Friday, November 30, 2007

Best Republican Presidential Pretender - Is it McCain?

Although there are plenty of presidential pretenders on both sides of the fence, I have yet to find a candidate. Today, I'll give you my take on the Republicans.

Ron Paul: - A libertarian version of Ralph Nader. Neo-Nazis just love him. Need I say more?

Rudy Giuliani: - A scary, thin-skinned and unethical little bastard. "Republican Rudy Giuliani vows to be tough on terror, chooses advisers who want to bomb Iran and doesn't think pretending to drown prisoners is torture." He sounds like Bernie Kieklak. Neo-Nazis are in love with the wrong guy.

Mike Huckabee: - What is it about Arkansas Governors that make them so damn likable? But I'm sorry. People who have to tell me they're Christians every ten minutes usually aren't, and scare the hell out of me.

Mitt Romney: - I'm sure his dog loved being strapped on that car roof. And the illegals who worked for this political peacock never needed a strap - they liked it up there.

Fred Thompson: Zzzzzzzzzz.

John McCain: I thought his campaign had imploded, but he seems to have caught a second wind. Here's how The Washington Times sums him up. "McCain is hawkish on defense, securely pro-life, supportive of constitutionalist judges and scornful of government waste. But he is also convinced of global warming's threat to mankind, a two-time opponent of the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 (though today he supports making them permanent), inclined toward the Kennedy-Bush view of immigration, certain that aggressive interrogation methods amount to unacceptable torture and comfortable with de facto First Amendment restrictionism on campaign finance. He is socially conservative but with libertarian inclinations. In short, he is a selective moral crusader, with a war hero's biography and a sense of mission."

Of all of them, the only one who even remotely sounds like a president is McCain. But I doubt he'll last through the primary. What do you think?

Next week, I'll give my take on the Dems.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Properties of Merit: Garden Rakes For Elitists

If you're a member of the arrogant, elitist, self-proclaimed in-crowd, it's highly unlikely you read these ramblings. You're probably sipping a latte at the local Barnes and Noble, pretending to read Harper's. And you probably already know this anyway.

Just a few weeks ago, golden garden rakes were awarded by Sam Bennett's publicly-funded nonprofit, Properties of Merit, to the owners of deserving Easton properties. Upscale restaurants like Sette Luna and Phenom were competing for that coveted plaque. Coordinator Gary Bertsch, also King of the West Ward, thought it important that College Hill be included, although little community revitalization is needed there. Do folks there really need "the 'Tom Sawyer' power of cleaning up and getting others to join" in?

Maybe their privately-hired landscapers do, but not them.

This program is supposedly intended to give "citizens the opportunity to easily become stakeholders without requiring undue investment of time or money." But it's been perverted into a bunch of "I like me " awards for Lehigh Valley brahmins. In Bethlehem, the nominees include places like Ashley Development and Main Street Commons, both of which were publicly funded. But when I saw the heavily subsidized Allentown Brew Works listed, I headed immediately for the Cappy Crappy.

Dennis Lieb, an Easton activist involved in POM when it initially came to Easton, says this. "I saw the POM placards in the yards of $1 million dollar properties. I know that is not the intent. I also saw perfect examples of what kinds of properties should have been nominated that weren't. That's my take."

He blames Bennett. "The real shame of her lack of commitment to the Easton POM program is that people here really don't understand what it's supposed to be about: Accomplishing the most with the least and encouraging a sense of pride in the neighborhoods of lower to middle income residents. This year's candidates were a group of high end businesses and expensive private homes, some of which are on the market for over a million dollars. This isn't supposed to be about how much you paid for your landscaping or helping rich people sell their inflated-priced houses. It is obvious the people here just don't get it. I arrived late to the awards event this year and the presentations had already begun. As I stood outside, looking through the window, I saw how many of the typical crowd of Easton's wannabes and self-important ass-kissers were in attendance. I turned around and went home."

This program is obviously a complete waste of government money.

Garvin Dumped As Norco Elections Commission Chair

During last year's Lehigh Valley congressional race, WGPA 1100 AM's ran a program called "Checks and Balances." It was dreary hour of highly partisan propaganda delivered in a monotone by host WALLY G.

Just the thing for insomnia!

One day, when Wally G was a guest on Don Russo's show, I decided to call. Before being allowed to say anything, Russo always insisted that callers identify themselves. I did, but then said it's only fair that Wally G identify himself, too. That's when I learned he's really Walter R. Garvin, who at that time was both Democratic Committeeman and area chair. In fact, Wally's radio show was touted on the Norco Dem web page with this little promotion: "Sick of Right-Wing Talk Radio Blather? Tired of them insulting our intelligence? Then tune in to WGPA SUNNY 1100 AM and host WALLY G ..."

Garvin was even the parking valet at an anti-Dent campaign rally late this summer. As I attempted to maneuver my Jeep into the parking lot, Wally wildly waved a "Support the Troops - End the War" sign at me, and directed me where to park, which for some reason was right in the middle of Monocacy Creek.

Wally G is a partisan activist, so what?

Let me explain. Wally G also happens to chair the Norco Elections Commission. According to our Home Rule Charter, party officers are barred. When Republicans found, several had strokes and died. Those who survived went ballistic and made their own signs. "Hang WALLY G, From the Nearest Tree!"

When I complained at a council meeting, Council Solicitor Zito told anyone who was listening that an elections commission is a quasi judicial body. It often makes decisions that are essentially judicial. Members must avoid the appearance of impropriety, and conduct themselves with impartiality.

Soon after that, Garvin resigned as committeeman and area chair, and his radio gig was over. Things seemed to die down.

But not for long. Just a few months ago, Wally G was at it again, hosting another radio show that blames Republicans for everything, from pink eye to the recent flooding along the Delaware. Now when you have county council races in which a Dem wins by just 91 votes, the last thing you need is a partisan elections chair.

Yesterday, county council's personnel committee reviewed county exec Stoffa's appointments to the elections commission. Garvin's name is missing. Now he can devote more time to his radio career. But before he goes on air again, he should spend a few weeks at the Ken Matthews school of broadcasting.

Angle and I are both A students.
Update: The Express Times' Sarah Cassi has a detailed report about Stoffa's new elections commission. He explains his Garvin decision. "I like Walt. I think he's a good person. He's a great Democrat. ... I didn't think he was objective."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Isn't It Time to Stop Political Robo Calls?

Tuesday's USA Today includes an op-ed with some encouraging news about political robo-calls. "Half a dozen states have restricted or banned prerecorded or automated political phone calls, and courts so far have upheld the limits."

Will Wisconsin become the seventh? Legislation banning these calls has been proposed, but Citizens for Civil Discourse Founder Shaun Dakin asks this pointed question - "Is this yet another cynical ploy to get voters to believe that legislators actually want to take away a tool in their voter communication toolbox?"

If Northampton County's recent experience is any guide, it's time to drop this useless tool. It might be cheap, but these unsolicited automated calls just annoy people.

Inside word is that someone in the land of midnight payraises is drafting legislation to stop this madness. Stay tuned.

Angle Suffers Wardrobe Malfunction During Budget Hearing

At last week's Northampton County budget hearing, six council members played hooky, and were tagged by The Express Times. "Missing were Tony Branco, Charles Dertinger, Mike Dowd, Lamont McClure, Ann McHale and Diane Neiper. The people who administer the human services budget -- and those who depend upon these services -- deserve better."

As you may have guessed, everyone was present yesterday, excepting Tony Branco. He doesn't count anyway because Peg Ferraro will be sworn in as his successor at any moment.

It was nice they could all drop by because the agenda included the proposed budget for DA John Morganelli (wants a new ADA), Sheriff Jeff Hawbecker (wants his department accredited just like Easton), Coroner Zach Lysek (gives me funny looks and then smiles), Public Defender Mike Corriere (wants a new assistant, too), Director of Court Services Bill Hillanbrand (he's got a blog so he should get whatever he wants) and President Judge Robert Freedberg (incredibly came in $2 million lower than last year).

The first person in the box, amazingly, was not the President Judge, but Morganelli. In fact, the PJ went last for some reason. Go figure.

That was fine by me. You see, Councilman Ron Angle is a little unhappy with Morganelli right now. He knows Morganelli used his hired gun, Tom Severson, to try and get rid of him. He also knows all about Morganelli's Atiyeh ties. So I brought some marshmallows to roast along with Morganelli.

Angle: "So you'd like a new assistant, eh?"

Morganelli: "Yes."

That's it? 'Fraid so. Something was wrong.

Angle kept giving this goofy look and I thought I heard plumbing noises. He kept leaving the meeting and then coming back, looking more ashen each time. Finally, just as Judge Freedberg got going, so did Angle. He bolted out of the room and down the hall, and it looked like his trousers were exploding.

With Angle gone, the meeting ended in about three seconds. But as I walked down the corridor by the Cappy Crappy, I could hear Angle in there, shouting, "Who's your daddy?"

Reports this evening indicate that the state Environmental Protection Agency has sealed off the Cappy Crappy until further notice.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Following the Money: The Atiyeh Connection

Abraham Atiyeh, referred to by Bill White as Allentown's Rajah of Rezoning, is a busy dude. Aside from his gig at Brookside Construction and Easton Ventures, he's worked hard on nursing homes, developments, Easton's Cinema Paradiso and a failed scheme to redevelop Nazareth's racetrack. He even persuaded Bethlehem planners recently to let him subdivide a cemetery for yet another assisted living facility! Residents there can just look out the window and pick a spot.

As busy as he must be, Atiyeh still finds time for his favorite charity - politicians.

State campaign finance records reveal he's given candidates seeking state office over $260,000 since 2000. FEC records show another $20,000. And he gives generously to candidates seeking local office, although those records are unavailable online.

If they're good, elected officials can always look forward to an envelope in their Christmas stocking. His nice list includes Lisa Boscola ($8,250), Jenn Mann ($7,200) and Doug Reichley ($6,500). But not everyone is good. Craig Dally ($100), Rich Grucela ($0) and John Stoffa ($0) must be on the naughty list.

Naughty or nice, Abe's favorite local pol by far has to be John Morganelli, recipient of a whopping $51,000. A Morganelli protege, Paula Roscioli, received another $16,300 in Atiyeh money when John decided it was time for her to run for judge. Morganelli allies like Lamont McClure and Tony Branco have received $6,000 from Atiyeh and business partner Ramzi Haddad in their county council races. And guess what? They all use Morganelli's consultant, Tom Severson, although Branco denies that very unconvincingly.

So Atiyeh gives Morganelli money. Big deal. After all, how the hell can a DA help a developer?

That questioned was answered in 2003. At that time, Atiyeh was lobbying both Northampton County and Easton to get a KOZ tax break for Easton's Cinema Paradiso, which he had just picked up for $700,000. Morganelli quickly penned a letter to each member of city council, disingenuously telling them this area, located next to the police station, was crime-ridden. Atiyeh blew kisses and promised to bring in white collar businesses from Jersey. But after the KOZ was granted, he leased the Cinema Paradiso to another movie operator, who managed to go broke even with the tax break. Atiyeh recently unloaded a portion of this tract for $1.2 million, nearly doubling his money.

Now Atiyeh has a new scheme. He wants the county to team up with him and Lou Pektor to build a combination assisted living and prison center for nonviolent types in West Easton. Guess who's pushing that project? You got it. Although Morganelli has always claimed his job is done once someone is sentenced and refuses to participate in a periodic review of the prison population, he now is lobbying the county to team up with Atiyeh. That's why John did those robocalls claiming Branco is a crime dog. Tony lost anyway. But Morganelli can still count on Lamont McClure. After all, Lamont's wife works for Morganelli.

Northampton County desperately needs a recidivism center. But teaming up with Atiyeh for anything just rewards the "pay to play" mentality of most developers. And Morganelli needs to remember he's the DA - not the county executive.

I wonder if Abe Atiyeh is an illegal immigrant.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Severson's Attempt To Steal Election Exploding in His Face

Last week, the Northampton County Republican Committee's acting chair, Bob Kilbanks, had a small news conference. After being stalled by DA John Morganelli, Kilbanks has finally asked Attorney General Tom Corbett to investigate campaign consultant Tom Severson, the King of Sleazeball Politics. According to The Express Times, Corbett's spokesperson has already stated, "We'll follow the evidence wherever it leads."

It's leading in some strange directions.

Severson is the hired gun who, during the primary, suddenly turned ronin and launched his own anonymous smear campaign against district judge candidate Brian Monahan. In July, he conducted a push poll aimed right at council member Ron Angle. Just a few weeks ago, he was happily smearing both Angle and council wannabe Peg Ferraro with numerous anonymous robocalls and negative mailers. There has been no disclosure of the expenses involved, even though this is required by elections laws. If you expect John Morganelli to investigate, don't hold your breath.

Morganelli and Severson, Sitting in a Tree ...

They're pals. At least that's what Morganelli tells me. Their relationship goes back at least to 1991, when Severson ran John's campaign against then incumbent DA Don Corriere. That race, incidentally, turned nasty.

Morganelli and Severson have at least one thing in common - they both like dirty politics. A few short months ago, Morganelli was caught, red-handed, using a family email account to smear a potential AG rival. Of course, he was doing it anonymously. He told journalist Brett Lieberman that whoever had used his own family's account was just being "cute and stupid." How about dishonest?

Morganelli must have a hard time suppressing his laughter when someone complains about elections laws. In his sixteen years as DA, I can't think of a single prosecution. Knowingly or not, he has given Severson the green light.

The King of Sleazeball Politics


The phrase, "King of Sleazeball Politics," is used often to describe Severson. I didn't coin it. It first appeared in a 1991 Morning Call story. Severson got that title the old-fashioned way - he earned it. Let's review some of his campaigns.

In 1989, county exec hopeful Jerry Seyfried saw his lead dwindle as anonymous telephone calls, made in the waning days of the campaign, warned voters that Seyfried had accepted money from the owner of a local landfill. DA Don Corriere, challenged by Morganelli, complained they actually used callers who disguised themselves as state ethics commission investigators. Seyfried won. Barely. Corriere went down.

Severson also plays on prejudice. When Len Gruppo was running for the state senate in 1998, Severson distributed an anti-welfare campaign mailer containing a photo of mostly black applicants, standing in line, creating the false impression that most welfare recipients are black.

In 2003, Severson's Precision Marketing was paid $9,600 in public money by DA John Morganelli's Drug Task Force to distribute 20,000 "informational" mailers. They included a large photograph of Paula Roscioli, four times the size of other staffers. She just happened to be running for judge at the time. DA Morganelli assured the Express Times (4/9/03) that Precision Marketing was not doing Roscioli's campaign. While technically correct, Morganelli's statement was misleading. Severson was still running the show, but just used another company. And the idea of using taxpayer funds to promote candidates was pushed again by Severson this Spring. Bucks County commissioners paid him $67,000 in taxpayer money for a thinly disguised campaign ad.

Last year, when Joe Brennan was in a four-way dogfight to capture the Democratic nomination for a state rep seat, he was assailed by three mailers, some of which falsely portrayed him behind bars. After turning over a few rocks, Tom Severson ran out. Brennan's opponent falsely claimed that, since he was never charged for Severson's services, he had no obligation to report this in-kind contribution. To this day, the in-kind contribution appears nowhere on any campaign finance report.

These are just a few examples of Severson's modus operandi - anonymous and misleading calls, appeals to prejudice, drug task force money to promote a candidate, misleading mailers and flying below the radar of our disclosure laws. As disgusting as these tactics sound, Severson has become rich using them.

But Sleaze Politics Pays


Severson usually operates under the corporate umbrella of Precision Marketing, Inc., where he is listed as company prez. Between 2000 and today, that company has collected $9.9 million from candidates seeking state offices.

But when Severson wants to stay under the radar, or is working for Dems, he'll use MJR Services, Inc., a New Jersey corporation whose Pa. address just happens to be where Precision Marketing is located. MJR has collected $281,000 from state office hopefuls since 2000. DA John Morganelli and Judges Roscioli and Panella are part of this gaggle.

It doesn't stop there. Severson keeps everyone guessing with Political Strategies, Inc, a California corporation. Although it's not even registered in Pennsylvania, state senator Lisa Boscola paid that outfit $43,659.65 in 2006. And guess what? Finance reports filed by some local candidates indicate this California corporation just happens to have the same address as Precision Marketing! Since 2000, the total amount paid to this business, in state races, is $170,522.

Keep in mind that this total figure -$10.35 million since 2000 - does not include payments to other companies I know nothing about, or payments made in federal and local races. And it only reflects payments that are on the radar screen.

Tom Severson: To Know Him is Not to Love Him


Although Severson's sleaze tactics have made him wealthy, few local leaders respect him. Morning Call and Express Times archives report some of their comments.

Former Norco GOP chair Charlie Roberts (1994): "He's working both sides of the fence. ... I don't trust him. ... He's done more to hurt this party than anyone. ... "How can he work for Seyfried and Ferraro in the same election? How is working for Seyfried going to do anything but hurt Ferraro's chances? Tom Severson works for his pocketbook. I work for the Republican Party."

Former Norco GOP Chair Larry Kisslinger (1991): "He did not handle his affairs with me in an honest way 99-1/2 percent of the time. ... I hope he makes $1 million. I hope he's comforted with the money surrounding him."

Former Norco Councilman Jim Hemstreet (1991): "If telephone calls are being made ... you have a right to know who you're talking to, what they're paid. ... That is really deceptive campaigning. It's like turning your campaign over to a hired gun."

Norco Judge Emil Giordano (1994): "I never heard anything good about the guy. ... It's sleazeball politics, and he's the leader of the pack."

Morning Call columnist Don Russo (1994, then a member of the GOP): "Severson basically goes to the candidate with the money."

District Attorney John Morganelli (1994): "I went to him because I heard he was the best. I wanted to hire the best person to do the job. I didn't care what party he was. The party thing didn't bother me, and I don't think it bothered Mr. Severson. He's staying with me."

The Anti-Monahan Sleaze


When I first told you about the smear campaign against magisterial candidate Brian Monahan last May, one of Seversons's apologists told me that once the election is over, "the only person still whining about this will be you." Well, the election's over, and it looks like the local Republican party is whining, too. And the state AG is listening. This matter is far from over. In fact, it's just starting. Here's some of what Bob Kilbanks had to say last week (with links to some of the documents he mentions).

"This all began during the primary cycle when some very ugly flyers were sent out against a local District Justice candidate. They had no disclaimer, which is required by Pennsylvania's state election laws on every campaign piece to inform the public about the source of any political information that they receive. There were accusations flying all over Northampton County as to who had sent the three mailers. The mailing permit was traced to a person [Pat Vulcano] who said he had no knowledge of its use. An examination of the paperwork at the Post Office yielded nothing because the signature was unreadable. At that time, local blogger Bernie O'Hare presented the situation to District Attorney Morganelli. Mr. Morganelli told Mr. O'Hare that the matter, as he saw it, did not rise to a prosecutable level. He felt that there was case precedent from Ohio [McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n] that made this allowable under the First Amendment. A few days later, and under question of lawful filing date, an independent financial report was filed at the Voter Registration office under the name of 'John Doe.'

"The report arrived complete with the Ohio decision attached to it and a notarization for a 'John Doe.' The Notary works in the offices of a local politically-connected attorney.
[This attorney just happens to be
Morganelli's campaign treasurer, Jay Leeson]."

Severson's "John Doe" report, of course, is bullshit. He clearly paid more than $500 to send these mailers about a week before the election, but failed to report this expenditure within 24 hours as required by our campaign finance laws. Three mass mailings cost much more than the $861 claimed, and those payments had to be made before the primary, because that's when they were mailed.

How could Leeson's notary, a secretary in his office, acknowledge an anonymous signature? Because he tells her to do so. But a notary exists to identify the person appearing before her, not obscure that person. She must have personal knowledge or satisfactory evidence in the form of a driver's license or other form of identification.

Morganelli Covers For His Pal


According to Kilbanks, "The Republican Committee wrote to Mr. Morganelli and asked him to reexamine the papers because we were afraid that this precedent could lead to only more of the same unattributed smear literature, and perhaps even uglier campaign shenanigans. Mr. Morganelli replied to the Committee with the same answer he gave to Bernie O'Hare."

Rather than address Severson's failure to file a 24 hour report or his misleading "John Doe" statement, Morganelli instead incredibly concludes Severson has a constitutional right to defame someone anonymously. "[W]e will not attempt to enforce these provisions."

Here's my problem. Since Morganelli has a conflict in any allegations against Severson, it's not his call whether or not the elections code should be enforced. In fact, his letter to the Attorney General only dealt with one aspect of the elections code, and was even misleading on that point. Kilbanks' allegations should have been forwarded to the Attorney General so that office could have decided for itself whether an investigation is warranted. Morganelli also should have clearly disclosed the existence of a conflict. He was very quick to condemn an attorney general investigating his own campaign contributors in Bonusgate, but is clearly turning people away when they complain about one of John's pals.

Fortunately, Kilbanks has forwarded all material to Pennsylvania's Attorney General, and the criminal investigation unit is now paying close attention, something that Morganelli has successfully prevented (knowingly or unknowingly) for years.

The Dirty Politics Continue


Because Morganelli refused to make a prompt referral to the Attorney General last Spring, the dirty politics have continued. According to Kilbanks, "Our fears were realized in this past election cycle as unattributed, and very nasty, smear phone calls, whether or not they are considered 'legal,' invaded homes across Northampton County. All of the calls traced back to one phone number [actually, it's two phone numbers - 484-548-6400 and 484-548-6413] that [were] listed as 'not working,' but ownership was traced to a data management corporation in King of Prussia that does robo-calls."

Amazingly, these are the same phone numbers used to do the push polling against Angle in July. The number 484-548-6413 shows up as MCS Industries on Caller ID, and is also the number Lamont McClure used for his robocalls. His campaign consultant? Tom Severson.

Mailings with content identical to these anonymous robocalls were posted with the Northampton County Democratic Committee's bulk mail permit. Lamont McClure, Tony Branco, John Maher and the local Democratic party were obviously using Severson. Against Angle alone, there were twelve negative mailers (estimated cost - $36,000) and twenty-one anonymous robocalls (estimated cost - $31,500). I have not spoken to Peg Ferraro recently, but know of at least four negative mailers and ten anonymous robocalls.

Nothing in the bogus campaign finance reports filed to date reflect anything close to those costs. A concerted effort has obviously been made to keep expenses off the books and under the radar.

If you have any of the negative mailers directed at Angle or Ferraro, please email them to me at BOHare5948@aol.com. I will make sure they are forwarded to the right offices next month.

On December 6, when the 30 day post election reports are filed, it will be pretty clear that there was an attempt to steal this election.
Update: I was more than a little surprised that The Morning Call has an editorial about what's going on. Once again, it appears that Morganelli is actually providing cover for Severson. If he has a conflict, as he insists, then why does he continually try to defend Severson?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Dennis Lieb: Is Easton's Riverwalk Floating Away?

Dennis Lieb attended Tuesday night's Easton Parking Authority (EPA) meeting, and has the only first-hand account: "At tonight's parking authority meeting, representatives of Rizzetto Construction and Tim Haas (garage architect) informed the EPA that project cost is now $29 million!!!

"This is about double the original estimate of 2005, and contingencies (like a sinkhole-prone site) could drive it up even more. They also told EPA that very few local firms can now get bonding for projects over $20 million (something they avoided saying at the January historic review public meeting), that concrete has increased 400% in a year, that steel framing and pilings, rebar, concrete and architectural precast panels are being re-priced on a week-to-week basis and the soonest they can get deliveries is at least 12 months out. I knew all this would happen two years ago when the same people told the LANTA board virtually the same thing at a meeting in Mayor Mitman's conference room, but no one listened to me.

"After this delightful news, EPA's solicitor read a letter received today from Concord Finance - the group providing the bridge loan of $5 million to get this thing started while additional revenue is sought. Concord has concluded that the rising funding gap (now at least $15 million) means that EPA will not be able to cover debt service for the loan out of projected parking revenue as they had previously promised. Concord will not be providing financing.

"After hearing all of this, EPA voted unanimously to once again reject all bids for the project.

"Strike two.

"They then went into closed executive session for 45 minutes to discuss the lawsuit filed by Riverkeeper Network. I'm sure they were trying to come up with a response to the November 30th hearing on the injunction to stop the project. (The public will receive a press release possibly tomorrow informing them that a federal judge has set a hearing date of 11/30/07 to address the motion by Riverkeeper Network for an injunction. The judge has not addressed any of the EPA's three motions for a dismissal.)

"EPA is in a very bad position, having spent lots of money to get nowhere. They tried to pass the buck to Rizzetto for not informing them sooner of the cost overruns but Rizzetto's honchos would have none of it and got pretty feisty, challenging Ferrone directly, telling him that they have been advising EPA since at least March that the project was well over the $23 million mark. They were not going to be EPA's scapegoat and things got pretty testy.

"So, right now we have no garage project in the form that Arcadia desires to have and we will have to see what EPA has up it's sleeve next. They didn't cancel the project...just rejected the bids. Whats next? Who knows, but we are going to court and will see what happens then.

"PS...No press showed up for this meeting. We called all the papers and Ed Seiger of the E-T eventually showed up to take some notes and interrogate the players after the meeting."
Ed Sieger's report, published in The Express Times, is located here. The Morning Call's Jarrett Renshaw, Easton's new beat reporter, also has a well-written report.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Norco Republicans Ask State AG to Investigate Sleaze Politics

If you want to violate Pennsylvania's campaign finance laws, Northampton County is a great place to do it. Not only are theses laws weak, but DA John Morganelli has consistently refused to enforce them.

Let me give you an example. In 2001, Moore Township resident Robert Welsh was the victim of a defamatory anonymous mailer when he sought public office, but Morganelli told him his hands were tied. "[I]t is perfectly permissible for any citizen to distribute anonymous literature to voters." He refused to investigate.

Under Morganelli's tortured interpretation of our election laws, there's no need to place a disclaimer on a campaign mailer. And if that's so, there's really no reason to file campaign finance reports at all. Why bother?

It's funny. Morganelli was all over AG Corbett when the Virginia-based Center for Individual Freedom (CFI) began a "public education" effort obviously designed to promote a candidate for the state high court. He demanded an injunction to force CFI to file a campaign finance report, the only remedy that would prevent irreparable harm in the closing days before the election.

But amazingly, Morganelli refused to lift a finger when local political consultant Tom Severson began his anonymous sleaze campaign against a local magisterial candidate last Spring. He remained silent in July, when Severson started a push poll against Ron Angle, even though that expense appears nowhere on any campaign finance report, even as an in-kind corporate contribution. And when the anonymous robo calls began in earnest against Angle and Ferraro, Morganelli was MIA, even though campaign finance reports fail to reflect the amount of money being spent.

You see, Morganelli and Severson are pals. So John feels it would be a conflict to investigate him. But whenever he has referred a question to the state AG, it has always been a half-hearted request that omits significant details. Severson's style seems to have rubbed off on Morganelli. In September, he started his own anonymous sleaze campaign against a potential opponent in his quest to become state AG.

Today, the Northampton County Republican Committee announced it has asked the state attorney general to investigate Northampton County's dirty politics. I am in the process of scanning all the documents they made available and I'll post them next week.

According to our Elections Code,

* A person who pays for a direct mailing or other ad designed to influence an election must "clearly and conspicuously" identify himself. The author can be anonymous, but the person who pays must disclose.

* Any person who spends more than $100 to advocate the defeat of a clearly identified candidate, is subject to the same reporting requirements as any candidate or committee.

* Any person making an independent expenditure of $500 or more after the final pre-election report, must report that expenditure within 24 hours.

* Corporate contributions are strictly prohibited.

* Violating these laws is a misdemeanor that can get you two years in Northampton County's overcrowded slammer, and District Attorney John Morganelli or Attorney General Tom Corbett has full authority to prosecute.

Next week, when I've scanned the packet supplied by the local Rs, I'll have more to say. Acting Chair Bob Kilbanks summed things up pretty well. "A very poor precedent is being set here."
Update: The Morning Call's brand new reporter, Jarrett Renshaw, has a well-written story concerning yesterday's news conference.

DCED Rejects Allentown Bondslayers

In a nineteen page Order and Opinion, The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development has rejected all but one count of a citizen challenge to a $35 million bond refinancing plan proposed by Allentown.

The claim that still survives, is focused on the useful lives of the projects being refunded. Under the The Local Government Unit Debt Act, a local government financing a new city hall or other project must be able to pay that debt while they are still being used. Their useful lives must outlast the time it takes to repay the bonds. The city's own bond ordinance indicates that the useful life of some projects, funded in 2003, is only between between five and twenty years. But rather than sustain the complaint, the DCED has given Allentown an opportunity to furnish any documentary evidence to show that the useful lives of these projects will outlast the debt repayment.

Mayor Pawlowski tells Morning Call reporter Paul Muschick that the necessary information has already been sent.

The fat lady may not be singing, but I hear her warming up.

The Cappy Crappy

If you walk down the hallowed halls of the new Northampton County government center towards the DA's office, you'll eventually reach an alcove adorned by photographs of local judges (court of first guess) as well as the state's supreme court (court of final error).

Those photographs lead directly into a men's room.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sam Bennett's Sure Fire Way to Bring in Those Congressional Bucks!

Congressional wannabe Sam Bennett has discovered a sure fire way to beef up her campaign warchest. The Allentown Zoning Hearing Board has issued this little notice:

NOTICE is hereby given that the Zoning Hearing Board will meet in Council Chambers, Room #118, City Hall, 435 Hamilton Street, Allentown, PA on Monday, December 3, 2007, at 7:00 p.m. for the purpose of hearing the following appeals.

2. A-61411 25-31 South 15th Street Special Use Appeal of Martin Estrada & S. Loizeaux-Bennett to convert single family dwelling into a 3 GUESTROOM BED & BREAKFAST, being a use permitted by Special Exception under Article 1313.01.B., located in a High Density Residential (R-H) District.

Should Nurses Be Forced to Work OT?

My mom was a nurse. So are two of my sisters. One starts every conversation with, "How are your bowels?" Obviously, they're nutz. But they care deeply about their chosen careers.

Unfortunately, at a time when local hospitals are earning obscene profits, our nurses are inexplicably being forced to work overtime. And that's unhealthy.

As Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) makes clear, "Mandatory overtime exhausts nurses mentally and physically, placing patients’ lives at risk and driving nurses out of the profession. We limit the time that truck drivers and pilots can work to protect public safety. Safe nursing is in the public interest as well." Legislation that restricts mandatory overtime has already been enacted in eleven states.

So how are things in the land of midnight payraises?

Pennsylvania's state house approved legislation in early May to prohibit excessive overtime in health care. Of the Lehigh Valley delegation, only Republicans Craig Dally and Doug Reichley opposed this bill. Currently, the bill languishes in a senate committee, dying a slow death, even though there are twenty-six sponsors.

Is this because the senate is controlled by the GOP? Perhaps it's because there's a growing nurse shortage, but no health care professional should be forced to work if he feels it might endanger patients.
Update: "Actions speak lounder than blogs." That's how one person reacted to today's post. So what can we do? State rep. Joe Brennan answers that question, suggesting that we become citizen-sponsors to legislation ending mandatory OT for health care professionals.

Who'd Like a Holiday Kitty?

A friend has four of these little cuties. "These rascals are priced to go! If we can’t beat our competitor’s price you can just have the kitten! No really, take 2! Remember, nothing makes a better Holiday Gift than a cute pet!"

If interested, drop me an email - BOHare5948@aol.com.

Kathy Frederick Remembers Catholic Grade School

Kathy Frederick, who's smart enough to stay away from political topics, has a nifty little blog called The Junk Drawer. She's really having fun, too. If you're looking for a little bit of humor from someone who doesn't take herself too seriously, do yourself a favor and check her out. I loved her "Scary, Hairy Chocolate-Covered Cherry" story, but she topped herself today with a story about her days at Catholic grade school. Here's a small sample.

Fact 1: I had to wear a plaid uniform every day, which could be worn only with a white blouse, white or green socks, and sensible shoes. The only thing that made you unique was the length of your skirt. The popular girls always wore them short, short, short!

Fact 2: My skirt was one of the longest of any girl’s in the school. The rule was “Hemlines below the knee.” The only Moms who followed that rule were mine and the mother of a girl who went on to become a nun.

Fact 3: I wore glasses from kindergarten to third grade. To jack up the ridicule quotient, I also had to wear a patch over one eye to improve the strength of the other, though thankfully, not during school. But I was still known as the poor little Pirate Girl by people who saw me wear it.

Fact 4: I had kinky curly hair and tried to wear it as a shag. I have pictures of how this looks, but they’re in a safe-deposit box where they can’t hurt me anymore.

Fact 5: The first four letters in my last name were M-E-S-S, which lent itself to some interesting name-calling by all the mean girls, as in “Kathy, did you mess yourself today?”
My Catholic grade school experience was similar to what Kathy tells us. I had to wear those damn plaid skirts, too. Having BO as my initials didn't help much, either.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dave's Daily Rant: He's Baaaack!

He's baaaack! After a year-long hiatus, Dave's Daily Rant is back in action, posting blogs that slam GW, Congressional Dems and even Aqua Dots. I really missed that bastard, and enjoy reading his quirky opinions once again.

LC Exec Cunningham Announces Affordable Housing Grants

Shhh! Don't tell Joe Long. I just received a news release from Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham concerning affordable housing. At a time when rising home prices are making it impossible to buy real estate, Cunningham's proposal is absolutely necessary.

Allentown: Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham announced this year’s round of grant awards from Lehigh County’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund today.

"It is painfully obvious that many of today’s working families in the Lehigh Valley are struggling with the high costs of housing and home ownership," said Cunningham. "That’s why we commissioned the affordable housing task force, and that’s why, for the first time in over three years, we’re leveraging over a million dollars of county funds to create new affordable housing, fund a home ownership assistance program and create pride in home ownership in struggling neighborhoods."

This year’s round of grants represent a total investment of $1,450,000, which leverages total investments of $34 million, creating 423 new housing units and helping at least 25 families purchase homes for the first time through a home ownership assistance program.

Money for this fund is not realized from property taxes or the County’s general fund. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund is funded by recording fees on mortgages and other recorded documents.

Last year Cunningham, together with Northampton County Executive John Stoffa, commissioned a bi-county affordable housing task force to make recommendations on how to create and preserve more affordable housing across the Lehigh Valley. One outgrowth of that activity was the creation of a Lehigh County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. Cunningham accepted the committee’s recommendations to fund the following projects:

1) Neighborhood Housing Services of the Lehigh Valley will be awarded $200,000 for its Home Ownership Outreach, or HOOP, program. The HOOP program provides first-time home buyers with down payment and closing cost assistance as well as individual counseling related to the purchase of their first home.

2) Pennrose Properties, LLC, will be awarded $500,000 to fund the home ownership portion of its project in conjunction with the Allentown Housing Authority at Overlook Park in East Allentown. The Overlook Park Project includes the demolition of the former Hanover Acres Housing Projects and the construction of a mixed residential housing community on the same site.

3) Housing Association and Development Corporation of Allentown will be awarded $300,000 in 2007 and $200,000 in 2008 to help fund the construction of twenty-six owner-occupied townhouse units on North Street in Allentown. The North Street Project includes acquisition and demolition of an entire city block that had become an eyesore after fire and abandonment. The new owner-occupied units will feature a homeowner’s association and home ownership counseling.

4) Habitat for Humanity of the Lehigh Valley will be awarded $200,000 to fund site acquisition and construction of up to 6 homes. The homes will be constructed using the Habitat development model, which creates pride in ownership by having participants volunteer their time building houses for themselves and others.

5) The City of Allentown will receive $250,000 for site acquisition and development of new affordable housing units at 826 Turner Street in the city. This funding will be specifically applied to the new, affordable development of 826 Turner Street as part of Allentown’s larger "Old City" Project.

The grant awards must be approved by the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners before they become final. The Board is scheduled to discuss the grants at its December 12 meeting.
Update: Lehigh County Commissioner-elect Dean Browning has also proposed a "One House at a Time" initiative, designed to encourage private entrepreneurs to get involved. In the cities and older boroughs, inclusionary zoning is also a way to protect low-income residents from being priced out of a community by gentrification.

LANTA & Easton: The Sequel?

When LANTA rerouted buses for its new Allentown terminal, it did so without considering any adverse impact on small merchants who depend on bus traffic. It also ignored their complaints until business owners and bus riders invaded a board meeting last week. Now, it's finally making some changes.

But is it also getting ready to make the same mistake in Easton?

Last week, a reluctant LANTA conducted a public hearing on the environmental impact of Easton's controversial Riverwalk project, where the key to public money is a bus terminal in a flood plain, at the bottom of a fourteen story monster building. Easton's Dennis Lieb is one of the forty or so who attended. He claims nearly everyone who spoke is opposed to the notion of a bus station in a flood plain. Here is Dennis' report.

The bottom line with this project is this: LANTA has a pot of gold amounting to $4 million. It would normally not be available to any entity all at one time because lease payments for a transit facility housed in another building would usually be paid out monthly. Because LANTA has chosen to use their FTA capital improvements grant in the form of a 99 year lease payment in advance, it creates a pool of funds that many entities (Arcadia Development, Easton Parking Authority, etc.) would like to grab. It serves to defer construction costs for non-transit related projects in this so-called "public-private partnership" scam.

As they did in Allentown, LANTA has made a decision to subsidize construction of a parking facility whose need has no basis in reality. As oil becomes more scarce, the requirement to house more cars in our cities will no doubt be replaced by the need to house more people in denser, more pedestrian oriented neighborhoods - hopefully with access to rail service at some point. The bus/car paradigm is dying but our local bureaucratic bodies like LANTA still don't understand that they are supposed to be a transportation authority, not exclusively a bus company. Also, as in Allentown, LANTA has given little consideration to the impact that arbitrary relocation of bus transfer points will have on small, locally owned businesses. The fall-out from this has already created a firestorm of protest along Hamilton Boulevard resulting in 1,800 people petitioning LANTA to "fix" the problem.

This same pattern is now being foisted on Easton, where an even smaller core of local store owners struggle to survive off of the business generated by LANTA and NYC commuter bus riders along the the Third Street/Northampton Street axis. If this Riverwalk project proceeds (which I doubt as it is now clearly millions of dollars short of construction funding within a terrible real estate climate), it will destroy what is left of downtown and plunge the city off the cliff of fiscal solvency.

The Environmental Assessment process for this project is open to anyone for comment. The deadline is November 26th. The EA is available for review on LANTA's website and associated documents are located at the Easton Public Library. If any of you would like to make official comments I can forward the information regarding that process. If any of you would like to sign a form letter in protest of the project, I can forward you that information from the Delaware Riverkeeper website. They are the ones who have filed a federal lawsuit to halt the project. Any and all help would be greatly appreciated. You would not only be helping us stop a desperately flawed project but you would be sending a message to LANTA that their continued disregard for the public good will no longer be accepted.

Bad News for Don Cunningham

Pennsylvania Progressive tells us, on the basis of an Inky report, that
Rendell's money people are meeting with [Allegheny County Exec. Dan] Onorato at Citizen Bank Park and if they coalesce behind him he'll be tough to beat. These folks raised $30 million for Rendell and would provide Onorato substantial backing in Philadelphia in addition to Pittsburgh.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Schimmel Concedes Norco Controller Race

From Steve Barron, Northampton County Controller elect:

"I spoke with Mr. Schimmel this afternoon. After the final canvassing of the machines the final margin of victory will be 414 votes. He wished me the best of luck as the new Northampton County Controller.

I thanked him for running a great campaign and appreciate the clean campaign that he ran. I also wished him the best of luck with the grandchild that his family is expecting."


These are two class acts.

LANTA Finally Responds to Allentown's Hamilton Street Merchants

According to the Express Times, LANTA has finally responded to Allentown's suffering Hamilton Street merchants. The plan is to run a bus from its transportation hub along Hamilton Street over the holidays. It will also assist merchants with a marketing campaign.
Update: LANTA board member Ann McHale has been kind enough to email a news release that details both the need for temporary improvements as well as a long-term solution. Here's what LANTA has to say.

Lehigh Valley, PA – At their regular monthly public Board meeting this past Tuesday, November 13, the Board of Directors of the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority was asked by a number of Hamilton Mall merchants and bus riders to make some accommodation for service along the Mall.

Service along Hamilton Street in downtown Allentown was changed on September 4, 2007 with the opening of the Allentown Transportation Center (ATC). Part of the benefits of the ATC is that buses can be routed in a more efficient manner through downtown Allentown with the central focus of transfers being the new center between 6th and 7th Street. One of the outcomes of this change was the reduction of the number of buses traversing Hamilton Street between 9th and 6th Streets. Eliminating the many bus trips from this narrow and congested area was an effort to streamline operations in and out of the central business district.

Mall Merchants and some bus riders stated at the Board meeting that their businesses were negatively affected due to a reduction of bus passenger patronage, and that navigating to the new ATC was causing hardship for some riders.

During the discussion, members of the Board expressed concern that any immediate changes not confuse transit riders, and not negatively impact long-term decisions on the downtown routing patterns and the effectiveness of the Allentown Transportation Center. However, based on a desire to take action, as may be appropriate, to address the concerns raised, LANTA will move forward with the following.

Immediate Action

1) Merchant Marketing Program. LANTA is willing to assist in a marketing / promotional effort of the merchants along Hamilton Street. The Authority is prepared to meet with merchants to discuss such a program.

2) Downtown Circulator / Holiday Season. LANTA will operate a downtown circulator service which will connect the Allentown Transportation Center to Hamilton Street (between 9th & 6th) throughout the holiday season. The circulator would begin service Wednesday, November 21, 2007. It would operate Monday through Saturday (exclusive of holidays) starting at 10:30 a.m. and ending at 5:00 p.m. The last day of service will be Saturday, December 29, 2007.
The estimated net cost is $14,000. The cash fare for the circulator will be 50 cents. Passengers with day passes and senior citizens will have free access. Transfers will be accepted. The fares are the same as those for other LANTA circulator services – the Whirly Bird and Rover.


Future Action

A more complete review of downtown operations has begun. This includes a review of the experience during the first months of operation to the new Allentown Transportation Center and the potential for improving stops on North – South cross Streets between 9th and 6th at Hamilton. The intent is to include the results of this review in the next operating schedule board set for implementation in early February 2008. A report will be presented at the December 4, 2007 meeting of the Operations/Metro Committee.

An analysis of the information being presented to LANTA customers relative to the ability to board and alight LANTA Metro services in and about the Allentown Central Business District will be completed as well. Better information will assist the transition to the new center city Metro operations. The results of the circulator service will be evaluated as well.

"We are pleased to be able to offer these actions to help the merchants and riders in downtown Allentown," stated Armand Greco, LANTA Executive Director, "It was clear from the passion expressed by those at the meeting this week, that some effort needed to be made and made quickly. We are happy to assist in the short term with these temporary improvements, as we continue to complete a long-term analysis."
Update #2: Before I posted LANTA's press release, Mike Molovinsky asked me to link to his opinion about the short-term solution. In fairness, I need to point out that Mike was unaware that LANTA is also planning future changes, to be implemented by February 2008.

Public Health Getting Contagious in Northampton County

Standing room only!

That was the scene at last night's Northampton County Council, where nearly seventy people crammed into a jury lounge serving as a makeshift meeting room. All the heavies were there, from Bert Daday, on behalf of the aristocratic and normally secretive Lehigh Valley Partnership, to Alan Jennings, on behalf of the CACLV. They were on hand to promote a "Joint Northampton-Lehigh County Department of Health" ordinance.

As Council Prez Grube told them before the meeting ever got under way, they all pretty much wasted a trip. Since the actual public hearing on this ordinance must wait for two weeks, Council Solicitor Lenny Zito suggested they might want to save their best arguments for that day.

Five people spoke anyway.

One of them was LVP honcho Bert Daday, who probably should have listened to Grube. He instructed Northampton County Council that a regional department of health has been one of his group's priorities since 1995. That made council member Ron Angle curious.

"Is your group public or private?"

Daday: "Private. We include 35 CEOs."

"Where do you meet, in some hotel room or something?"

Daday: "We meet quarterly --"

"Are your meetings open to the public?"

Daday: "Our meetings are not open to the public, we're a private organization --"

Lamont McClure came to Daday's rescue with a "point of order" or something before Angle could really get started, and Grube shut Angle down. But I know where Angle was headed. He resents the idea that a bunch of back room aristocrats think they can dictate public policy.

Although I share that resentment, a good idea is still a good idea. And a regional health department is a very good idea, even if it's supported by the Lehigh Valley Partnership.

Dr. David T. Lyon, who chairs the Northampton County Interim Board of Health, drove that point home last night. Here are some of his arguments.

1) Areas with local health departments tend to be healthier.

2) $3.2 million in state taxes paid by Lehigh Valley residents are being used to fund public health elsewhere simply because we lack a health department.

3) A regional approach to public health is economical, provides better access to grants, and will make this area more responsive to public health threats like communicable diseases, that don't stop at county boundaries.

Sounds like a no-brainer. But this is the People's Republic of Northampton County, so stay tuned.

The crowd evaporated as soon as Council Prez Grube said, "First order of business, public hearing on the 2008 real estate tax millage ordinance." At that point, county bean counter Doran Hamann got up and complained, "I thought everyone came for the budget hearing."

Later that night, as council churned through tax abatement ordinances, Angle was still undecided over the notion of a regional health department. Finally, he asked Stoffa whether he supported the idea.

Stoffa: "Yes, very much."

"Can we get together sometime in the next two weeks?"

Stoffa: "If you promise to listen."
Update: The Morning Call's Joe Nixon provides the background leading up to last night's pproposal, and The Express Times' Sarah Cassi notes that some complain there are unanswered questions.

Pennsylvania Online Transparency Tools

According to a report released today by Good Jobs First, a corporate welfare watchdog, Pennsylvania is ranked 4th in the nation for its online disclosure of corporate tax breaks and other economic development subsidies. Its procurement contracts and lobbying disclosures, however, need online improvements.

Pennsylvania's subsidy disclosure website is located here, and it is a pretty nifty little tool. From the beginning of this year until today, there have been 91 grants in Northampton County alone, including $100,279.00 for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. In Lehigh County, there have been 99 grants, including $20,000 for salaries and fringes at Properties of Merit.

Pennsylvania's less friendly procurement website is located here, and its lobbying details are here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Morning Call Forum Has a Bernie O'Hare Impersonator

I must be doing something right. Someone is so pissed at me that he has started using the Morning Call Forum, disguised as me, to say some pretty disgusting things. Here are a few recent comments attributed to me.

1) Giuliani to hit up Lehigh Valley for 2008 funds
"i cant wait, i plan on attending with an erection to see the next president of the united states of america
http://lehighvalleyramblings.blogspot.com/
"

2) Jury deadlocked in Bethlehem Twp stabbing trial
"typical N is going to get away with being an N"

3) Lame duck Easton mayor unveils 14 percent tax hike
"this is the reason this jew got voted out in the first place
maybe Panto and his hitler ways will change the course of Negro loving Easton and their pimp and ho parties
http://lehighvalleyramblings.blogspot.com/ "


Someone is trying to marginalize me. At first, remarks like these were posted here. They started when the election began to heat up. Since I deleted them and started tracking this person, he's decided to post his slime at The Morning Call forum.

But you see, just like the anonymous robocalls and slime campaign mail, this tactic is already backfiring. Instead of driving traffic from my blog, it's picking up.

Gee, thanks!
Update: The slime campaign continues! Since this morning's post, the slime campaign against me has continued.
1) Suspect in Phila. police killing being held in Allentown "now he can teach the criminals in lehigh county how to shoot cops, I predict within 6 months an Allentown officer will be killed in the line of dutyhttp://lehighvalleyramblings.blogspot.com/ "

Left Wing Attack Blog Rated #1 For Two Weeks Straight

Blognet's Top Twenty is a weekly listing of the state's most influential poliblogs. Some weeks, I don't make the list at all. But for the past two weeks, I've been rated #1.

Whoopee!

Tempted as I am to pat myself on the back and start thanking the little people who helped me get where I am, I have to look at who's right behind me. According to those wacky wizards at Blognet, the second most influential poliblog is Tony Phyrillas. Phyrillas, you may recall, is that courageous "conservative columnist working in a liberal-dominated media." Somebody's got to do it! Recently, this leading Greek-American blogger was keynote speaker at a $24 breakfast in Pottstown. (Don't know how I missed that one!)

Did I mention this mainstream meanie is also a plagiarist? When I pointed that out, Phyrillas retorted that I'm obviously one of those "left wing attack blogs" out to get him.

Tony had a bit of an ethical problem, not that he ever let on. You see, he's a mainstream columnist and city editor at The Pottstown Mercury, which recommends Tony's blog. He's also a Mount Penn Borough Councilman. That's a no no. Voters resolved Tony's ethical dilemna for him. He finished fourth of four candidates for reelection.

Not to worry. With his extra time, Tony is now reviewing films like Shrek on his automatically reloading blog.

Phyrilis is #2? He certainly is, and you can take that any way you want. But if he's #2, that makes my rank meaningless.

I prefer being called a "left wing attack blog," even though I supported more Republicans than Dems in the last election. It has a nice ring.

McHale Comes Through For Struggling Hamilton Street Merchants

Ann McHale should be angry at me. During her reelection bid, I supported her opponent, Tom Dietrich. What's worse, I criticized her imperious style. Yet Ann McHale is the only LANTA board member who responded to an email I sent to each after Tuesday's meeting.

She has some promising news for Allentown's Hamilton Street merchants. "[T]he Business Development/Operations Committee discussed this very matter (I brought the subject up). The overall outcome is to try to work out a plan that addresses the merchants &/or riders concerns. Prior to adjourning, the Board requested the Administration work out a plan and have something to us by this Friday. Hopefully it will be something everyone will be satisfied with. I'll let you know."

LANTA's Board Could Use a Little More Color

At yesterday's meeting of LANTA's board of directors, the only color I saw was in the peanut gallery. Its large, twelve-member board, appears to be entirely white, and only three are women. Of these three, only Northampton County Council member Ann McHale may cast a vote. This board has no resemblance to Lehigh Valley demographics, where woman actually outnumber men and we have just a tad more diversity.

Perhaps that's why, at least until now, LANTA has failed to even acknowledge the plight of the mostly minority-owned businesses along Allentown's Hamilton Street. In September, board member Steve Schmitt smugly dismissed these merchants. "They wanted something to complain about, basically." And yesterday, he actually challenged their honesty. "I find it hard to believe. ... I'd like to see the books."

Would Schmitt be this insensitive if the affected merchants were white?

LANTA's board needs more diversity.

After yesterday's board meeting, I sent emails to each board member. The only one to respond was its sole female voting member, Ann McHale, whom I've called imperious.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Peg Ferraro To Take Office Next Week

Most elected officials must wait until January. But Peg Ferraro will take office as an at-large member of Northampton County Council sometime next week, as soon as election results are official. You see, Peg was actually running for a vacant seat. Although Tony Branco was appointed by fellow council members, he lacked the voters' stamp of approval. Voters trump council. Democracy.

J. Spike Rogan's Dirty Little Secret

Yesterday, an anonymous commenter tipped me off about J. Spike Rogan. This Easton city council wannabe is actually John Kruk's long lost son. Although he may lack his dad's baseball talents, Spike apparently inherited his father's fondness for hot dogs.

Hamilton Street Merchants Stare Down LANTA, & LANTA Blinks

LANTA's monthly board meetings are normally sleepy affairs. The Morning Call's Dan Hartzell tells us he's usually the only guest there. That changed yesterday when board members were awakened by a large and angry confedaracy of twenty-four merchants and bus riders, allied over recent bus route changes that have destroyed business along Allentown's Hamilton Street. After seeing them in person, LANTA has finally blinked.

Conveniently scheduled at high noon, it was virtually impossible for working people to attend. But twenty-four merchants and riders still crossed the wet 8th Street bridge and forged their way to LANTA HQ at 1060 Lehigh Street. Some merchants simply closed their shops. Mike Molovinsky and I ran a shuttle service, going back and forth. A local Korean association also bused merchants who were too afraid to get into a car with me. Wheelchair Jim, who must be turbocharged, beat us all. Believe it or not, we had to leave some folks behind. I was tempted to ask LANTA to send a bus.

Because there were only a few seats and a twelve-member board, most of us had to stand. That gave me a better view of the board. As one of my friends whispered to me, "Now, there's a diverse group." The skin tone ranged between lilly white and ash grey.

Perhaps that's part of the problem.

In vast contrast to the seated big wigs, there was a wide assortment of minorities in the peanut gallery - Korean, Chinese, Guatemalan, etc. And everyone knows Molovinsky is from Mars. The cultural divide was obvious, and I could see it in the looks on some board members' faces.

Fortunately, LANTA started the meeting by allowing the public to speak, and they were willing to listen. They listened to twelve different merchants and riders. And Wheelchair Jim chimed in at least three times.

The owner of the Indian Boutique told LANTA that on Halloween, he was robbed by two masked men. Because a nearby bus stop had been removed and the street was deserted, there were no witnesses. Allentown's vaunted surveillance cameras were no help, either.

And so it goes.

Merchant after merchant stood up to speak of declining sales. But Bibi Hazra, who owns the Loco Dollar Store, was not herself. I later discovered why. She had to pawn her jewelry yesterday to get the power back on in her store. She finally broke down in tears to Channel 69 reporter Bo Koltnow, who has a terrific report.

Wheelchair Jim expresses the sentiment of many riders. "It sure gets my Dutch dandruff up to hear that people are getting pushed around and must cancel their life insurance."

After everyone had spoken, LANTA chair Donald Lipson thanked everyone for coming, and said they would decide what to do at the next board meeting, scheduled for December 11. That brought Jim out of his wheelchair. "We need a decision now. Why can't you take a vote now so we know what's going on?"

"That's not the way we operate," answered Lipson.

At this point, a quiet woman in the crowd spoke up, and mentioned that the board does need to act quickly. "The Christmas season is coming. Most of these businesses rely on that to make their year."

Lipson then suddenly reversed course, and said LANTA would move quickly to implement changes, perhaps by Thursday.

Perhaps this is because the woman who made this request is Ellen Millard-Kern, and she just happens to be chief of staff for State Senator Pat Browne.

Merchants and bus riders may finally have another ally, too. According to Bo Koltnow's report, Mayor Ed Pawlowski finally called LANTA today on behalf of Allentown's suffering merchants.

After we had all left the building, board member Steve Schmitt had another amazing display of insensitivity. He's the LANTA board member who previously claimed Hamilton Street merchants just "wanted something to complain about, basically." Yesterday, he whined, "I find it hard to believe. ... I'd like to see the books."

If he really wanted to do that, all he had to do was ask instead of waiting for everyone to leave so he could talk behind their backs.

Regardless of Schmitt, LANTA finally appears to be willing to make some changes.

It just might save a few businesses.