Friday, October 19, 2007

State Senator Browne, County & City Leaders Support Suffering Hamilton Street Merchants

"I came here interested, but leave here passionate."

That's how Jeanette Eichenwald, Allentown City Council candidate, reacted after hearing how merchants and bus passengers have suffered from LANTA's recent elimination of bus service along portions of Hamilton Street. She had good reason.

Last night, local leaders listened as twenty-two bus riders and small business owners, the "have nots," told their story at Allentown's Faith Baptist Church. James Blawn, a bus rider in his seventies: "I walk 5 1/2 blocks, one way, to catch a bus." Jenny Lim Chen, whose family owns and operates the House of Chen, sadly and quietly reports they've dropped their health insurance. Bibi Hazra, from the Loco Dollar Store, burst into tears as she told about being assaulted yesterday by one of her suppliers. She owes him $200, but only had $20 in her cash drawer. He started to choke her until people began calling for police. Jim, a wheelchair bound bus passenger, saw it happen. And he was at the church last night, too. "I won't knock progress until it stops someone else's progress." Barbadel Campbell, the eloquent septuagenarian whose letter to the editor was recently published in The Morning Call, asked, "How could this happen?" She noted there was no prior discussion with passengers or merchants, and that even most bus drivers knew nothing before the changes imposed by LANTA's top heavy management. This twenty-five year center city resident can no longer shop along Hamilton Street "because carrying the shopping bags on foot is a pain." She wonders whether this is a plot to rid the city of its low-income, and mostly minority, businesses, in favor of upscale ventures for the beautiful people, like $40 Halloween dinner bargains.

Barbadel has reason to wonder. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, through his information minister, refuses to help. "It's a transportation issue. Nothing was done to affect the businesses. We're trying to improve transportation." Pawlowski even thumbed his nose at Lázaro Fuentes, who chairs the Lehigh Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

LANTA is just as bad. BiBi and Jenny called several times in early October. Nothing. I tried contacting executive director Armando Greco on October 9, as well as all members its board. Nothing. Channel 69 reporters tried to contact LANTA yesterday. Nothing.

So what's LANTA doing? Rather than respond to this suffering, its bureaucrats are incredibly combing through an eighteen hundred signature petition submitted a month ago, looking for duplicate signatures.

But as of last night, Hamilton Street merchants and bus passengers have reason for hope. Lehigh Valley leaders have responded! And so has the media.

Allentown City Candidates Respond

Four out of five Allentown city council candidates are firmly on Jenny and Bibi's side. Jeanette Eichenwald, along with her husband, were obviously moved when BiBi broke into tears. Former Lehigh County exec Dave Bausch will push to have one stop restored. Mike Donovan, in a written statement to Mike Molovinsky, believes LANTA failed to involve enough people before eliminating these stops. "When the appropriate parties are not involved, we have disappointment, lack of trust, and a loss of community." Finally, a statement from Robert E Smith demands that stops be restored. "We need leadership that represents all the people, not just politicians and wealthy elitists who want to keep those people off Hamilton street."

Controller candidate Michael Schware noted that what has happened sends a "dangerous signal" to business. "We may want you here today, but not tomorrow."

The only city council candidate who failed to appear or present a statement? Peter Schweyer, who just happens to sit on the LANTA board. Some of Hamilton Street's minority-owned merchants feel they are being discriminated against, but he told me in an October 3 email that these concerns are "laughable and frankly quite bizarre." I hope these merchants remember Schweyer when they vote.

Current Allentown city councilman Tony Phillips also stopped by, and told the crowd, "These things don't happen without the administration being involved. The only ones who were not involved in this decision were you."

Other Local Leaders Lend Their Support

In addition to city leaders, Lehigh County Commissioner candidates Dean Browning and Roger Reis added their support. Browning, bean counter extraordinaire, told merchants that LANTA relies heavily on public funds, and that merchants should make their concerns known at those funding sources. Reis echoed Browning, adding that commissioners could write letters.

Last night's biggest surprise was Ellen Millard-Kern, who just happens to be State Senator Pat Browne's chief of staff. His Allentown office, incidentally, is located smack dab in the middle of this Hamilton Street mess. He is inundated with complaints from passengers and merchants. So Pat Browne has already sent his own letter to LANTA. That's going to be a little harder to ignore. Here's part of it.

I am writing on behalf of three separate and distinct constituencies who do not like the recent change in the bus schedules. Specifically, I have received petitions with hundreds of signatures from LANTA riders requesting a restoration of bus service to Hamilton Street. In addition, I have been contacted by Hamilton Street merchants who are experiencing "precipitous" declines in business. Finally, the disabled community has expressed concerns that their ability to access stores, other Hamilton Street amenities and educational opportunities has been greatly reduced if not altogether curtailed.

. . . I sincerely request that you consider developing an alternate route plan to address these concerns and make considered reasonable accommodations as warranted.

Media Support

A show of support from Lehigh Valley leaders is great, but the media has also cast a public spotlight on the plight of Hamilton Street's minority merchants and senior bus riders. It was Channel 69's top story on last night's 10 o'clock news. El Torero, a Spanish-language Allentown weekly, this morning published a full-page story, complete with a photograph of an empty Hamilton Street, as buses whiz by without stopping.

Next Step

LANTA'S next board meeting is November 13. If Allentown's mayor and LANTA's management continue to snub the "have nots," they will soon have an opportunity to meet them face to face.

As wheelchair-bound Jim told me late last night, "There are more of us, and we aren't going away."

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

No MC reporters? (I didn't see anything in the paper this morning!)

Anonymous said...

The photo certainly does not lend itself to the cause.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:03,

I think it does. It's a real, honest to goodness, restaurant. It has no fancy facade, paid for with tax $, but it doesn't cost your $40 to eat there either. And believe it or not, the food is good and the service is great. It's lasted for thirty years. I have a feeling it will survive this crisis, too. Many other businesses will not.

Anonymous said...

The places that own their building probably stand to benefit quite a bit from these changes if they are willing to think out of the box a bit.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 8:59,

The MC was kind enough to publicize the meeting in its "In your town" section. It also recently published Barbadel Campbell's LTE.

I was shocked to see a full page story in Allentown's Spanish weekly. But most shocking of all was that Channel 69 chose to make this its top story on the 10 o'clock news last night.

LANTA won't talk to them, either.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:31,

Places like the House of Chen or the Park families (which also attended lkast night's meeting) do own these buildings. But they are not real estate speculators. They are not there to flip properties. They are merchants. As I've learned over the past few weeks, they've been cut off from their customer base.

They do not object to the ABW, JM or other publicly funded improvements on 8th St. That does bring more diversity to the downtown and they ultimately benefit from that.

They do object to being cut off from their customer base. It was an arbitrary, poorly planned, decision.

And if you think "outside the box" for a moment, the result of that decison is to decrease the very diversity that A-town claims it wants to create.

Anonymous said...

Atown defines diversity = More white folk, less type funny colored ones that talk different!

A.J. Cordi said...

Bernie, this is good stuff. I wish I could have been there last night.

Anonymous said...

If State Senator Browne wants to help; they better run for the hills.

Pat Browne champion of the "New Economy" - "New World Order"; leaves no room for middle class citizens.

It's like having a fox in the hen house. He might appear to be an advocate; but the moment the true owners of this Country take a nap because power dictates contant struggle.

He'll go to work saying; it's legal and no you can't see the accounting of the process.

Anonymous said...

You really wonder what our Representatives or anybody else for that matter has learned in School!

A Vision of Students
Today


Should institutions be responsible for what they teach?

What venue or laws do we have to protect us

atown-liker said...

Honestly, I find it hard to believe there is some NWO-type conspiracy among the mayor, LANTA, Butz, ABW, Prince Charles or others to sweep the poor away from Hamilton Street. And if there is, I hope the players are exposed. That would be shameful. Is there evidence?

More likely, LANTA and the city felt getting the buses off Hamilton Street would ease traffic in the area and they didn't realize the effect it would have on the older businesses.

It was short-sighted and a bad idea. They should simply undo it and be done with it.

And I wouldn't bash the new fru-fru businesses on the block. (I believe some of that $40 is going to charity, by the way.) I'm a longtime resident of the immediate neighborhood and I'm glad they are there. Rather have my tax dollar go to something useful to me for a change -- the restoration of a derelict building into a place where I can drink beer -- than to a state Legislature slush fund or another warehouse in the Macungies.

Bernie O'Hare said...

atown-liker,

Points well made. This is the position Jeff Pooley stated. There is no direct evidence of a conspiracy to sweep the poor away.

But this is how many Hamilton Street merchants feel, and it should be noted. By their refusal to respond to some very real suffering, both the mayor and LANTA lend credence to that view. Merchants look at what is being done for those foo foo businesses and what is being done to them, and start to wonder.

And I don't blame them. The lack of response by both the Pawlowski admin and LANTA has been irresponsible. When lines of communication close, that's when suspicions and accusations become possible.

There is room for everyone, including ABW and JM. In the long run, the ABW is actually good for other businesses because it brings diversity.

Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 12:29,

I am thankful that state senator Pat Browne spoke up for these middle class merchants. That's something that neither Allentown's mayor nor LANTA seems interested in right now.

A.J. Cordi said...

Anon 12:29 -

Why do you relate every topic to your middle-class rant? I feel very strongly about how the Valley is becoming mainly "high class" and "low class", but there are other issues here besides that.

If you actually have something to say, why not create your own blog and invite us to read it, instead of interupting here? Hamilton St. is a very important issue/topic and I think we should all stay focused on that while commenting within this post.

A local politician finally acknowledges those asking for some help, and you attack him on a seperate issue. How does this help anything, or anyone? It doesn't! Further more, if you're going to continue ranting about middle-class issues, I'd like to personally know who they are coming from. Might you have a name?


Let's keep focused on the issues of Hamilton Street, and those that are affected by recent changes. When we stop talking about what has happened, the issues will become worse. Last night was obviously very positive.

Let's not go backwards now that we've finally begun to push forward.

A question I have at this point is where do things go from here?

The petition is still being ignored. But they can't ignore those directly affected anymore since the media and local political scene is becoming active in this matter. Is there going to be another gathering?

Things can't stop now just because of one good night. I hope Jim's quote is true.

Bernie O'Hare said...

AJ,

There will be a meeting w/ CUNA next week and a LANTA board meeting. Now that some local leaders, including state senator Pat Browne, are voicing concerns, it's going to be harder for LANTA to brush them off. That appears to have been the original intention.

Anonymous said...

We will see how successful you are.

I'll be watching! I hope you win; I think that would be one for the people. But, it shouldn't stop their; if it does it will be a crime to let such political capital go by the way side.

I don't think you really understand
what's happening in the Valley and the World around you. Your fearful to look at the real truth of the matter.

So, I feel you will lose in theis matter and their will be more destruction to the valley and our communities for you will not open your eyes.

I feel, it won't be long before history classes in school will teach us that there was once a middle class in America.

Having a middle class in not normal
for society. It must be respected and honored; if not it will go away! It's not a conspiracy, it's the way people interact with one another for power and influence.

A.J. Cordi said...

Bernie -

I think you should start deleting these off-topic threads. They do nothing except take away from the post.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I've deleted the last comment, which really amounts to spam. Since the others are tangentially relevant, I'll let them stay.

Anon, please stick to the topic. This is not about "winning," but about local government being accountable and responsive to its citizens.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

A.J. Cordi said...
Bernie -

I think you should start deleting these off-topic threads. They do nothing except take away from the post.


A.J.:
Everything is political and it's influence and out comes are not always linear. It is often mathematical; hence, "Political Science" Strategic
Why most people don't understand it and civics taken out of the classroom!

When you get a couple of years beyond your 20's hopefully you'll understand this!

At this time in your life; you probably know everything.

A.J. Cordi said...

Here we go with the age thing again...

Anonymous said...

If your business teeters on whether you have a bus stop or not, I'd say that's a crappy business to begin with.

Jake said...

the 3 rules of real estate are location, location, location. These people started their business in these locations because there was a flow of foot traffic which gave their ground level store fronts visibility. Having bus stops increased the foot traffic. They started their business there because they believed their was formula for success.

Now one of the equations is gone.

Anonymous said...

This social angle is a fraud.

Where is the blog to support the Charcoal Diner, who suffered from THE MAN taking Route 222 away?

It'll be a wonderful slice of irony if LANTA restores the stops, raises fares to cover the costs of the stops and the intermodal center, and then people start complaining about how expensive everything is.

If you think LANTA won't restore the stops without a fare increase, you're naive.

But thankfully, you'll still be able to get crap at the Dollar Store and get your fill of MSG.

Anonymous said...

Who is this women at the Loco Dollar being supplied by? I hope there is no counterfit items in her store that may harm me or my family, or the families of other low-income Allentown residents for that matter.

What kind of "supplier" chocks their customers? Was she seller refer back there or something? As much as I hate to blame the victim, I think this incident is reason to question if we should get behind these people so quickly.

A.J. Cordi said...

Call me crazy, but I'm beginning to believe the reason these anonymous people choose to remain anonymous is to avoid being challenged directly. They know what they speak is mostly crap. They prove this when their ideas are questioned and their argument sinks down to the nonexistent issue of "age."

Now, some anonymous jerk-off is a LANTA expert who can predict the future. Well, get your fills of MSG and “crap” while you can, because if everyone were to adopt your logic, there’d be nothing!

People can use my age as a direct attack all they want in attempts to prove me wrong with an actual argument. But remember, I’m the one challenging and questioning the issue-at-hand, and not one’s personal attributes. I’m not the one afraid to admit my identity and I will NEVER go anonymous. If you believe what you say, then you shouldn’t either.

A.J. Cordi said...

Jake -

That's a good way of looking at it simply. It's not like they just opened their businesses the other day - they've been here for years now. If anything, we should help these businesses first before inviting the "upscale" markets to the area on a free ride.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 8:13, 6:54, 5:10,

Thanks for taking the time out to comment. I know it's your busy season, what with all those foresclosures and tax sales this time of year. I usually only see hate-filled messages like yours at the Morning Call forum.

Can't you feel the love?

They reinforce the argument that there is, in fact, a growing class divide in this country. Whatever class you're in, please put me in the other. Your comments deserve no response.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be some sort of underlying motive here but it's hard to prove.
Downtowm A-Town needs to be cleaned out and this is one way of doing it. Some business owners are going to pay the price unfortunately for the lack of political involvement. Pat is raising his voice but it's falling on deaf ears. Allentown is still a small blip on the regional radar screen.
The cameras are a real good investment to begin the cleansing process.

The next step is for the city and it's zoning dept to take back the houses that in some cases carry 5 or more individual families.

Jake said...

Aj

These people opened their businesses there because the formula for success was there when they opened. I assume that "foot traffic" and "impulse buying" are a big part of there cash flow. However, if the Powers that be, are dreaming of Prada or Nike opening up, they need a reality check.