Instead of the usual propaganda about Allentown and the great things its great mayor is doing for that great city, it's time to start asking what the hell is going on. And who better for that than noted Allentown critic Scott Armstrong? Here's his well-written essay.
Throw out the lifeline, Allentown’s Sinking Away
The old hymn aptly describes the situation facing Allentown today. Each new day finds the city a little worse than it was the day before and closer to a point of irreparability (no return). Many of us who have not yet fled to the suburbs now feel as if we are stranded in a municipality that is floundering on the shoals. While our quality of life continues to ebb away the new disparity of real estate values between our Allentown properties and those of the surrounding neighborhoods has created a situation where many city residents can no longer afford to leave. Those who can, do so at a great loss.
Because the local paper routinely fails to find Allentown’s troubles newsworthy, too many residents remain unaware of the city’s precarious fiscal situation. The current mayor and council have “fixed” the city finances by borrowing more money and refinancing the city’s existing debt. These actions have added roughly 56 million dollars of debt to the city and saddled Allentown with long tem debt obligations that will hinder economic growth and burden future generations of city residents.
Presently, the mayor, the press, and council point to several shiny new buildings on Hamilton Street as proof of progress. Whether any of the current elected officials are responsible for these developments is debatable, but the larger point is apparent to those of us who live here. Hamilton Street is Allentown’s own Potemkin village. One block away in any direction from these once proud commercial blocks one finds residential streets where crime and blight run rampant.
It is perplexing to many of us that the man who came to Allentown as an advocate on urban housing has dropped the ball on this important issue; first as Community and Economic Development Director and now as mayor. For seven years Allentown’s downtown neighborhoods have experienced a famine of real ideas or solutions from two successive Democrat administrations. ”Weed and Seed,” the single program that was initiated, is little more than a conduit of state and federal grant moneys that provides funding for several administrative positions. Years into the program have yet to reveal any real and substantive positive change in the targeted area.
Recently, in the proverbial dead of night, council passed and the mayor signed a Homes’ inspection bill. To those unfamiliar with Allentown’s management situation this might seem to be a step in the right direction. However, who will be in charge of implementing this program points to another significant problem facing Allentown today.
Mayor Pawlowsi added to Allentown management woes by terminating most of the city’s finest bureau managers. By Ed’s decree, outsiders lacking credentials, degrees and experence have replaced veteran directors with years of expertise and statewide reputations of excellence. This mass transition from expert to neophyte managers could in time prove to be Allentown’s biggest problem. By many accounts, city hall is now in disarray and morale amongst city workers is at an all time low.
Amongst those who have been as the Morning Call put it ”retired” by Ed Pawlowski was Allentown resident and long serving Director of Building Standards, Eric Weis. The mayor replaced Eric with a Hilltown Bucks County resident who has no experience in building standards and code enforcement and no State Certifications to even review construction plans or issue permits. This non-city resident lacks any experience in working in a large urban municipality and it is anyone’s guess how this unqualified outsider is to oversee the implementation of the newly signed Home Inspections bill. It is bewildering as well to note that that just weeks after officially receiving yet another study on how to revitalize the city’s downtown Ed Pawlowski undermines this effort’s potential future success with this careless appointment.
In light of all this, many such as myself have for the most part simply stopped “complaining.” In Allentown; publicly expressed concern is labeled as complaining by both the Morning Call and the Pawlowski Administration. Speaking out on issues simply isn’t worth the effort anymore. Those who dare to speak are labeled by the same press, administration, and administration apologists as selfish, greedy, partisan, and as self promoters who are driven by agendas that have nothing to do with good government or Allentown’s better interests. I have no doubt that this tactic will be repeated against me as soon as this essay appears on this blog, so be it.
I have made my peace with Allentown. It is what it is and I don’t see myself continuing in what I now see as a futile effort to improve it. Since I arrived in the city in 1993 from Oregon, and several years of renting in Bethlehem, I have been involved in many efforts. For a time I was president of the West Park Civic Association and during this period we moved forward with the creation of the city’s third historic district. I was also one of five affidavit signers of the Rental Inspections Bill and worked hard to get that project’s leader, Tom Burk, elected to city council. I ran a successful campaign to elect a community advocate to a local district justice seat.
Since then, I have worked hard but unsuccessfully to get other good people such as Vic Mazziotti, Charlie Thiel, Steve Bodnar, Kim Beitler elected to public office in Allentown. Presently, I try to think less about the city and focus on things I can affect. To do otherwise would renew the frustration.