He's an easy target. He brings much of the venom on himself, with his outspoken views and willingness to take on his critics. Sometimes he barks and growls. But the Northampton County Bulldog also happens to be its Council President. Like it or not, he was elected by the Slate Belt to serve them in Northampton County, and was selected by his peers to lead them this year. But there is also a large group of Anglephobes who take every opportunity they can to attack him.
I'm speaking, of course, of Ron Angle. He's my friend. I know he's a bastard who will never run a charm school, but he's my bastard. In addition to reining in County spending, he has proposed that the nursing home be sold. And just the other day, he began spearheading an effort to bring a federal detention center for illegal immigrants (Jenna Portnoy's excellent story is here) into Upper Mount Bethel Township. At a time when we have 10% unemployment, this proposal will generate 350 union construction jobs and 500 detention workers with salaries equivalent to that of police officers.
Despite a public spat with Executive John Stoffa few weeks ago, Angle has worked closely with the Exec as well as other members of Council. And it shows. Instead of a lackluster legislative body, this new group has worked hard this year. At Wednesday's three-person finance committee, for example, eight of nine Council members participated. Council's three newbies - Tom Dietrich, Bruce Gilbert and Barb Thierry - have immersed themselves in County business. Even seasoned veterans like Mike Dowd and John Cusick have become courthouse fixtures. Part of the reason for this is their own dedication. But another reason is Ron Angle, who has been a whirlwind. This week alone, he attended seven different public meetings, to say nothing of private meetings with members of the administration.
As flamboyant and outspoken as Angle can be, that's how measured and cautious Executive John Stoffa has been. Despite the fact that he went to school with Moses, it's not unusual for him to put in 12-hour days. So Angle and Stoffa have been a good combination, and many members of the administration claim more has been accomplished in the last ten months than in Stoffa's entire first term.
But the more Angle accomplishes, the more he is reviled. Yesterday alone, there were fifteen comments on this blog accusing him of everything, from trying to enrich himself to making side deals with a possible Gracedale buyer. Of course, all of these attacks are made anonymously.
Nobody has accused him of cannibalism ... yet.
At Wednesday's Finance Committee meeting, I saw him do something very unusual. He apologized for his public outburst at John Stoffa two weeks before. His apology was just as public as his attack, and was repeated several times. And with a little help from financial wizards like Vic Mazziotti and Doran Hammon, he was able to come up with and propose amendments to next year's budget that will eliminate a tax hike.
None of this means anything to a small group who give themselves the innocuous title "Coalition of Alzheimer's Families." They also like to refer to themselves as "We, the People," and claim to speak for us at meetings, although none of them were elected to speak for anyone in Northampton County. After their disruptive behavior and repeated vilification of Ron Angle at last night's Council meeting, I can only call them the Gracedale Goons.
I've already had my own run-in with their unelected leader, a "Reverend" Mario Martinez, who I met on the very first night they descended en masse to a Council meeting, like a plague of locusts. At that time, he was a dude who looks very much like Pancho Villa, cutting in front of me in the long line to get into the Courthouse. When I told him what he had done, he just laughed at me and the many others who now stood behind him. In subsequent confrontations, this supposed preacher has wagged his finger in my face and has told me, "You're lucky I'm a Man of God."
Donna Barney lives in Kunkeltown, which is not even in this County. But she's another one of the people who speak for us. We're very lucky. On September 16, she went after Angle for a good twelve minutes, even attacking him for his theatrical behavior on Business Matters. "You need to take a good luck at the person sitting at the head of your table," she lectured. She also complained that a Council video "was taken off" the County website. "Food for thought, people. ... Coverups don't work." What had actually happened is that Committee meetings were also being videotaped, and for a brief time, the video was unavailable.
Last night, she decided to speak for us again. This time, she only attacked Angle for eight minutes. She advised that she's filed a complaint with the ACLU, which has Angle's number on their speed dial. And get this. "We seem to be living in a petty dictatorship in the guise of the Chair, who runs these meetings as if it were his personal fiefdom." Oh yeah, in addition to being a dictator, El Anglo is a bigot who doesn't just hate blacks and Jews, but Latinos as well. "Is it possible that because our spokesperson is an American of Latino heritage, that ethnic bias is a problem for the chair, who has a history of making derogatory and discriminatory comments and may feel that he can discriminate with impunity .... ?"
While Barney spewed her venom, the Gracedale Goons were doing their own damage, shouting out catcalls and vulgarities that would make a Teamster blush. It made no difference to them that there were about forty boy scouts in the audience. When I'd turn to film them, they'd laugh and wave. One woman, a Mary Ann Schmoyer of Bath, told me several times to shove my flipcam "up your ass" when I would turn to film her antics. I did catch her once on film, telling me to "stick that up your you know what." I even told Schmoyer that she was using this foul language "right by boyscouts," but she was unfazed.
The boyscouts loved it. I'm sure that over the next few days, they'll be telling parents and friends to stick things up their ass.
Ironically, this is the same group so offended by Angle's use of the phrase "God damn." Am I supposed to believe that these hateful people really care about Gracedale residents?
The Gracedale Goons also interrupted two speakers who support Gracedale's sale last night, shouting out that their time was up. They not only speak for "We, the People," but apparently speak for Angle as well.
This is the mean-spirited group behind the initiative to place the sale of Gracedale on the ballot this Spring. They'll need 19,000 registered voters to sign that petition. And in the unlikely event they do, it will be a phyrric victory because, according to an informative account by The Express Times' Sarah Cassi, Council members may just decide to defund Gracedale completely, leaving the nursing home to rely on the state and federal funding that always comes a day late and a dollar short. Whatever happens, people like Barney and Martinez will continue to demonize Angle and anyone else who stands in their way. In the process, they're making themselves and their cause look pretty bad.