Unlike Reibman and McClure, Callahan has no County experience. But he played that as a strength, claiming that he represents change and that voters are yearning for that change. Pointing to over 5,000 jobs in Bethlehem over his ten years as Mayor, he added that the Christmas City has been named one of the "100 best places in America to Live, 100 best places in America to launch a business, and 100 best places in America to raise a family."
Moderator John Kincaid, a Government Professor at Lafayette College, posed questions prepared in advance by the LWV as well a queries from the floor.
All candidates agreed that Gracedale should remain county-owned. Reibman insisted the nursing home was profitable when he was Executive, and he would attempt to take on Monroe County's nursing home, Callahan called it the "jewel of the County," and reminded the audience that he announced his candidacy at the nursing home. But McClure countered that Callahan had previously told Gracedale supporters it wasn't his problem, and scoffed at Reibman's suggestion.
"Mr. Reibman has been out of government a long time now," observed McClure, in a refrain he repeated throughout the evening. He said that the County is actually trying to sell 37 bed licenses to put it on a sounder economic footing.
Of the three candidates, only McClure has never voted to raise property taxes, a theme McClure mentioned repeatedly. At one point, McClure asked Callahan to join him in a pledge not to raise taxes. Callahan demurred, calling the suggestion "irresponsible and pandering." Callahan argued that a tax hike is "always a last resort," but "if we want to provide services for residents, we have to pay taxes to do so.
Although Reibman raised taxes 64% during his second term as Executive, he argued that his foresight has saved the County from another tax hike for ten years running. "I have a very good record," he insisted.
When the topic turned to the swaption, which had been proposed by Reibman when he was Executive, strange UFO music began playing in the background. That did not help Reibman when he denied responsibility for the $27 million it cost the County.
McClure argued that the County should never have entered into it in the first place, while Callahan noted he rejected several similar financing schemes as Mayor. "That's $27 million into the ether," he complained. "Imagine what we could have done with that!"
Callahan also criticized McClure for dragging his feet on ending it. "He refused to step up with leadership to get out of it," Callahan remarked.
Reibman noted that a transportation bill is under consideration in Harrisburg, which could open the door to more funding for roads as well as repairs to the County's 117 bridges. He wants to revisit the "train study," and has suggested an Interchange at Routes 378 and 78.
McClure stated that commercial rail might be more realistic right now than passenger rail, and stated he favored addressing bridge issues "year to year" instead of floating a bind to pay for this infrastructure.
Callahan said bridge repairs are needed now. "We don't have time for 'pay as you go,' he insisted. He believes these kinds of capital improvements should be financed by a bond because payments can be spread out over time."You got to show a little leadership, bite the bullet and get it done," he chastised McClure.
McClure explained that, though he supports the concept, he was unwilling to support the bi-county public health proposal because hospitals were unwilling to contribute. Callahan called public health "critically important. Disease knows no boundaries," he observed. But he doubts that Lehigh County has the "political will" for a a regional public health department.
Reibman called the current situation "unacceptable." He claimed the County could form it own public health department or partner with Lehigh County, Monroe County or both of them.
Fights between Council and the Executive made Northampton County the laughing stock of the Lehigh Valley when Reibman was County Executive, according to Callahan, who noted that Bethlehem has a "long history" of a good working relation between the Mayor and its City Council. Callahan also criticized McClure's style as a Council member. "He wants to sit back and snipe," the Mayor asserted.
McClure, who noted that he "speaks truth to power," pointed out that he authored a Code of Civility. And Reibman blamed the rancorous Council meetings on one person, i.e Ron Angle. "Fortunately, the voters turned him out to pasture," noted Reibman, as a room full of Democrat burst into applause.
Reibman argued that he created the County Department of Community Development, a General Purpose Authority, invested in "all four corners of the County" in a "stimulus before stimulus became popular" and created thousands of jobs. He would like to enlist local schools to begin job training. Calling economic development the "key to the future of Northampton County", Callahan would use every economic development tool in the County's arsenal, from tax incentives to bonds. McClure argued that his no tax-hike pledge is what would attract business to Northampton County. Unlike Reibman and Callahan, McClure would not borrow money and is leery of tax incentives.
|McClure Asks Callahan for no tax hike pledge|
In addition to being challenged to make a no-tax-hike pledge by McClure, Reibman questioned whether Callahan really created 5,000 jobs in Bethlehem, relying on Labor and Industry data.
"I guess we know who's winning," joked Callahan after being challenged by both of his opponents.
In answer to Reibman's question, Callahan stated that the Sands alone created 2,400 jobs, and another 2,400 jobs were created from new companies coming into LVIP VII.
Callahan asked McClure about his claim to have voted to preserve more open space than any other Council member when he voted against the tax hike that funded the program. McClure responded that he had a way to pay for it without a tax hike.
After ninety minutes, LWVs Joan Dean called it a night. "Democracy works when everyone participates," she concluded, thanking both the candidates and the audience.