Friday, August 28, 2009

Cunningham's "Luck"


Have you ever noticed that good-looking women are often trashed in the workplace? They're often portrayed as sluts or superficial bimbos, especially by their female co-workers. Although less noticeable, I think this happens to men, too. In fact, I think that's what Morning Call columnist and blogger Bill White just did to Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham.

I know what it's like to be exceptionally good-looking. I cry myself to sleep nearly every night, asking "Why, why do I have to be so handsome? I wish I could be ugly for just one day. What's it like, Bill?"

Cunningham, Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent and Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan all have the advantage and curse of being like me - youthful and relatively handsome. These qualities undoubtedly enhance their voter appeal, but it hurts them in other corners, especially among jealous columnists. Charlie Dent, for example, is often portrayed as an "empty suit." Yet it would be no easy task to find anyone in this area as knowledgeable about national issues and foreign policy. Cunningham and Callahan are similarly dismissed as lightweights who just rely on their good looks and pearly white smiles. It happens to me, too. You have no idea how many women I turn down daily. It's not easy.

As he does every year, Cunningham yesterday delivered a speech outlining Lehigh County's finances next year. (Full text here). That sounds like pretty dull stuff, but it was perhaps the best address I've ever heard from a local official, a beacon of light to people who've lost jobs and homes. Well over two hundred people listened to Don, a distinguished audience that included most of our community leaders.

I may have missed him because I was surrounded by women, but one person I did not see was Morning Call columnist and blogger Bill White. Come to think of it, I've never seen him at a Lehigh County Commissioners' meeting. Yet in his daily blog, White quotes from Cunningham's speech, repeating a pledge that there will be no tax increase next year. Then he goes on to claim that Cunningham is just one lucky guy. He's able to use a tax relief fund set up for specifically that purpose. This is Bill's polite way of saying that Cunningham is just sliding by, relying on his good looks and charm.

Cunningham is just lucky? Let's talk a little about his luck.

His mom died when he was 14. When he was Bethlehem's mayor, Bethlehem Steel pulled out and the city lost 20% of its tax base in one year. The country goes into recession when he is LC County Exec, drying up the tax base there. That's the luck of the Irish, Bill. It's why most of us left Ireland and moved here.

In reality, Cunningham is an exceptional public servant whose youth and charm belie a steely resolve. He has made his own luck. Yes, he draws on a tax relief fund specifically established by a Republican County Executive for that purpose. White neglects to mention that Cunningham actually put money into that relief fund when times were good. Now that times are tough, he is drawing down, which is exactly what a responsible leader is supposed to do. Is he supposed to impose a tax increase during a recession just so that he does not deplete the tax relief fund set up for that reason?

Cunningham does not touch another, $20 million, tax stabilization fund, set aside for rainy days. White predicts that fund is next.

White neglects to mention that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recently ordered the State to fund court operations, which translates to $26 million in Lehigh County. When that money comes in, the county will be able to replenish the tax relief fund.

White also neglects to mention that Cunningham has limited government growth to just 1.03% per year during his first 4 years. That's well below the rate of inflation.

In addition to controlling growth, Cunningham has scrimped on the one item that really makes a difference in a county budget - personnel. Did you know that employment in LC is at its lowest level since 1990? Name one other local government that can match that. He has accomplished this without laying off anyone. He's relied instead on attrition and what he calls a "hiring frost," carefully scrutinizing whether each new hire is necessary.

The key to Cunningham's success is fiscal discipline, not luck. Dismissing his accomplishments as the product of mere chance, is inaccurate and reflects a bias against someone simply because he happens to be charming.

48 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow ohare, you loved White when he helped elect your mancrush Stoffa. Hell, between he and Angle, Reibman took a daily pounding. White never even reported on Stoffa's record as an administrator in Lehigh County.

Now White goes after another flame and you go all snarky and throw a hissy fit. Which is it? White is great when he props up the incompetent Stoffa but he is wrong to voice concern over Don. I think Don is a very good Executive but White has a job to do and cannot not always oblige you and your bromancess'.

Wow ohare you are one fickle dude.

Anonymous said...

Bernie's problem is that White tries to be fair in assessing politicians. Bernie can't comprehend that concept.
Call it the "No criticism of my heroes allowed" zone.

Anonymous said...

There you go again, referring to women as sluts. This is why we are so disgusted by you.
You are about as sophisticated as a caveman.

Anonymous said...

excellent piece, Bernie

Carol said...

Bernie, question for you, yesterday my grandaughter, Maddie, was interviewed at the Allentown Art Museum as one of 4 girl scouts for Girls Empowered; however, she doesn't remember the Mayor's PR man, I told her I would email you and you would know. Thank you, Carol

Anonymous said...

To 8:02
Which Mayor?

Anonymous said...

Cunningham never really took on a tough challenge.

Bethlehem was surely a success under Callihan but it was well positioned with 378 and a regional school district log before Cunningham stepped on the scene.

Bethlehem in many ways functions as Allentown's eastern suburb. That city's challenges certainly didn't hurt his initiatives in Bethlehem.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Carol, His name is Mike Moore.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"that White tries to be fair in assessing politicians"

He's not being fair at all. He is allowing a bias against good-looking guys to discount anything they accomplish as mere "luck."

He's alao being lazy. He obviously did not read Cunningham's speech, but just skimmed it before jumping to his conclusion, or he would have seen that luck had nothing to do with Cunningham's success. I'd like to know the last time he actually attended a commissioners' meeting. Five years ago? If he wants to snark Cunningham, he should at least do his homework.

If he was not at Cunningham's speech, he should have told his readers. He quotes from the speech and creates an implication that he was there.

I can't agree w/ Bill all the time, and this is one instance in which I disagree pretty strongly. What bothers me most is not his opinion, but that it is so poorly informed. I have posted this blog, posted a comment on Bill's blog, and called him yesterday, too. He claims he has pointed out much of what I say, but if he really did, he would not attribute Don's success to luck.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"There you go again, referring to women as sluts"

I never referred to women as sluts, but was pointing to a common misperception about attractive women. That qwas fairly clear, and you are deliberately distorting what I wrote.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:45,

How can you say such a ridiculous thing? Were you in Bethlehem in the early to late 90's? I was and am still there, worked/work in the downtown and saw the transformation - and none of it "just happened".

Orr's was shuttered (now Main St Commons), the Hotel Bethlehem was closed (and was seriously in danger of becoming a assisted living-facility until he worked with investors to buy the Hotel) and Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt and shut down. Do you think Bethlehem's economic health changed by accident? He worked very hard to bring new and diverse businesses into the city to build up the tax base.

Everything that is working in Bethlehem- even the Sands Casino development - was made possible by the investment that Cunningham made in the infrastructure.

The only public parking facility closed at 6pm. until Cunningham insisted they keep it open (literally cars were locked in the garage if they were not gone by 6pm). There was great resitance to build the North St. parking garage until he made it happened...and this is, by the way, now almost filled to the brim during the day. They are now looking to do another one because of demand - which means more businesses with more employees are settling in town.

Broad St was closed for decades in a failed attempt to compete with the malls and its closure hampered business operations, it then reopened without any Bethlehem taxpayer dollars under his administration.

There were economic development loans given to restaurants - something that never happened before - and that made it possible for "Restaurant Row" which has greatly improved the economics of the downtown.

He forged a relationship with Greg Farrington, the former President of Lehigh U and they formed a "town-gown" partnership which made it possible to have those acorn street lights that adorn 3rd St. Since Cunningham and Farrington have gone, that relationship has been virtually non-existent.

He put millions of dollars of improvements onto the SouthSide to make the environment better for businesses to settle.

He put more police on the street and set up a community policing operation that prevented the crime that you see in other mid size cities.

NO CHALLENGES??? Bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Bill might say he's lucky but I say he's very smart. He was the one that made the decision to run against Jane Ervin knowing she managed the tax increase ineptly. He had to know he could do wonders with that situation: politically and financially.

You make your own luck if your smart enough.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bethlehem, without question, is the most beautiful city in the LV, completely unlike both A-town and Easton. Much of that is due directly to initiatives started by Cunningham and continued by Callahan. It was not "luck," but hard work and good leadership that is too often discounted bc Cunningham is youthful and handsome.

Anonymous said...

I cannot comment on Cunningham's "handsomeness"...I really don't think he's as handsome as he is competent. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man rules. Cunningham stands out from today's "leaders" because he does his job and does it fairly well. Bethlehem shines today because unlike the other cities, it has had better, more competent leadership in the mayor's office (and council) going back several years.

Back in 1961, Bethlehem changed its government from commission to "strong mayor". Since then, there have been a succession of competent men to hold office. Non politicians like Ken Smith and Gordon Payrow, both R's, cancelled out the typical type like Paul Marcincin, and overall, for whatever reason, Bethlehem has had the right guy in office at the right time. All of the points made by "Anon 10:33" are spot on.

If we could only persuade DC to run the BASD, we'd be in great shape!

Voice Of Reason

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:45-

Ouch- What's it like to completely miss something after taking a swing at it?

Like Cunningham or not, the only thing a smart person cannot say is that "he faced no challenges" as mayor of Bethlehem. Bethlehem was going nowhere fast and was facing a cruel fate when he became mayor. Like a baseball manager, mayors usually get too much blame if things go wrong and maybe too much credit when there happens to be success. Truth be told, Cunningham's true skill seems to be his inate ability to forge partnerships, bringing people together after identifying a problem...in an attempt to solve said problem. Would Pektor save the Orr's building without Cunningham? Would Hotel Bethlehem become reborn under a different leader? Would Broad Street's reopening, leading to development of two vancant for thirty years corners (Broad & Main, New & Broad)happen under a different mayor? No one knows for certain, but why not give credit as easily as you seem inclined to dismiss? These were actual, real, documented situations that existed for quite a while and several previous mayors did not, could not (would not?) face.

A mayor needs to be a broken field runner these days and Cunningham has what it takes. It's only too bad there are term limits for mayors in Bethlehem. He deserves to stay in office, but I can understand his need to chase a dream.

Get past your blind hatred and uncomfortable lack of intellect and give credit when due.

VOR

Anonymous said...

Anon 1118 is correct. Bethlehem has had a series of great mayors and councils. Don inherited many positive changes from the Smith administration. Many things you complimented him on were Smith initiatives. Also Smith left him with a solid budget. That being said, Don came in and ran with the ball and did a good job. He was also left in great fiscal shape by Jane Ervin. But again he ran with it and did a good job

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

Having been saddled with an artist’s brain from birth budgets discussions are not my forte. None the less I do feel compelled to weigh in on the love fest surrounding our county executive’s press conference. From your acknowledged liberal perspective Don Cunningham may very well appear to be a fiscal conservative. Fiscal conservatives however would tend to look ascant at one who would use reserve funds to cover budget shortfalls unless the use of the reserve was coupled with real current and future reductions in spending.
I am not an expert on this by any means but this doesn’t seem to be the case with Don’s just released budget. How will Mr. Cunningham balance future budgets now that the piggy bank is empty and annual spending exceeds by millions property tax revenue?
As a fiscal conservative I am forced to conclude that Don’s budget is more expedient to his current needs as a politician than the long term greater good of Lehigh County.

Scott Armstrong

Bernie O'Hare said...

Scott,

True conservatism would mandate a balanced budget, I agree. A few weeks ago, Republican county comm're candidates conducted a news conference. They did NOT insist on a balanced budget, but instead claimed they want to cut some of the spending. In the budget Cunningham has presented, he has done that, specifically w/ LANTA and a few other groups. Moreover, is there really a deficit? The State has been ordered to pay for court services, and that alone is $26 million. That will nearly double any sum taken from the tax relief fund.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

Let’s agree the Don used a reserve fund to balance this years budget. Does he really deserve kudos for that? Is there really a deficit? I am no expert but common sense seems to indicate that since he had to use the reserve fund this year then he will need more funds to cover next year’s revenue shortfall.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Scott,

If you were king - what would you cut in the budget? or would you raise taxes - which one?

It's easy to say balance the budget - and I will argue that it is because they have the funds available to do this - but when you look at the actual people involved that will be affected by any more cuts it isn't so easy as your idealogy dictates. This clearly was the case when last year's budget was being approved and the Republicans ADDED money to Cunningham's original budget...and they've been complainining about it ever since like they had no role in the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Using the reserve fund is typical electioneering. Nobody disputes that Cunningham is a savvy politician.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Scott,

We won't see the actual budget until Monday and I understand and respect your point about a balanced budget.

But the argument can be made that this budget shows a surplus. The state supremes have ordered the State to pay for LC's court services and that translates to $26 million, more than enough to offset any deficit. The State cannot wiggle out of this.

Anonymous said...

What I would do or not do is irrelevant as I am not in a position to act on Lehigh County’s budget. I will stick to my point that Don used a reserve fund to balance this years budget. Then I will again pose the question: is this prudent or expedient?

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

If the state comes in and relieves the county of its obligation to cover court costs then Don is indeed a lucky man wouldn’t you agree? To take this a step further one could conclude that based on his record of steadily increasing the county’s spending we will need to raid another reserve fund or raise taxes in just a few short years.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

I think though you can cite Callahan and Cunninghman with improvements in Bethlehem, the real reason Bethelehem remains the nicest of the three is because its inhabitants haven't abandoned it for ticky tacky colonial cookie cutter houses out in farmland. I credit the Moravian presence downtown for that. The Moravians would never leave Center City Bethlehem so the city remains charming and unchanged, if not improved. Allentown should have a sign that says, "Last one out turn out the lights" while at least Easton has new people coming in to make up for those that fled the exodus of a life of mediocrity in Palmer and Forks.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,



If the state comes in and relieves the county of its obligation to cover court costs then we should all demand a commensurate tax reduction.

Scott Armstrong

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 1:00 PM,

What a great comment!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Scott, You'e tough, dude. And consistent. So I guess I'll have to resort to personal attacks like everyone else does when you get logical.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

I hardly ever get insulted anymore,somethings up,do they have a hit out on me?

Scott Armstrong

Bernie O'Hare said...

No, but do you notice those pods in your back yard? Just don't go to sleep.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, are you proud of this fiscal conservative? Does fiscal conservatism work? Are Pawlowski and Panto's approaches unsophisticated, shortsighted, and/or wrong? Why have Easton and Allentown leaders underperformed vs. Bethlehem's mayoral timber? Bethlehem is a much nicer place than its rather dangerous neighbors. Why is this?

Anonymous said...

Anon 1 pm-

Good point about the downtown and presense of Moravians, but are you aware that just fifty years ago there was an auto grave yard in downtown Bethlehem? There was and it was in the area not 400 yards from the back of Hotel Bethlehem. In addition, the bottom land from the river, east along the creek was a gaggle of warehouses, bottling plants, saw mills, junk yards, abandoned breweries, substandard housing, flop house hotels, mills and a corrugated box factory. The creek was poluted (as was the river)...just as recently ast 1955 - 1970. real credit goes to several Bethlehem Steel executive wives who used their spare time to mobilize the citizenry because they had the voice and the power and because they saw the potential due to the presense of the 18th century structures. It was not until the redevelopment of the 50's, 60's and 70's that that several of the Moravian structures were really improved to the poit which they are now. In Bethlehem, progress is measured by the confluence of private citizens, institutions, business and politicians.

VOR

Anonymous said...

Bernie-

Mr. Armstrong does not like Don Cunnigham, therefor, you are wasting your breath.

Re: Bill White - I'm guessing that as a columnist, he was stating his opinion of DC, just as you are. His opinion varies from yours, but opinions in the end are like belly buttons - Everybody's got one; so what?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yeah, we have two opinions. Mine is factually based. Bill's is misinformed. It misses the whole point of Cunningham's speech. Also, as indicated, I am also bothered by the attempt to dismiss an accomplishment as pure happenstance.

Anonymous said...

Ohater none of your opinions are fact based. You are about as fact based as Glenn Beck. Both Don and Stoffa are most certainly lucky since both inherited huge cash surpluses. Their respective predessors paid the price for the tax increases.

You intertwine a splinter of truth and turn it into an oak tree of nonsense. You are opinionated no less than Bill White. You twist facts more than Limbaugh or Matthews.

Pretty people suffer? Ahh your boyfriend picked on.

Hell, Stoffa is lucky and no one ever accussed him of being pretty except you.

Get a grip ohare.

Anonymous said...

“Anonymous said...
Bernie-

Mr. Armstrong does not like Don Cunnigham, therefore, you are wasting your breath.”

So, anonymous, are we to infer from your post that dialogue between those who don’t share the same political philosophy is pointless?

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

I think they meant that just for you Scott.

Anonymous said...

The accent counterbalances any good looks. Kinda sorta like a Sarah Palin thing. Everything's fine until they open their mouths. I try not to discriminate on that basis. But it is difficult.

Anonymous said...

The supreme court decision ordering the state to pick up the cost of the courts is not recent- it dates back to at least the early 1990s. There has been one small step to implement the multi-phase Montemuro report of 1996 over the years (court administrators are now state employees), but the rest of the plan has languished.

What has happened recently is that the County commissioners association has filed its third (or maybe fourth) motion to compel the state to comply with the Supreme Court's decision. That is scheduled for argument in December. A previous motion was unsuccessful, so the chances of this funding happening anytime soon are probably slim.

Anonymous said...

This is the full summary:

http://www.pacounties.org/SiteCollectionDocuments/2009FactSheetCourt.pdf

Bernie O'Hare said...

I believe there is another, mor recent, ruling. I'll try to track it down.

Ed Rendell said...

As court costs are not likely to be reimbursed any time soon, I recommend a gambling or lottery scheme to paper over the deficit. Don knows what to do. Carry on my wayward son..

ironpigpen said...

Report from John Fenstermacher Bowl forthcoming this week? (hopefully)

Bernie O'Hare said...

Will do.

Donald said...

Bethlehem serves as Allentown's eastern suburb - are you kidding me? It is Allentown that sits in the shadow of Bethlehem. Despite being the third largest city in PA it has no polical influence state wide. The establishment has done nothing to embrace the new citizens and the cultural changes they bring. Allentown still views it self as a PA Dutch farm town thus the Great Allentown fair is still the cultural high light and Mayfair struggles from year to year.
People are driving to dine in Allentown they are coming to Bethlehem and Easton. The baseball team won't even put the visiting teams up in Allentown the stay at the Hotel B. When the Hyatt company wanted to come to the valley they chose Bethlehem.
Eastern Suburb of what?

Anonymous said...

Eastern suburb of Hell!

Anonymous said...

Scott Armstrong says:

"So, anonymous, are we to infer from your post that dialogue between those who don’t share the same political philosophy is pointless?"

Nope- I'm saying that based upon what I have read (attributed to you), that you sir are consistent in your criticisms of democrats in general and Cunningham in particular. That's your right for sure, but don't shoot the mailman... I stand by my point which is to say that you seem to border on being irrationally anti-dem, that's all.

Anonymous said...

Team names and actual political philosophies are often quite jumbled in local politics.