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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pittsburgh Tribune: Is Onorato Two-Faced?

"Onorato campaign spokesman Brian Herman said, 'While we understand Mr. Morganelli's frustration at being defeated, it is simply inaccurate to link that loss to Dan's support of his campaign. The suggestion that Dan Onorato supported Tom Corbett is both incorrect and illogical.'

"Notice that Herman didn't deny that Morganelli made the trips or that Onorato promised to help Morganelli raise money."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Can Disqus Defeat Trolls?

Political blogs inevitably will attract trolls. In an effort to deal with them, I've installed DISQUS (pronounced discuss) as a new comment system for future posts on this blog.

If a troll posts something offensive, and five of you flag it, it will be invisible to everyone but the troll. In addition, I can filter out some of the stock offensive phrases that detract from meaningful and intelligent discussion.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Republican Hahn v. Democrat Elliott for Dally's Seat

Now that former State Rep. Craig Dally has drifted off into the clouds as Northampton County's newest judge, his state House seat in the 138th District is up for grabs.

Diane Elliott, a former member of Northampton County Council (1994-6) and brownfield development consultant is reportedly the Democrats' top pick. Diane is a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law (1977), and also has a Master's degree in environmental science from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (1995). Most recently, she was employed at Lafayette College.

"She does her homework," is what one of her former colleagues tells me.

Northampton County Republicans were divided over Craig Dally staffer Marcia Hahn, Wind Gap Attorney Nick Sabatine and political newcomer David Green. Under their bylaws, committee members from that district make a recommendation, but the executive committee has the final word.

David Green, who impressed committee members with his understanding of the issues and conservative ideals, won their recommendation over Marcia Hahn in a 14-10 vote on Thursday night. But the executive committee, who under its bylaws may ignore that recommendation, went with Hahn.

Of course, the place exploded. Ron Angle went into one of his trademark tirades and Joe Emrick stormed out of the building. I received telephone calls and emails from upset committee members all morning.

Last night, a member of the executive committee explained why they went with Hahn. First, she has 24 years experience working as a staffer for Craig and Lenny Gruppo, during which she obviously made numerous contacts. Second, the vote recommending Green was by no means overwhelming. Third, although Green is certainly knowledgeable and should be encouraged to run, he has no experience running an actual campaign. Fourth, it makes sense to field a female candidate against a female candidate. Finally, their selection of a candidate in the special election in no way prevents Green from mounting his own campaign in the separate primary that will be conducted simultaneously.

I hate when decisions like this are made in some back room. But in a special election, the parties, and not the people, pick the nominees. There will still be another primary election for the very same seat in which Green and Sabatine can run, but I have a feeling everyone is going to be very confused.

Dan Onorato, Secret Corbett Supporter?

Capitolwire claims it is "the premier on-line news and information service" for key state issues. It's also the most expensive. When I once talked a sales rep. into offering me a student discount, it was atill a lot more than I ever remembered paying for tuition. Students must be much richer these days. I have to content myself with the occasional free, two-week, subscriptions.

I wish I had a subscription now. Harrisburg Bureau Chief Peter DeCoursey has developed my blog entry yesterday about Allegheny County Exec Dan Onorato. So has Alex Roarty at PoliticsPA.

Both of these reporters confirm what I told you yesterday, thank God. DA John Morganelli did drive to Pittsburgh several times last year under the impression that Onorato, a gubernatorial hopeful and fellow Democrat, would help John raise money for his Attorney General race against Tom Corbett.

That would only make sense. It was well known, even in 2008, that Corbett would springboard from the AG's office and Bonusgate right into the Governor's mansion.

But according to what Morganelli told these reporters, things made no sense at all. He met Onorato in March of 2008, when he was the sole candidate for AG from the Democratic party, and Onorato arranged a fundraiser in July at Pittsburgh's swanky Downtown Club.

In Morganelli's own words,

"We were in constant touch with his staff up to 2 days before event. I drove 6 hrs to Pittsburgh arrived at event and no one showed up!!

“Onorato arrived about 6:15 pm - 45 minutes late - and said there had been a mistake and that I should stay overnite and meet the next day with Ed Gratton his campaign money guy. So I did. Then they told me that I should come back in August and that they would raise all the money by then.

“I came back August 10-- another 6 [hour] trip. They said they had checks for me and that they would be delivered to my hotel - none ever showed up.

“I again left Pittsburgh with NOTHING. Then I was told that money was going to be mailed to me-- none arrived. I asked Dan if he could just make a personal campaign contribution to me since he had 6 million dollars - he gave [ultimately successful Democratic treasurer candidate Rob] McCord like $10,000. But Onorato would not release money to me. … I was disappointed but not angry. He must have had his reasons but never told me. I have donated $8000 to Jack Wagner. I think Jack is a man of his word and a man of integrity. But I really am over it and have no ill will towards Dan.”

The check is in the mail. Ever hear that one?

Of course, Onorato and Corbett supporters alike claim Morganelli is "ridiculous" or "incorrect" or "illogical."

But Morganelli, who did not become and remain a District Attorney by being any of those things, is adamant. “I was told he was for Corbett by a Pittsburgh guy not associated with the campaign on my third trip when I could not understand why Onorato would not even say hello to me." He insists that Onorato, the presuptive Democratic nominee for Governor, supported Corbett, the Republicans' most likely candidate.

Illogical? Not necessarily. If Onorato is capable of misleading Morganelli, he's certainly capable of making deals in a race he will likely lose. Maybe he just finished reading Machiavelli or Sun Tzu.

I find it interesting that spokespersons for this and that campaign bluster away, but Onorato himself seems to be mum.

Maybe he's sending that check now.

If Onorato is incapable of being forthright with the District Attorney of Northampton County, is there any reason to believe he'll be straight with you? That's a question the Democratic State Committee might want to consider before making its usual mistake of endorsing a candidate in a contested race.

Update: Capitolwire Report Republished Here! Capitolwire has kindly agreed to allow me to republish its story here.

Capitolwire: Morganelli says Onorato sandbagged him twice in 2008 race.

By Peter L. DeCoursey
Bureau Chief

HARRISBURG (Jan. 28) – The 2008 Democratic nominee for attorney general now says Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato twice sandbagged his campaign.
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who was his party’s pick for the state’s top law enforcement job, said fellow Democrat Onorato tricked him twice into him into driving to Allegheny County for fund-raisers in empty rooms that produced no cash.

Morganelli was running then against Attorney General Tom Corbett, who is now the heavy favorite for the Republican State Committee endorsement for governor. Onorato is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, and has raised far more cash than any of his rivals.

Northampton, in the Lehigh Valley, is one of the counties farthest from Allegheny. Morganelli wrote in an e-mail, referring to Onorato: “I was told he was for Corbett by a Pittsburgh guy not associated with the campaign on my third trip when I could not understand why Onorato would not even say hello to me.

“… I was not angry, just disappointed [because] I think Dan's support in Allegheny County - rather than his support of Corbett - and some serious money could have made a difference” in Morganelli’s race with Corbett.
Onorato campaign spokesman Brian Herman responded that Morganelli was wrong about both of his allegations.

Herman wrote in an e-mail: “Dan Onorato has been and will remain a strong supporter of Democrats across the commonwealth. While we understand Mr. Morganelli's frustration at being defeated, it is simply inaccurate to link that loss to Dan's support of his campaign."

Morganelli responded by e-mail: “I am NOT linking Dan's 'NON SUPPORT' to my loss - I think his support could have helped but was not determinative. The fact is that he did NOT support me - that is a fact and they cannot deny that I was led out there twice by Onorato to obtain no support.”

Herman responded that "the suggestion that Dan Onorato supported Tom Corbett is both incorrect and illogical.”

Party insiders said Morganelli's claim of Onorato supporting Corbett in the 2008 race or before is wrong.

Mary Isenhour, executive director of Democratic State Committee, said of the alleged Onorato endorsement of Corbett: "Not to my knowledge. Dan Onorato has always been very helpful to the party and to our candidates."
Ray Zaborney is a GOP consultant with long-standing ties to Corbett and who has known Onorato since he was Allegheny County Controller and Zaborney was chief of staff to Northumberland County controller.

Of the Corbett endorsement, Zaborney said: "I think that is ridiculous. I'm not aware of Dan Onorato doing anything to help Tom Corbett either time he ran."
As to producing proof of Onorato’s support for Corbett, which Herman denied, Morganelli responded: “If Onorato was supporting me, why did he not give me at least a small contribution? He gave [Treasurer candidate Rob] McCord $10,000 who really did not need the money. Doesn’t that alone speak volumes - especially when I was lured 2 times to Pittsburgh with promises of money from Onorato and ended up with zero. It is hard to believe that that they can say they supported me with a straight face when he did absolutely nothing for me despite repeated requests until I was told to back off - but maybe he had a reason as I have said.”

Herman responded: "...Dan Onorato has helped countless Pennsylvania Democrats, including Mr. Morganelli, for whom he sponsored fundraising events and expressed public support. The idea that Dan would do anything to assist Tom Corbett's reelection campaign, much less imply his endorsement, defies common sense."
Morganelli’s account of Onorato’s actions in that race came to light after the blog Lehigh Valley Ramblings published an item Thursday stating: “ONORATO SUPPORTED CORBETT FOR AG IN 2008.”

That blog wrote that too many Democrats were endorsing Onorato in a herd mentality. Author Bernie O'Hare added: “One Democrat who refuses to bleat like the other sheep is Northampton County DA John Morganelli. You see, Onorato actually supported presumptive Republican nominee Tom Corbett last year when Morganelli was running against him for Attorney General. That's OK with John, but what irks him is that Onorato misled him.”

Morganelli circulated that blog to Capitol reporters, writing in an e-mail that he had received phone calls about it.

Asked to give more detail on the alleged disappearing fund-raisers he says Onorato promised to arrange, then left undone, Morganelli wrote in an e-mail: “Onorato promised in a face to face meeting with me that he would do a fundraiser in Pittsburgh. We met in March 2008 - I was endorsed candidate of {Democratic] state committee and no one else was running.

“He said his staff would set it up for a date and he would raise at least $25,000 and maybe more. In July,” after Morganelli was the party’s nominee, “I was told it would be July 10 at [the] Downtown club in Pittsburgh. We were in constant touch with his staff up to 2 days before event. I drove 6 hrs to Pittsburgh arrived at event and no one showed up!!

"Onorato arrived about 6:15 pm - 45 minutes late - and said there had been a mistake and that I should stay overnite and meet the next day with Ed Gratton his campaign money guy. So I did. Then they told me that I should come back in August and that they would raise all the money by then.

“I came back August 10-- another 6 [hour] trip. They said they had checks for me and that they would be delivered to my hotel - none ever showed up.

“I again left Pittsburgh with NOTHING. Then I was told that money was going to be mailed to me-- none arrived. I asked Dan if he could just make a personal campaign contribution to me since he had 6 million dollars - he gave [ultimately successful Democratic treasurer candidate Rob] McCord like $10,000. But Onorato would not release money to me. … I was disappointed but not angry. He must have had his reasons but never told me. I have donated $8000 to Jack Wagner. I think Jack is a man of his word and a man of integrity. But I really am over it and have no ill will towards Dan.”

Herman declined to respond to those comments, other than to reassert his prior comments, printed above.

Browning & Angle: Lehigh & Northampton County Still Dating

"They fired all their editors. So now I guess they have to do all their editorializing in their news stories."

That's how the Northampton County Bulldog, Ron Angle, reacted to a Morning Call news account suggesting that interest in regionalism is waning in Lehigh and Northampton County. The article points to the bi-county health department, the beleaguered LVEDC and a regional crime center. In all three cases, Northampton County has been less than enthusiastic.

County Executive John Stoffa thought he had Angle leashed and muzzled, but he broke off the chain yesterday and ran off to Lehigh County for a joint news conference with Dean Browning. Sure, Dean presides over Lehigh's Board of Commissioners, but more importantly, he raises dogs. He always has a treat in his pocket for Ron. He brought Angle back to a frantic Stoffa late last night.

"Bad Ron, Bad!" shouted Stoffa, before he put him in the doghouse.

Browning and Angle met at the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, which in itself sends a message. That's just one of the many joint ventures between Lehigh and Northampton County. I was stuck at the courthouse, so I missed Browning go through his usual routine as a master dog handler.

"Sit, Ron, sit!"

"Roll over."

"Speak! ... I mean, play dead!"

Fortunately, I received a joint news release from this odd couple, who pledge bi-county cooperation, especially in finding ways:

• To save taxpayer dollars through increased efficiencies, and
• To improve performance in critical areas by combining the two counties efforts.

Noting that their County Executives are advocates of taking a regional approach to issues where warranted, Browning and Angle said they were “on the same page” when it comes to looking at ways to work together cooperatively to save taxpayer dollars, especially in the midst of a recession.

“Both counties provide the same types of services. Bark, bark. If we don’t look for ways to work together and cooperate where we can, we ultimately fail the taxpayers of Lehigh and Northampton Counties – and that is not acceptable,” said Angle. “Ruff! Ruff! While we will never agree on every issue, we share a common philosophy that taxpayers always come first."

Browning said that hesitancy over certain projects like the bi-county health bureau shouldn't overshadow past joint efforts or potential partnerships under consideration that could benefit Lehigh Valley taxpayers.

“Merging the back-office operations of Gracedale and Cedarbrook nursing homes, for instance, is a perfect example of an area where the counties could work together to save money. That might not be outwardly visible like a health department, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less important,” said Browning. “This isn’t about making splashy headlines; it’s about saving taxpayer dollars any way we can.”

Browning and Angle also talked about the planned Regional Crime Center. They noted that crime isn’t deterred by county borders and that efforts to combat crime should be not constrained by them either. Browning said, “The Regional Crime Center is a great way for us to combine forces and enhance our performance in fighting crime which is something that is critical to the residents of both counties”. Angle echoed that sentiment, saying that both he and his Council were supportive of the Regional Crime Center.

It was rejected in Northampton County only because DA John Morganelli thought it was unnecessary.

Browning and Angle concluded by saying they have scheduled bi-monthly meetings to discuss and review their ongoing efforts. Morning Call reporter Michael Duck (not a good name around a dog) began asking some questions, so Angle peed all over the newsman's leg. That's when the party ended.

"Bad, Ron! Bad!"

Congressman Dent's Reaction to Obama's SOTU Address

“I appreciate that the President wants to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending — two areas which I’ve been supporting throughout the past year, and which the Congressional majority has ignored. The federal government doesn’t create jobs; the federal government must foster an environment for the people to create jobs. The agenda going forward must be a complete reversal of the 2009 agenda if we’re going to grow our economy and get our fiscal house in order.

“The most important domestic issue facing this Congress is our rising unemployment levels. We must take steps to turn this economy and promote job creation. More ‘jobs legislation’ that just spends money recklessly, like the ‘stimulus’ bill, isn’t the answer. Instead of helping, Washington has been hindering a sustainable recovery. Congress needs to kill the ‘cap and trade’ bill that is basically a national energy tax; start from scratch on health care reform that focuses on lower costs instead of massive taxes; and cut taxes for small businesses and innovators who will invest their money more wisely than Congress.

“The other issue that is worrying Americans is Washington’s runaway spending. I’m glad the President acknowledges that government is spending too much money. The President’s proposed budget freeze is a good step, but it pales in comparison to the massive spending increases of the past year that precede it. This Administration and Congress have increased non-defense domestic discretionary spending by 22 percent in a year – and if you include the failed ‘stimulus,’ it’s more than 65 percent. Our yearly deficits, which were coming down in my first two years in Congress, now exceed $1 trillion. This is unsustainable.

“In addition to putting a hold on new spending, we need to call back unspent funds from the ‘stimulus,’ plus end the Troubled Asset Relief Program and dedicate all repaid funds to deficit reduction.

“Until the President and Congress commit to real economic solutions instead of expensive gimmicks, and until Washington quits its growing spending habit, the goals outlined by the President will remain a distant pipe-dream.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

DPW: Allentown State Hospital to Close

Acting Secretary of Public Welfare Harriet Dichter today announced plans to close Allentown State Hospital in Lehigh County by Dec. 31.

Dichter said the closure is part of Pennsylvania’s commitment to reducing its reliance on institutional care and improving access to home- and community-based services for Pennsylvanians living with mental illness.

“For more than 25 years, Pennsylvania has been on the leading edge of developing local partnerships and community based service options that promote recovery for people living with mental illness,” said Dichter. “As facilities close, we open doors to opportunities for residents to live their lives to the fullest by returning to their homes and communities as contributing members of society, all while managing their own health and well-being.”

The closure of Allentown is part of the department’s plan to create a more unified approach to funding community services and supports for those living with mental illness. The department will reinvest the millions of dollars saved to further develop and sustain clinically-based, recovery-oriented services and to continue to improve the mental health service delivery system.

The resident population at Pennsylvania’s seven state hospitals has decreased by nearly 65 percent since 1994, from almost 5,000 to the current 1,627.

Allentown State Hospital currently serves approximately 175 residents at its 217 acre campus, with a staff of approximately 379 people and a current budget of $35.3 million. The hospital serves Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Monroe and Pike counties.

Prior to being discharged, hospital residents will participate in a series of assessments in order to determine their level of need for services and support as they look toward a successful life within a more integrated setting, such as a group home, public housing or with family. The assessment process will ensure that safe and appropriate placements are made.

DPW has established a toll-free number for family members of residents of Allentown State Hospital to use during the closure process. Family members will be able to speak with staff from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, by calling 1-877-695-7462.

To aid in the closure process, the department will establish a strong community advisory team made up of Allentown residents, county representatives from the Allentown service area, as well as other interested stakeholders who will monitor and assist the department through the process.

DPW will hold a public hearing from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 22, at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel & Suites, 3400 Airport Road, Allentown, to accept comment about the closure from stakeholders, officials and the community. Those wishing to provide comments are asked to register by contacting Beth Neston at (610) 740-3409.

The department will attempt to provide hospital employees with the opportunity to continue their work with the commonwealth, using all of the departments under the Governor’s jurisdiction.

Allentown State Hospital was originally opened and received its first resident in 1912, helping to alleviate overcrowding at state hospitals in Norristown and Danville. Originally called the Allentown Homeopathic Hospital for the Insane, it was the first homeopathic institution of its kind in Pennsylvania. As the homeopathic medical approach gradually changed to the more standard medical model, the hospital became known as Allentown State Hospital. The patient population quickly rose to 867 and eventually peaked at 2,107 patients in 1954.

This story is also reported in The Express Times and Capitol Ideas.

Kate Micucci Talks Up Annual Nazareth Kazoo Parade

CACLV to Weatherize Homes in Easton's West Ward

Obama's Root Canal

Barack Obama is a powerful speaker. He inspires. But what did he really say? Did he really solve our 10% unemployment?

JFK, in his 1962 SOTU address, spoke of putting someone on the moon. LBJ, in his 1965 address to Congress about civil rights, declared, "We shall overcome." Both boldly set out new directions for the country.

Barack Obama joked that the bank bailout was about "as popular as a root canal."

But he's been the dentist.

Speaker Pelosi: Obama Presented a Vision

"Tonight, President Obama presented a vision to the American people of a stronger union, a new foundation for prosperity, and a thriving middle class. Working together, we will adopt a bold agenda for our economic growth – founded on good-paying jobs, strong schools, quality, affordable health insurance, and critical investments in small businesses and our clean energy future.

"President Obama also presented a comprehensive approach to our first responsibility as public servants: to keep the American people safe. This Congress remains fully committed to working with the President for the security of our nation.

"Despite signs of progress in our economy, too many Americans are out of work and struggling to make ends meet. To put people back to work, we will assist small businesses and invest in infrastructure and clean energy jobs. To ensure a competitive workforce, we will improve the way we educate our next generation.

"In the wake of a crisis borne out of taking risks with taxpayers' money, we will protect Main Street from the excess of Wall Street and restore accountability to the financial sector.

"Addressing a critical challenge for our economy and millions of households, Congress will pass health insurance reform that lowers costs for American families and small businesses, creates jobs, and ends the insurance companies' worst practices.

"Every step along the way, Democrats will demand fiscal discipline – examining unnecessary spending across-the-board, empowering a bipartisan commission to recommend a sustainable fiscal path, and making the pay-as-you-go principles that have been the rule of the House, the law of the land.

"President Obama spoke tonight about the long overdue need to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and acknowledged the many lesbian and gay service members who serve honorably in our military, and wish to do so openly. We look forward to working with him on this issue of fundamental fairness and supporting the patriotic Americans who serve – and wish to serve – our country in uniform.

"With his powerful words tonight, the President demanded that we fulfill our promise to fight for the interests of America's families, rebuild the keystones of progress, and restore opportunity to every family. Working together, we can realize a vision of growth, security, and economic success for all Americans."

Tea Party Express: "Actions Speak Louder Than Words"

A terse statement from a group that increasingly is becoming a political force.

"Tonight was a night of hot air, delivered in a way too long speech that revisited pledges we've quite frankly heard from Barack Obama before.

"His comments in the State of the Union were similar in tone and substance to his comments made after he won the 2008 presidential election and during his inauguration.

"But actions speak louder than words, and this administration violated its promise for increased transparency. Lobbyists were appointed by the president to positions he swore would never be filled by former lobbyists.

"Worst of all, we've seen out-of-control spending, and an unparalleled growth in the size and power of government.

"We'll start to believe Barack Obama when his actions match his words. Until then, it's just more empty promises, and we've all heard far too many unfulfilled promises from the politicians in Washington.

"In our opinion, the best part of this speech was the end."

Onorato Supports Corbett?

For at least the past three years, Allegheny County Exec Dan Onorato has been running for Governor. In that time, he's raised $8 million, which is twice the sum that Republican blueblood Tom Corbett has received for his campaign warchest.

What distinguishes Onorato is not impassioned pleas to put Pennsylvanians back to work, or promises to straighten things out in the land of midnight payraises. What makes him the Democratic frontrunner is his ability to raise oodles of money from virtually every special interest in the universe. He's a walking ATM machine. So, without knowing where he stands on anything, Democrats are already rallying around his banner. Governor Rendell, no slouch at raising money himself, already refers to Dan as Pennsylvaia's next Governor.

The candidate who actually does have views, Jack Wagner, is pretty much ignored. After all, he's got this crazy notion that state contracts should be bid competitively. Imagine that! What would that do to campaign contributions? Without all that campaign dough, how would Onorato pay for his trips to Europe?

Earlier this week, Onorato stopped in Easton, where Mayor Sal Panto, Councilwoman Elinore Warner, Councilman Ken Brown, Treasurer David Fleck and Controller Tony Bassil fawned all over him. They all said "Baaaa. Baaaa." From there, he hopped over to Allentown, and picked up some tips from Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski on how to squeeze every last dime out of a potential campaign contributor. Pawlowski's campaign manager, Michael Fleck, is working for Onorato. Now he can send convicted criminals to homes throughout the Lehigh Valley!

Council member Julio Guridy is a fan, too. He said "baaa" in two languages.

These local Dems lavish praise on a man who, as County Exec, was actually booed during a 2008 speech on his home turf. And for good reason. According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Mr. Onorato cut 200 jobs from the county payroll to help balance a $727.6 million budget. He also persuaded council members to approve drink and car rental taxes ... ."

A drink tax? Wasn't there a little revolution over something like that just a few years ago?

In Allentown, when he finally discussed an issue, Onoroto actually endorsed the notion of extending KOZ benefits to big business beyond what they already get. That should make potential campaign contributors like Nic Zawarski very grateful. But experience shows it puts no one back to work.

One Democrat who refuses to bleat like the other sheep is Northampton County DA John Morganelli. You see, Onorato actually supported presumptive Republican nominee Tom Corbett last year when Morganelli was running against him for Attorney General. That's OK with John, but what irks him is that Onorato misled him.

Onorato supported Corbett? Kinda' makes you wonder why he's running against someone he supported just a few short months ago.

Sources close to Morganelli tell me he made three trips to Pittsburgh last year, having been lured there, by Onorato, for fundraisers that would raise all kinds of serious money. On his first five and a half hour drive, to attend a fundraiser at some Pittsburgh hotel, Morganelli walked into an empty room. This happened twice more before he finally got the message. Onorato was stiffing him, and wasting valuable campaign time. Rather than just honestly admit to Morganelli that he was supporting Corbett, Onorato strung him along repeatedly.

If he could not be honest with Morganelli, do you really think he'll be straight with you?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Excerpts From Barack Obama's State of the Union

We face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds and different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared. A job that pays the bill. A chance to get ahead. Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.

You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity. After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school. They are coaching little league and helping their neighbors. As one woman wrote to me, “We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged.”
It is because of this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We don’t allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength. And tonight, I’d like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.
By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Co-pays will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans. And neither should the people in this chamber.
Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time for something new. Let’s try common sense. Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the people who sent us here.
To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.
That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.
But we cannot stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign companies – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.
I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.

Stoffa Vetoes Council's $686,000 Clawback at Bethlehem

Northampton County Executive John Stoffa gave its new County Council a message today - integrity is more important that money. He vetoed a controversial ordinance taking back $686 thousand in County bond money from Bethlehem.

Bethlehem had been given $13 million to construct Commerce Boulevard, but came in a little over $2 million under budget. Bethlehem wanted to keep all of the money as a reward, but agreed to return all but $686 thousand. The City was supposed to use that money for signage and shrubbery along Commerce Boulevard, but is waiting until other infrastructure improvements are completed.

An exasperated County Council, led by John Cusick, voted to take the money back to use for improvements at Gracedale. The usually quiet Michael Dowd pointed out that doing so would violate an agreement in which he was one of the negotiators.

Cusick's ordinance passed 5-4, but those votes will not be enough to override John Stoffa's veto. In his veto message, Stoffa noted that the "honor and integrity of Northampton County would suffer if it reneged on this obligation."

Stoffa also notes that Bethlehem has agreed to return another $300 thousand to the County.

Northampton County Council has made its point concerning Bethlehem, which has certainly lost its "most favored city" status. But County Executive Stoffa has also made clear that the County must honor its word.

Stoffa's veto message is below.

Veto Ordinance-Bethlehem Commerce Ctr. Proj. 1.27.10

ShakeUp at Airport Authority

A former fighter pilot is in command.

Allentown's Tax on the Poor

When Allentown's city fathers (and one mother) adopted Mayor Ed Pawlowski's "no tax increase" budget, they found another source of revenue, deciding to raise the annual rental inspection fee from $16 to a whopping $75 per unit. Naturally, landlords will be tempted to raise rents to cover this modest, 468%, increase. For beleaguered residents, this is in addition to climbing PPL rates. Even HUD units will be inspected.

Scott Armstrong, who delighted everyone yesterday by complaining about a fellow civic activist, is no less circumspect in condemning this increase.

"That means every landlord must raise the rent of every unit in order to cover the expense of the higher fees. In effect, Ed Pawlowski's unit fee increase is a tax on Allentown's poor. When Ed rode into town as an advocate for low income housing, people took him at his word that he was sincere. Time and experience have proven he wasn't."

At $75 per unit fee, the Queen City's 22,000 units will produce revenue of $1,650,000. The cost of the program, even with additional staff, is just $1,093,701. So the City will generate around $550 thousand by squeezing the people who can least afford it.
Clarification: Blogger Michael Molovinsky has noted that the fee being increased from $16 to $75 is NOT the annual rental inspection fee, but the "City Rental Unit Registration/License Fee," an annula fee that is charged independent of any inspection.

I've Been Invited to John Callahan's Kick Off

I wonder if I should rent a tux.

John Callahan's congressional campaign has invited me to its petition kick-off rally on Wednesday, February 17 at 5:30pm. The party will take place at International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers Local 375 (IBEW), 1201 W Liberty St, Allentown, PA.

Among those who will be attending is none other than Rylock, aka Mr. Independent, aka Ryan O'Donnell. It's great to know Callahan has such unthinking support before he's taken a position on a single issue.

For shits and giggles, SEIU has promised to drop by and burn a few boy scouts in effigy.

Pawlowski Values Votes More Than Public Safety

Back in 2008, Tatamy resident Nancy DiFrancesca was part of an eleven-person drug ring arrested for selling drugs that included methamphetamine, cocaine, hallucinogenic mushrooms, marijuana and Ecstasy. She was even charged with endangering her own children. In December of that year, she was sentenced on reduced charges to a maximum of twelve months in the slammer.

You'll be pleased to know that DiFrancesca is one of the 76 people that Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski reports having paid $100 on election day to visit Allentown neighborhoods, replacing her drug paraphanelia for campaign literature.

DiFrancesca is just one of several people with shady backgrounds that Pawlowski claims, in his amended post election report, to have paid between $100 and $200 to visit Allentown homes on election day. In addition to people who obviously have drug and alcohol problems, Pawlowski reports having sent people who've been charged with theft, criminal mischief and defiant trespass. One of them was charged with robbery, although those charges were later withdrawn. Another was wanted for escape at the very time that he may have been knocking on your door.

Kinda' makes you wonder whether these folks were really distributing campaign literature or casing your joint.

These 76 trombones come from all over the place, from Tamaqua to Brockton to Bath to Bethlehem. But what really hit me were the five names from Easton. One of these Eastonians lived at Lafayette Hotel, a known dive and the other four reportedly lived at Easton's homeless shelter, Safe Harbor.

I spoke with Safe Harbor caseworker Tyler Rogers, who initially told me he had no recollection of anyone working on election day. But when I mentioned the names, he did recall that residents Anthony Finelli, Damien Robinson, Timothy Cumer and William Owens were part of a four-man crew that did go out to distibute some kind of literature somewhere.

Of this crew, only William Owens still resides at Safe Harbor. Robinson has moved to Las Vegas, Cumer has had a drug relapse and Finelli is only seen sporadically. Rogers put me in touch with Owens.

Claiming to be a freind of Pawlowski campaign manager Michael Fleck, Owens tells me he did go to Allentown on election day for the Pawlowski campaign. He knocked on doors, helped people get to the polls. He claims Fleck paid him $100, in cash, at the end of the day, and that he has worked for Fleck before.

"I was cut right out for this," he told me.

Asked whether he was a registered voter, he told me he's registered in Allentown, where he voted for Pawlowski.

"But don't you live in Easton?"

"Yeah, but I'll vote anywhere."

It's nice to know that Easton's homeless helped elect Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

I've spoken to a political consultant who tells me Pawlowski uses SEIU "volunteers" on election day to get out the vote, although they are actually paid by the union. Allentown's Bob Romancheck spotted their tent at Walnut Street. Given this heavy union effort, I'm told there should be no need to risk what could happen by hiring the people Fleck used, many of whom have disturbing recent pasts.

Interestingly, Pawlowski's post election finance report fails to show this union support or the payments made to SEIU "volunteers" as an in-kind from the union.

What his report does show is a reckless disregard for the public safety of Allentown citizens. People like the ones I describe below were sent into your neighborhoods and among your children. I've omitted common names like Maria Rodriguez and Rose Martinez, and decided to ignore the traffic offenses on file against most of the people listed. I never looked up the people from Brockton or Tamaqua, or the two people who have no address at all. But what I found reflects an arrogant disregard for your personal security. If Pawlowski's report is to be believed, these people were actually paid to visit your homes.

Melissa Bieber (zip code is 18102)
- Charged in 2007 with robbery, assault and related offenses. She somehow ended up on ARD.

Timothy Cumer:
- Has not responded to 2008 charge of public drunkenness.
- 2008 guilty plea to driving under suspension.

Nancy DiFrancesca: - 2008 charges for conspiracy to manufacture and deliver drugs, and for endangering the welfare of a child. Fresh out of jail, showwas pounding on your doors.

Anthony Fanelli:
- Guilty Plea on 11/9/09 to public drunkenness.
- Found guilty on 4/17/08 of public drunkenness.
- Found guilty on 6/20/06 of driving without insurance, inspection and with a suspended registration.

John Gaal:
- charged with joyriding in 2007.

Timothy Houchin:
- Charged in October with drug dealing.
- 2008 Guilty Plea to criminal mischief, causing pecuniary loss to another.

Lazarus Jones (zip code is 18109)
- charged with escape on 4/17/09. Apparently, was at large when knocking on Allentown doors.
- 2008 guilty plea to failure to disperse, disorderly conduct involving physical contact.
- 2007 guilty plea to defiant trespass.
- 2007 guilty plea to false identification to police officer.
- 2007 guilty plea to disorderly conduct, obscene languaue and gestures
- 2006 guilty pleas to false identification, theft of services.

- 2006 guilty plea to loitering.

Yadira Morales:
- Charged in 2003 with criminal harassment. Summons never could be delivered.

Christopher Peters:
- Charged in January with driving an unregistered vehicle with no inspection.
- Charged on October 20, 2009, with theft and public drunkenness.

Unique Santiago:
- 2007 guilty plea to criminal mischief, resulting in property damage.

Peter Sinclair:
- Charged by Bethlehem police in 2005 with simple assault and harassment, but never served.

Harold Tillman
- 2004 guilty plea to defiant trespass.

When small businesses like the Dalton family's Allentown Vision Center experience two break-ins and two attempted burglaries over the course of this month alone, you'd think King Ed would be a little more sensitive to his crime-weary citizens.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dent 53, Callahan 27 in Latest Poll

Scott Kraus reports, over at Pennsylvania Avenue, that a days-old poll shows LV Congressman Charlie Dent has a healthy, 26-point, lead over challenger John Callahan. "90 percent of Republicans and one out of four Democrats would vote for Dent. Dent also enjoys a 30 percent lead among independents and is known by 90 percent in the district."

Callahan reportedly is pleased with his own pollling, but has apparently declined to release his numbers.

Tory Mazzola, NRCC Spokesman, poured a little salt into Callahan's wound. "If Washington Democrats still think Rahm’s hand-picked candidate John Callahan is one of their best bets, then I’ve got a ticket to sell them for Martha Coakley’s U.S. Senate swearing in ceremony. Charlie Dent is in a very strong position because Eastern Pennsylvanians know he is an independent voice fighting for jobs, limited government and less spending, while Callahan’s record speaks for itself – he’s a tax-and-spend Pelosi liberal."

Allentown Watchdog: City General Fund $3.25 Million in Red

Allentown Watchdog Lou Hershman is beaten, but unbowed. He continues to take an interest in city government, attending meetings and always asking for information.

He's discovered that Allentown's General Fund Balance, as of the end of 2009, was a negative $3,251,487. The City has dipped into its Earned Income Tax Escrow Fund to keep afloat until real estate tax revenues start trickling in, which should be sometime next month.

Morning Call Incorrectly Claims Home Sales Up in '09

Last week, relying once again on information supplied by realtors, The Morning Call inaccurately reported that Lehigh Valley home sales were up in 2009, and even goes so far as to attribute this to a tax credit for first time home buyers.

The truth? Real estate sales are down, way down, at least in Northampton County, and for each of the last five years. I seriously doubt there's that much difference in Lehigh County.

Last year, there were 5,978 deeds recorded in Northampton County. That's a 46% drop from the 10,996 recordings in 2005. It's a 10% drop from the 6,641 real estate transfers in 2008.

Here's the breakdown, year-by-year: 2009 - 5,978 deeds; 2008 - 6,641 deeds; 2007 - 8,232 deeds; 2006 - 10,109 deeds; and 2005 - 10,996 deeds.

Sic transit gloria stimulus.

Armstrong: A-town Community Groups Elect Pawlowski Toadie

My Favorite Allentown conservative, Scott Armstrong, has just blasted Ernie Atiyeh's election as bossman of Allentown's neighborhood groups. Here's his jeremiad.

Not so long ago when Allentown's community groups consisted of independent, altruistic residents who involved themselves in the city's civic affairs in order to advance the greater good, the Presidents' Council was an important vehicle of that expression. That was then, this is now. How far the level of intellect and involvement in community organizations has declined in Allentown was apparent last night when the city's biggest stooge, Ernie Atiyeh was elected by fellow "community leaders" to be the new president of the "Presidents' Council."

I could reminisce for many pages the instances when Ernie went to extraordinary lengths to publicly and shamelessly please and laud administration officials. Kissing the butt of anyone and everyone in a position of power in Allentown was and remains his specialty. Ed must be pleased as punch to have this lackey at his beck and call, ready to fetch and heel on command.

Yes, not so long ago the idea that this person would be voted into this position was incomprehensible. But that was then and this is now. Well done Ed, well done city Democrats. Your mission is complete, your control is now total.

LC Comm'r Candidates To Interview February 3

Father Alex - One Step Ahead of The Pope

"Pope Benedict XVI called on the ministry to use the latest technologies, such as Web sites and blogs, to preach the gospel and encourage a dialogue with their practitioners."

Father Alex has been doing that here and at other blogs for some time now. Like many clerics, he's been subjected to scorn, ridicule and even a forearm to the stomach. But Father, most of us appreciate, respect and admire you.

Who Dat?

Who Dat?

Why dat's my grandson, Dat Lambert (age 10) looking for room to shoot or pass during last week's Martin Luther King's Day three-on-three tournament at Bath's In The Zone. I composed this post just so I can post that picture, which I love. Please forgive me for bragging.

Notre Dame's CYO teams includes ballers like Caden Giordano (who chipped two front teeth on the court and laughed) and Grant Hershman (who as grandson of Allentown watchdog Lou, claims the team spends too much money). They are coached by Emil Giordano, who moonlights as a Northampton County judge.

Dat celebrated his diversity on MLK Day by putting points on the board. Just ten years ago, he would never have been allowed to play there. Nobody could. It did not exist.

In the Zone is a great place to shoot hoops, has an indoor batting cage and lots of tournaments for all ages.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Corruption: The Inevitable Result of Machine Politics

They're crackin' more than coal up in Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties.

New Site: Pennsylvania Independent

This "independent" site is funded by the conservative Commonwealth Foundation. But unlike our local "independent," no political consultants are on the payroll.

Dent to Host Whitehall Town Hall Tomorrow

Who: LV Congressman Charlie Dent

When: Tuesday, January 26, 10AM to 11 AM

Where: South Whitehall Township Municipal Building, located at 4444 Walbert Avenue,

Congrssman Dent will also have staff on hand to assist you in any specific federal concer. This will be his third town hall this year.

LC Comm'r Glenn Eckhart Goes to the Dogs

My feelings about little animals are pretty much the same as about children - I like them if they're properly cooked. Ken Petrini, LVCI and Betty Cauler are much nicer. They've spotlighted a humanitarian resolution penned by Lehigh County Commissioner Glenn Eckhart, asking the state to reconsider Peaceable Kingdom's application as an animal control shelter.

Peaceable Kingdom, unlike the Lehigh County Humane Society, is a lot less likely to euthanize, and provides some old-fashioned competition. Until January 28th, Louie’s Restaurant (on 31st Street in Allentown) will donate 20% of your bill, excluding booze, to Peaceable Kingdom.

I'll have the veal. Or a hot dog.

Gentlemen, in Low Places and High

In this area, where so few of us ride the bus, we hear few tales of a gentleman offering his seat to a lady or child. But it still happens.

Over the Christmas holiday, my brother's grandchildren visited. They're from the South. They decided one day that they'd like to ride the bus. And that's what they did. About six little runts, accompanied by my brother, spent a day riding throughout the Lehigh Valley, stopping and hopping back on at various points. My brother tells me that the regulars readily surrendered their seats to children.

On Friday, during Craig Dally's coronation, Courtroom #1 was packed so full I was waiting for the floor to collapse. In the well of the court, seats were reserved for the many dignitaries on hand, from county council members to state reps to appellate judges.

I'm pretty sure I'm the only male in the room who was wearing no suit. I was standing next to some dude who was conviced that Craig Dally's judgeship and that big Republican win in Massachusets were somehow connected. As this 9/12er lectured me about the Constitution and the Ten Commandments, he was silently farting. I thought I was going to pass out, but there was nowhere to go.

Inside the well, a seat was reserved for LV Congressman Charlie Dent, too. Instead of sitting there, I watched him offer his seat to an elderly lady, and then quietly stand off to the side with the rest of us schleps. As a result, when President Judge Kim McFadden began to recognize the big shots, she never noticed that Charlie was there, too, blocked from her view by a mass of humanity.

I'm not suggesting that you vote for Charlie Dent simply because he behaved like a gentleman. But when people tell you he's a nice guy, this is what they mean.

Democracy is the Score at the Beginning of the Ninth

"We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on ‘The Meaning of Democracy.’ It is presumably our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure. Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles, the dent in the high hat.

"Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is the letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of the morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is."

The above ditty, called The Meaning of Democracy, was read during Criag Dally's judicial induction ceremony on Friday. Bethlehem Attorney Tom Maloney told us that no less a personage than Winston Churchill, forwarded this little essay to FDR.

FDR's reply? "Them's my sentiments!"

Blogger's Note: This essay appeared in The New Yorker in 1943, and was written by E.B. White. He's known to most of us as the author of Charlotte's Web.

The Northampton Nine

The Northampton Nine.

That's the phrase Bethlehem Attorney Tom Maloney coined on Friday to describe Northampton County's new bench of nine judges. Maloney was one of the speakers at Craig Dally's formal induction as a judge in historic Courtroom #1, under the watchful eyes of about 350 people.

Everyone loved the baseball metaphor, including President Judge Kim McFadden. "I think we're gonna' run with that," she somberly declared. I don't know whether she plans fielding her team against the IronPigs, but if she does, those robes gotta' go.

Judge Emil Giordano, the bench's sole jock, had an observation of his own. "We're now five- four. Think about that!," the evil Republican said, before he began to laugh maniacally.

Afterwards, one of the judges told me that Giordano has it wrong. "It's actually four-four and one switch hitter."

Update: I've been contacted back channel by a former Lafayette football player who insists Judge Baratta is a jock, too, because he once played basketball for Lafayette and works out and everything. "I guess you missed the superb basketball game this past Saturday when Lafayette hung in there with Lehigh at Stabler until the final 5 minutes. You must have had your head somewhere where you could not see it on TV or the sunshine, for that matter." I did miss that game, but watched Notre Dame's 4th graders beat Lafayette on Friday.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Top LV Democrats to Endorse Arlen Specter on Monday

Arlen Specter has been a consistent moderate voice for Pennsylvania who has been more focused on results than politics, something we need more of in our country today.”

Those are the words of Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham, and they echo a theme often repeated here. While some of you certainly think that answers to our many problems lie in extreme left or right politics, most of us prefer the "can do" common sense approach of leaders like Charlie Dent, Arlen Specter, Don Cunningham and John Stoffa. Most of us, like them, detest the partisan bickering that all too often has resulted in gridlock in Washington and the land of midnight payraises.

The most powerful voices in this country, and certainly in the Lehigh Valley, are those who speak from its independent center. That's why, six years ago, when Specter was threatened from the right by Pat Toomey, I briefly switched to Republican so I could vote for him.

Now that this feisty old warrior is being threatened on the left, I'm gratified to learn that the Lehigh Valley's top Democrats will publicly endorse Snarlen' Arlen tomorrow, 9:45 AM, at Allentown's Four Point Sheraton. Don Cunningham will be joined by Northampton County Exec John Stoffa, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Easton Mayor Sal Panto and the party bosses from Northampton, Lehigh, Carbon and Bucks County.

I note that Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan is not among those listed. He's probably worried that publicly admitting his support for Specter will cost him votes from the left.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bethlehem Loses Most Favored City Status in Northampton County

Has Bethlehem been getting too much money from Northampton County? Is it favored over other Northampton County communities? That's what five members of Northampton County Council think.

In Northampton County's 2001 megabond alone, Bethlehem raked in about $20 million. Thirteen million dollars of that money was intended for a road. But even Bethlehem was unable to blow all that dough on a 4,000 foot road, and spent only $11 million. Mayor John Callahan wanted the rest for shrubbery and signs. Eventually, Callahan and County Exec John Stoffa agreed to let Bethlehem keep $686,000, but the money was never spent.

Last night, Northampton County Council voted 5-4 to take that money back, and spend it on Gracedale, which is bleeding money. But before that happened, there was a raucous debate between the Ann McHale, who represents the Christmas City and is viewed by many as its Queen, and Forks Township curmudgeon Ken Nagy.

McHale: "We spend money on farmland preservation ..."

Nagy: "We have two farms that haven't qualified in over five years."

McHale: "The City of Bethlehem, the residents there, we pay our tax bill just like you do."

Nagy: "Ma'am, we got $200,000 in open space money. That is all the money Forks Township has gotten from the County. We have farm properties that have been sitting for farmland preservation for multiple years who can't get qualified. Yet, we gave $1 million to the City of Bethlehem to create its "rails to trails" proposition, which is more commercial than anything else. It's in the Bethlehem plan. It talks about the commercial expansion that will come from that.

"When is enough, enough?"

McHale: "It's never enough."

Nagy: "Well, I know that. You know, there are townships and other municipalities that come up to the trough to feed, but Bethlehem never leaves. They raise their head up, belch, and go back for more."

McHale: "That's why Bethlehem is the star of the Lehigh Valley."

Nagy: "In the eyes of the people from Bethlehem."

McHale: "No, it's a fact. We were - I think we're in the top 100 best and safest places to live in the country."

Ron Angle: "Actually, number one in the world in number of rhododendron per capita."

Nagy: "I think County Council could take the TIFF money. It's constantly, 'feed me, feed me, feed me.' I think Council could take all these monies back and not feel any guilt because there are other areas. We have a bridge we're talking about, we have other things. We have a parking facility that needs fixing. There are a number of things out there this County could use that money for, instead of puring it into Bethlehem. You know, you got $2 million for the Steel Stax."

McHale: "That was from the hotel tax. That's not our money ..."

Nagy: "Where else could that money have been used?"

McHale: "It can only be used for certain things, providing tourism."

Nagy: "Right. Certain things in Bethlehem only."

McHale: "No. No."

Nagy: "OK. Bethlehem seems to be first in line every time ..."

McHale: "Bethlehem has a heavily populated area, and all the properties in Bethlehem, Northampton County, do pay taxes, and I think a large majority of our tax base comes from the City of Bethlehem."

Nagy: "Mrs. McHale, do you want to go on the average tax bill in Bethlehem vs. the average tax bill in Forks?"

McHale: "Well, I'm talking County tax. I'm only talking County tax."

Nagy: "Well, it doesn't really matter if you're talking county tax from the homes in Bethlehem vs. the homes in Forks Township."

McHale: "Maybe you're a lot richer than we are in Bethlehem."

Nagy: "Well, no, we're a lot poorer because Bethlehem keeps getting the money we keep asking for."

This exchange concluded, Council VP John Cusick explained that Bethlehem could find money for its rhododendron from the following sources that were unavailable in 2001: Stim funds; earmarks; Gaming Authority grant; and private developer Majestic, who has the means and wherewithal to beautify the road it wants to market. "All of those are changes in circumstances that warrant using this money for our oldest, poorest, sickest residents at Gracedale. We allocated $550 thousand to repair the elevators, to fix the motor room. I think that money would be far better spent at Gracedale than for shrubs and signs."

Council member Mike Dowd opposed taking the money back because he feels there was a deal. He was one of the persons who sat down with Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan and negotiated a deal "that we were all thrilled about 1 1/2 years ago to get $1.6 million back. ... I have a concern about us changing that opinion. We said this is what we're going to do."

Dowd, McHale, Peg Ferraro and Lamont McClure voted against taking the money back. But all three new Council members, joined by Cusick and Angle, voted to pull the plug on the Christmas City.

According to a well-written Express Times news account, Stoffa may very well veto this clawback because there was an agreement. But even if that happens, Bethlehem should consider itself on notice as having lost its most favored city status in Northampton County.

The John Stoffa Report

An innovative new feature at Northampton County Council meetings is the County Executive's Report, which serves three purposes. First, Exec John Stoffa provides a progress report about ongoing projects, or can announce new directions. Second, concerns raised by citizens during Courtesy of the Floor can be addressed publicly. Third, Council members can ask questions about county affairs.

1) In response to Lower Saucon Tp resident Stephanie Brown, who had asked whether there was any way that Northampton County could save the Meadows Bridge, a beautiful stone arch bridge built in 1858, Stoffa was very dubious. Although beautiful and historically significant, Stoffa noted that the bridge was constructed from rubble, and would be "extraordinarily expensive" to repair. "I wish we could save it. I don't think we can without spending oodles and oodles of money." Council member Ann McHale later suggested that Stoffa apply for federal grant money, and Stoffa agreed to try.

2) The jail's food service provider is losing $2,000 a week, and will end its contract within the next nine months. "They claim the staff eats too much, and that may be true," noted Stoffa, who explained that county workers inside the jail are provided meals free "because you don't want people leaving the building." The County may be forced to go back to its former food service provider.

3) The County is getting $1,000 worth of trees from Harleysville National Corporation, which will be planted at Gracedale and Louise Moore Park.

4) Repairs at Bridge #69, in Bushkill Township, are complete.

5) The Gracedale windows project was supposed to be finished by May, but the project is nearly finished now and is slightly under budget.

6) The Juvenile Detention Center expansion should be finished by April or May, and it "looks like we may be able to add that on without having additional staff. The courts are working on that with us right now."

7) The Louis Moore Pine estate has donated $2 million to maintain Louise Moore Park.

8) In response to a question from Council VP John Cusick about a treatment center in West Easton, Stoffa explained that would be in addition to the one planned for Bethlehem Township. "It's not our responsibility to say yes or no. It's West Easton." Council President Ron Angle, who attended a meeting about the concept, said it would be primarily a work release center for drunk drivers. He told Cusick, "The neighbors were worried about people escaping. Every morning they let you out and you get in your car and go to work, Why the hell would you escape when all you gotta' do is wait until 7:30 AM and you can drive away."

The Dirty Dozen

As I mentioned yesterday, twelve Democrats have applied for an open seat on the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners. This vacancy, created by Bill Leiner's sudden resignation, is expected to be filled by an appointment made by the entire Board on February 24.

My blogging buddy, Ken Petrini, already has a detailed post with tidbits abut each applicant. He's rooting for Marc Basist, primarily because he just ran for a district seat. While that makes a certain amount of sense, this is an at-large seat, which tends to attract people having countywide appeal.

I've uploaded the information sent by each candidate to Comm'rs, and you can review the dirty dozen yourself. Who do you like?

1. Marc Basist
Basist Resume

2. Geoffrey S. Brace
Brace Resume

3. Bruce A. Brinker

4. John V. Cooney
Cooney Resume

5. John Cramsey
Cramsey Resume

6. Walter Felton, Jr.
Felton Letter of Intent

7. Robert J. George
George Resume

8. William H Hansell
Hansell Resume

9. John R. Hoffman
Hofmann Resume

10. Andrea Landsbach
Landsbach Resume

11. George Speros Maniatty, Jr.
Maniatty Resume

12. Deana M. Zosky
Zosky Resume