience is essential for healthy public dialogue. For every issue to get a fair shake, we need all sides represented.

We have made a good start but have a long way to go.

The Gadfly is especially grateful that the mayor and most of Council are following (not the solicitors yet, as far as Gadfly knows). The Gadfly thinks that is amazing. Courageous. Gutsy. Tricky. Risky politically. Voluntarily willing to be “in the arena” where things could get dusty for them. (Yiii, I’m channeling Theodore Roosevelt.) They really don’t have to be here. Give them a high-five. The Gadfly appreciates it, respects it, loves it.

*The Gadfly bets that in this willingness to participate by elected officials we are damn well unique among cities in the country.*

I like unique for Bethlehem.

But we need more followers.

Let me challenge you, each and every one. I estimate that we have 100 followers. I’d like each of you to look at your contact lists and pass the word to 10 others. Probably an easy thing to do with the technology now available to us. If only 3 follow (and please ask them to be sure to “follow” not just to look), we still will have made a significant increase in encouraging public participation in important City issues.

The Gadfly especially would like the elected officials to bring our site to the attention of the – ha! – “power brokers” you deal with: Downtown Bethlehem, Chamber of Commerce, Historic Bethlehem, Democratic Committee, BASD, ArtsQuest, the local colleges, Northampton County Council, Boscola, Samuelson  . . . etc., etc., whomever and whomever you deal with on a regular basis in the course of your regular work. We want the right people listening when the people speak. Ask them to “follow.” Demand that they “follow.” Encourage them to contribute.

And – everybody — this is not “my” blog but “ours.” I hope for your contributions. I depend on your contributions. I anticipate with pleasure your contributions. I hope to be more moderator, gatherer, organizer, channel.

The Gadfly